Tiahuanaco is the most important archaeological site of the Altiplano. It is located in the department of La Paz (Bolivia), a few kilometers from Lake Titicaca, at an altitude of 3800 m above sea level. From the earliest days of the conquest, its ruins attracted the attention of the Spanish chroniclers, such as Cieza de León, Acosta, Garcilaso and Cobo who left descriptions of the monumental complex.

The Tiahuanaco culture appeared in the last phase of the Formative period reaching its apogee in the period of the “Regional States”, and as such it is the first known Andean urban center. During its Imperial phase, Tiahuanaco expanded throughout the Andean region to the north coast of Peru, northern Chile and Argentina, and to the foothills of the Cordillera in eastern Bolivia. The Tiahuanaco art was superimposed over the local styles thus creating a mixture of artistic forms. This expansion, between the ninth and tenth centuries AD was possibly due to a military, cultural or religious conquest. Some archaeologists suppose that this conquest was made through Huari, a neighboring city of the actual Ayacucho (Peru), reason why the style of Tiahuanaco also receives the name of Huari-Tiahuanaco or Huari.

The Tiahuanaco chronology includes a “Village” phase (first and second epochs) from the sixth century BC to the third century AD; an “urban” phase (third and fourth epochs) from the 3rd to the 8th century, and an “imperial” phase (or fifth epoch) from the 8th century to 1200 AD.

There are no architectural or sculptural remains from the first period. The pottery is divided into two types: the first, with painted decoration and incisions; the second, polished and without color, decorated with staggered motifs and incised. Some vases were decorated with feline heads coarsely shaped. This pottery is similar to that of Paracas-cavernas. Also from this first period came some circular-shaped burials, remains of copper and beadings made in sodalite (a blue stone). The housing was reconstructed thanks to a ceramic whistle that showed a rectangular house with a gabled roof. Both the door and the frieze were decorated with staggered motifs.

The remains corresponding to the second period are limited to room foundations of circular and rectangular floor plans with double walls. In this period there was a preponderance in the use of micaceous-type clay.

Top left: A restored section of the Akapana pyramid (Tiahuanaco Municipality, La Paz Department, Bolivia). Top right: Entrance to the Kalasasaya courtyard (Tiahuanaco Municipality). Bottom left: A view of the man-made platform of Pumapunku (Tiahuanaco Municipality). Bottom right: Putuni enclosure (Tiahuanaco Municipality).

In the third period Tiahuanaco entered its urban phase, when great buildings were constructed and that still can be seen in the town of the same name (Tiahuanaco) in Bolivia. Two groups of ruins related to each other were part of the same city. The first group consists of Akapana, Kalasasaya, Putuni and a semi-underground temple. The second group is constituted by the remains of Puma-punku. In both architectural groups dominate the pyramids and enclosures formed by platforms and retaining walls. The pyramid of Akapana, which is the highest, reaches 15 meters with a base of 180 m long by 140 m wide. In its inferior part are remains of the stone wall that used to surrounded it; it is formed by monolithic stones in the form of pillars.

Kalasasaya is a quadrangular enclosure (135 x 120 meters) constituted by a U-shaped platform contained by walls similar to those of Akapana. In the interior there is a patio that is accessed by a monumental staircase. A street with stone pavement separates Kalasasaya from the pyramid.

The best preserved building is the temple. It is a courtyard limited by four retaining walls that measures 28 m long by 26 m wide. The walls, similar to those of Kalasasaya and Akapana, show one of the features typical of the architecture of the Tiahuanaco style. These interior walls were decorated with anthropomorphic heads carved in stone and embedded between the ashlars using a spike.

The interior walls of the semi-subterranean temple of Tiahuanaco decorated with embedded anthropomorphic heads.

During this third period, the city of Tiahuanaco was established and in the following period it was beautified and reformed. To the fourth period corresponded Puma-Punku and Putuni. The first consists of a U-shaped platform on which there is a large building with floors, walls and part of the roof, made of stone. The stone blocks are monumental and are secured by bronze brackets. The fourth period is the most significant for its sculpture and decoration; to it belongs the Puerta del Sol (Gate of the Sun), the Puerta de la Luna (Gate of the Moon) and the great anthropomorphic stelae. The main characteristic of the art of this period is stylization, where all natural forms were reduced to geometric motifs reminiscent of the textile designs. The decorative technique used was by incision.

Top: “La Puerta del Sol” (Gate of the Sun) a megalithic solid stone arch or gateway in the Tiahuanaco Municipality (Bolivia). This gate is located near Lake Titicaca and is appr. 3.0 m tall and 4.0 m wide, it was constructed from a single piece of stone. Some elements of its iconography spread throughout Peru and other parts of Bolivia. The carvings of the top frieze are believed to represent some astronomical and/or astrological significance and may have served a calendrical purpose. Bottom: The lintel’s reliefs include 48 squares surrounding a central figure. Each square represents a winged character. These winged figures include 32 effigies with human faces and 16 with condors’ heads. All are looking to the central motif: the figure of a man with his head surrounded by 24 linear rays that probably represent rays of the sun. This central figure holds styled staffs on each hand that probably are symbols of thunder and lightning. Some historians and archaeologists believe that the central figure represents the “Sun God”, while others believe it to be the Inca god Viracocha.
Left: “La Puerta de la Luna” (Gate of the Moon) at Tiahuanaco. Right: The central figure of the Gate of the Sun, probably representing either the Sun God or the Inca deity Viracocha.

