History: Brief Information about Tiwanaku Civilization of Bolivia

The Tiwanaku civilization was one of the most important civilizations of pre-Columbian America. It developed in the western part of Bolivia in South America. According to historians, the civilization of Tiwanaku was the most important predecessor of the Incas. In 2000, the town of Tiwanaku was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Names of Tiwanaku civilization

Official name of the site of Tiwanaku civilization is “Tiwanaku: Spiritual and Political Centre of the Tiwanaku Culture”, and alternative names are  Tiahuanaco, and Tiahuanacu. According to Bernabé Cobo, Spanish Jesuit missionary, Tiwanaku’s name once was Taypiqala. “Taypiqala” is a Aymara language word which means “stone in the center”, alluding to the belief that it lay at the center of the world.

Language of Tiwanaku inhabitants

There is no written record found about the spoken language of Tiwanaku inhabitants.  But most of the researchers agree that Tiwanaku people spoke in Puquina language. 

Where is the Tiwanaku site located?

The most important archaeological remains of the Tiwanaku civilization on the shores of Lake Titicaca were found at the place named Tiwanaku, 72 kilometers west of the Bolivian capital, La Paz, on the road to Desajuadejo. Located in the high Altiplano highlands of the Andes Mountains, the region is about 12,600 feet or 4,000 meters above sea level.

How large Tiwanaku civilization was

Tiwanaku is one of the largest archaeological sites in South America. Surface remains of the site currently cover around four square kilometers and include decorated ceramics, monumental structures, and megalithic blocks. It is assumed by the historians and researchers that the population of the Tiwanaku probably peaked around AD 800 with 10,000 to 20,000 people.

Discovery of Tiwanaku civilization

The site of Tiwanaku in Bolivia was first recorded in written history in 1549 by a Spanish conquistador. In 1549 AD, the Spanish conquistador Pedro Cieza de León surprisingly discovered the ruins of the civilization at Tiwanaku in Bolivia while exploring the Inca powerhouse and caoital Qullasuyu.

Tiwanaku, c. 800–1000 C.E., near Lake Titicaca, Bolivia (photo: Mhwater, in the public domain)
Tiwanaku, c. 800–1000 C.E., near Lake Titicaca, Bolivia (photo: Mhwater, in the public domain)

Tiwanaku was the capital of Tiwanaku civilization

It is believed that Tiwanaku was the administrative capital of Tiwanaku civilization. For at least five hundred years, this civilization centered around this city is considered. 

Archaeological findings have revealed that the area adjacent to the city of Tiwanaku has been inhabited since ancient times. Initially it was a small agricultural village. But between 300 BC and 300 AD, in around 600 years, the region became a significant religious center; At this time-bracket, a powerful kingdom grew around the place with Tiwanaku as its administrative centre.

Between 600 – 900 AD, the Tiwanaku civilization is believed to have reached its final stage of development. During this time, the civilization spread westward from the western part of present-day Bolivia to southern Peru, northern Chile, and northwestern Argentina.

Agriculture based civilization

The Tiwanaku civilization developed mainly based on agriculture. For cultivation, people of the civilization raised some of the low land adjacent to Lake Titicaca to create agricultural land. Some water retention remains between these highlands. As a result of getting plenty of water on the land, the land got very productive. Fish cultivation was suitable in those water reservoirs also. Reservoirs were also used as waterways for transportation of low-lying land around it.

Worth seeing architecture

The architectures of this civilization are truly worth seeing. Numerous constructions were going on at various stages in Tiwanaku city. The ruins of several of them have survived untill our time. Some of the main architectural artifacts are: a pyramid— Akapana; a twelve-foot-high “Gateway of the Sun”; a three-hundred-foot-long large stone-walled courtyard with large doors— Kalasasaya, etc.

How Tiwanaku was lost

By the 11th century, the decline of the Tiwanaku civilization began. Its rule collapsed in the first half of the 12th century. However, the ruins of their cities as religious and administrative centers still stand as shining symbols of the excellence of the pre-Inca Andean civilizations.


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