Tiahuanaco – The Baalbek of the New World

Book excerpt:
Peru; Incidents of Travel and Exploration in
The Land of the Incas

E. George Squier, 1877, M.A., F.S.A.



Tiahuanaco – The Baalbek of the New World


Tiahuanaco a Centre of Ancient Civilization—Difficulties—The Chuño Festival—Death of my Photographer—Studying the Art—My Assistants—The Edifices of Ancient Tiahuanaco—The Ruins a Quarry for Modern Builders—Their Extent—The Temple—The Fortress—The Palace—The Hall of Justice—Precision of the Stone-cutting—Elaborate Sculptures—Monolithic Gate-ways—The Modern Cemetery—The Sanctuary—Symbolical Slab—The great Monolithic Gate-way—Its Elaborate Sculptures—Monuments described by Cieza de Leon and D’Orbigny—Material of the Stone-work—How the Stone was cut—General Resume—Tiahuanaco probably a Sanctuary, not a Seat of Dominion

Tiahuanaco lies almost in the very centre of the great terrestrial basin of lakes Titicaca and Aullagas, and in the heart of a region which may be properly characterized as the Thibet of the New World. Here, at an elevation of twelve thousand nine hundred feet above the sea, in a broad, open, unprotected, arid plain, cold in the wet and frigid in the dry season, we find the evidences of an ancient civilization, regarded by many as the oldest and the most advanced of both American continents.

It was to explore and investigate the monumental remains that have made this spot celebrated that I had come to Tiahuanaco, and I lost no time in commencing my task. This was not an easy one, for even with the aid of the drunken Cura we were unable to procure laborers to assist us, for not only had we reached the village on the eve of the Chuño, or potato festival, a remnant of ancient observances, but before we had finished our work the Feast of Corpus Christi had commenced. Chicha flowed like water, and the few inhabitants that the Chuño festival had left sober deliberately gave themselves up to beastly intoxication.

This was not my only difficulty. While we were toiling our way upwards through the mountain road, my photographer, on whose skill I had depended, became dangerously ill. One bitter night, under an ebon sky, with no one to assist us save some kindly Indians, we tried in vain to relieve his sufferings and compose his mental hallucinations. The disease baffled all our efforts, and before sunrise death brought him relief and release. He murmured something in the Gaelic tongue, in which only the endearing word “mamma”—sacred in all languages—was intelligible, and died with that word lingering on his thin, blue lips.

I had provided myself with a complete and costly set of photographic apparatus, which I regarded as indispensable to success in depicting the ancient monuments; but I had little knowledge of the art, and must now become my own photographer, or lose many of the results of my labor. With no instruction except such as I could gain from Hardwick’s “Manual of Photographic Chemistry,” I went to work, and, after numerous failures, became tolerably expert. I had but a single assistant, Mr. H-, an amateur draughtsman, and only such other aid as I could get from my muleteer and his men, who were eager to conclude their engagement, and simply astounded that we should waste an hour, much more that we should spend days, on the remains of the heathens. Still, the investigation was undertaken with equal energy and enthusiasm, and, I am confident, with as good results as could be reached without an expenditure of time and money which would hardly have been rewarded by any probable additional discoveries. We spent a week in Tiahuanaco among the ruins, and, I believe, obtained a plan of every structure that is traceable, and of every monument of importance that is extant.

The first thing that strikes the visitor in the village of Tiahuanaco is the great number of beautifully cut stones, built into the rudest edifices, and paving the squalidest courts. They are used as lintels, jambs, seats, tables, and as receptacles for water. The church is mainly built of them; the cross in front of it stands on a stone pedestal which shames the symbol it supports in excellence of workmanship. On all sides are vestiges of antiquity from the neighboring ruins, which have been a real quarry, whence have been taken the cut stones, not only for Tiahuanaco and all the villages and churches of its valley, but for erecting the cathedral of La Paz, the capital of Bolivia, situated in the deep valley of one of the streams falling into the river Beni, twenty leagues distant. And what is true here is also true of most parts of the Sierra. The monuments of the past have furnished most of the materials for the public edifices, the bridges, and highways of the present day.

The ruins of Tiahuanaco have been regarded by all students of American antiquities as in many respects the most interesting and important, and at the same time most enigmatical, of any on the continent. They have excited the admiration and wonder alike of the earliest and latest travelers, most of whom, vanquished in their attempts to penetrate the mystery of their origin, have been content to assign them an antiquity beyond that of the other monuments of America, and to regard them as the solitary remains of a civilization that disappeared before that of the Incas began, and contemporaneous with that of Egypt and the East. Unique, yet perfect in type and harmonious in style, they appear to be the work of a people who were thorough masters of an architecture which had no infancy, passed through no period of growth, and of which we find no other examples. Tradition, which mumbles more or less intelligibly of the origin of many other American monuments, is dumb concerning these. The wondering Indians told the first Spaniards that “they existed before the sun shone in the heavens,” that they were raised by giants, or that they were the remains of an impious people whom an angry Deity had converted into stone because they had refused hospitality to his vice-regent and messenger.

I shall give only a rapid account of these remains, correcting some of the errors and avoiding some of the extravagances of my predecessors in the same field of inquiry. I must confess I did not find many things that they have described; but that fact, in view of the destructiveness of treasure-hunters and the rapacity of ignorant collectors of antiquities, does not necessarily discredit their statements; for Tiahuanaco is a rifled ruin, with comparatively few yet sufficient evidences of former greatness.