In the stelae the facial features were schematic, the arms were attached to the torso while the hands hold on the objects identified as “keros*“. The whole body was decorated with motifs present in the Puerta del Sol. The largest stelae are the “Bennett” ( 7.30 m high), the “Ponce” and the “El Fraile” (The Monk). In the same style and from the same time is the famous Puerta del Sol (Gate of the Sun), one of the highest artistic examples of the Tiahuanaco culture. It is approximately 4 m wide by 2.75 m high and was carved in one piece. In its upper part there is a frieze that is interrupted to give way to a flat and frontal figure. In the frieze there are winged characters, some totally anthropomorphous and others with the head of a condor. The interpretation of these elements is much discussed: for some they represent a calendar, for others it is a mythical group, the central figure being the representation of Viracocha (the Andean “great creator” god in the pre-Inca and Inca mythology).

Tiahuanaco stelae. Left: The Bennett monolith. Center: The Ponce monolith. Right: “El Fraile” (The Monk) monolith.

The pottery of the third epoch wasn’t incised like that of earlier times, but painted with a variety of designs. The cylindrical vessels with flat bases predominated, they had wavy borders and zoomorphic appendages. The ceramics of the fourth epoch were very fine, and although they derived from the third period style, they were enriched with new forms among which are the censers that took the shape of the animal represented. In all cases, the drawings were geometric or very stylized.

Top row: Examples of Tiahuanaco pottery: Left and center–Tiahuanacan Keros, the one on the left was made in wood and is decorated with a warrior, the one on the right represents a Condor (both ca. 300 BC – 1100 AD). Right–An incense burner in the form of a puma. Bottom: Tapestry panel from a Tiahuanaco-style tunic weaved with camelid wool.

At one point, the style of Tiahuanaco appeared outside the metropolis, as in the case of Lucurmata on the shores of Lake Titicaca, where there have been found remains related to the urban period of Tiahuanaco. Another remarkable site is the one of Ojje in the Copacabana peninsula.

In the imperial period, Tiahuanaco expanded over the cultures of the Peruvian sierra and coast from where there are remarkable examples of ceramics and textiles.


In Wankani, department of La Paz (Bolivia), there is an archaeological center stylistically related to the third period of Tiahuanaco. It includes platforms with remains of retaining walls whose structure is similar to those of Kalasasaya previously discussed. The most notable feature of the site are three stelae. They are between three and four meters high and represent human figures. They were decorated with snakes and pumas and also showed some mythical animals like winged quadrupeds.

Top row left and center: The Wankani stelae/monoliths. Top right: Huari culture sculpted vessel representing a camelid (ca. 800 – 1300 AD), (Museo de Arte Precolombino, Cusco, Perú). Bottom left: View of the Huari archaeological site (Piquillacta, Peru). Bottom right: Huari culture figure representing a human (ca. 800 – 1300 AD), (Museo de Arte Precolombino, Cusco, Peru).


The Pan-Andean empire of Tiahuanaco represented the end of the Regional Cultures period and the birth of the Urban period. Huari, who seems to be the key to the expansion of Tiahuanaco, was a heavily militarized urban culture.

A human group of Nazca culture occupied the Huari area when the Tiahuanaco impact took place. There,  a city was formed with urban features different to those of the city of Tiahuanaco but that apparently was the recipient and transmitter of its culture. Consequently, Huari represents the same culture of Tiahuanaco, first radiated from the highlands and later spread by the centers of Huari in the mountains and Pachacamac on the coast. Their pottery resembles the style born in Tiahuanaco, although morphologically there are regional variants that are studied under different names. In general, it is possible to say that the ceramics of Huari are more varied than those of Tiahuanaco, more decorated and with greater variety of forms, usually with human figures modeled on globular vases. On the coast, previously occupied by the ancient Nazca culture, were found the Pacheco vessels decorated with the central figure of the Puerta del Sol.

Urbanistically, the city of Huari was divided into neighborhoods surrounded by walls which were between 6 and 12 meters high. Sometimes they had a double wall with the central part filled with mud. The buildings were made with cut stones. A series of stone statues modeled in Tiahuanaco style were also found in Huari.

On the coast, the most important center for the diffusion of the Huari-Tiahuanaco style was Pachacamac, an impressive sanctuary erected in adobe forming an asymmetric pyramid with chambers and enclosures decorated with some frescoes. The ceramics of Pachacamac, a variety of the Tiahuanaco style, is characteristic by their decorative motifs, most of them representing felines.

Left: View of the “Convent” at Pachacamac ruins (40 km southeast of Lima, Peru). Top right: Miniature tapestry-woven tunic with weapon-bearing creature from Peru (ca. 600–1000) made in camelid wool and cotton (Brooklyn Museum, New York). Bottom right: Pachacamac culture vase decorated with the figure of a Condor.

The Huari-Tiahuanaco warriors conquered the Nazca, replacing their colorist art with a pottery that used more sober colors with the central character of the Puerta del Sol appearing enthroned. These warriors later climbed to Pachacamac and from there they conquered the Moche empire. They left traces of their god and culture in the pottery and in the splendid fabrics made with the tapestry technique. These fabrics were decorated with geometric motifs and often included the winged figures of the Puerta del Sol. After the embroidered fabrics found in the necropolis of Paracas, these Tiahuanaco style fabrics are the best of the Andean zone.


Kero: (Or Qiru). An ancient Incan drinking vessel used to drink alcoholic beverages, like chicha. They were made from wood, ceramics, silver, or gold, and were traditionally used in Andean feasts. Keros were decorated and the shapes organized in two to four horizontal registers. One was generally decorated with geometric designs, the other registers, however, may be painted with narrative scenes that could possibly be true historical events. Kero production reached its peak between 1000 and 1200 CE but continued after European contact.