The ruins are about half a mile to the southward of the village, separated from it by a small brook and a shallow valley. The high-road to La Paz passes close to them—in fact, between them and some mounds of earth which were probably parts of the general system. They are on a broad and very level part of the plain, where the soil is an arenaceous loam, firm and dry. Rows of erect stones, some of them rough or but rudely shaped by art; others accurately cut and fitted in walls of admirable workmanship; long sections of foundations, with piers and portions of stairways; blocks of stone, with mouldings, cornices, and niches cut with geometrical precision; vast masses of sandstone, trachyte, and basalt but partially hewn; and great monolithic doorways, bearing symbolical ornaments in relief, besides innumerable smaller, rectangular, and symmetrically shaped stones, rise on every hand, or lie scattered in confusion over the plain. It is only after the intelligent traveler has gone over the whole area and carefully studied the ground, that the various fragments fall into something like their just relations, and the design of the whole becomes comprehensible.

Leaving aside, for the present, the lesser mounds of earth of which I have spoken, we find the central and most conspicuous portion of the ruins, which cover not far from a square mile, to consist of a great, rectangular mound of earth, originally terraced, each terrace supported by a massive wall of cut stones, and the whole surmounted by structures of stone, parts of the foundations of which are still distinct. This structure is popularly called the” Fortress,” and, as tradition affirms, suggested the plan of the great fortress of Sacsahuaman, dominating the city of Cuzco . The sides of this structure, as also of all the others in Tiahuanaco, coincide within ten degrees with the cardinal points of the compass. Close to the left of the Fortress (I adopt this name, and the others I may use, solely to facilitate description) is an area called the “Temple,” slightly raised, defined by lines of erect stones, but ruder than those which surround the Fortress. A row of massive pilasters stands somewhat in advance of the eastern front of this area, and still in advance of this are the deeply embedded piers of a smaller edifice of squared stones, with traces of an exterior corridor, which has sometimes been called the “Palace.” At other points, both to the south and northward, are some remains to which I shall have occasion to refer.

Plan of a part of the ruins of Tiahuanaco.

Plan of a part of the ruins of Tiahuanaco.

The structure called the Temple will claim our first attention; primarily because it seems to be the oldest of the group, the type, perhaps, of the others, and because it is here we find the great monolithic sculptured gateway of Tiahuanaco, which is absolutely unique, so far as our knowledge goes, on this continent.

The body of the Temple forms a rectangle of 388 by 445 feet, defined, as I said before, by lines of erect stones, partly shaped by art. They are mostly of red sandstone, and of irregular size and height; those at the corners being more carefully squared and tallest. For the most part, they are between 8 and 10 feet high, from 2 to 4 feet broad, and from 20 to 30 inches in thickness. The portions entering the ground, like those of our granite gateposts, are largest, and left so for the obvious purpose of giving the stones greater firmness in their position.

These stones, some of which have fallen and others disappeared, seem to have been placed, inclining slightly inwards, at approximately 15 feet apart, measuring from centre to centre, and they appear to have had a wall of rough stones built up between them, supporting a terre-plein of earth, about 8 feet above the general level of the plain. On its eastern side this terre-plein had an apron or lower terrace 18 feet broad, along the edge of the central part of which were raised ten great stone pilasters, placed 15 1/2 feet apart, all of which, perfectly aligned, are still standing, with a single exception.

The American Stonehenge, Tiahuanaco.

The American Stonehenge, Tiahuanaco.

They are of varying heights, and no two agree in width or thickness. The one that is fallen, which was second in the line, measures 13 feet 8 inches in length by 5 feet 3 inches in breadth. It is partly buried in the earth, but shows 32 inches of thickness above ground. Among those still erect the tallest is 14 feet by 4 feet 2 inches, and 2 feet 8 inches; the shortest 9 feet by 2 feet 9 inches, and 2 feet 5 inches. These are less in dimension than the stones composing the inner cell or sanctum of Stonehenge , which range from 16 feet 3 inches to 21 feet 6 inches in height; but they are nearly, if not quite, equal with those composing the outer circle of that structure. They are much more accurately cut than those of Stonehenge , the fronts being perfectly true, and the backs alone left rough or only partially worked. The tops of the taller ones have shoulders cut into them as if to receive architraves; and as this feature does not appear in the shorter ones, it may be inferred that their tops have been broken off, and that originally they were all of one length. And here I may call attention to another singular feature of this colonnade—namely, that the sides or edges of each erect stone are slightly cut away to within six inches of its face, so as to leave a projection of about an inch and a half, as if to retain in place any slab fitted between the stones, and prevent it from falling outwards. The same feature is found in the stones surrounding the great mound or Fortress, where its purpose becomes obvious, as we shall soon see.

Such is the general character of the exterior propylon, if I may so call it, of the structure called the Temple. But within the line of stones surrounding it there are other features which claim our attention. I have said that the interior is a mound of earth raised about eight feet above the general level. But in the centre and towards the western side is an area sunk to the general level, 280 feet long by 190 feet broad. It was originally defined on three sides by walls of rough stones which rose above the surface of the mound itself, but which are now in ruins. If this sunken area communicated in any way with the more elevated interior parts of the structure, the means of communication, by steps or otherwise, have disappeared. Across the end of the area not shut in by the mound, the line of stones which surrounds the Temple is continued without interruption; but outside and connected with it is part of a small square of lesser stones, also erect, standing in the open plain.

Regarding the eastern side of the Temple , marked by the line of pilasters which I have described, as the front, we find here, at the distance of 57 feet, the traces of a rectangular structure, to which I have alluded as the “Palace,” which was composed of blocks of trachyte admirably cut, 8 to 10 feet long by 5 feet broad, with remains of what appears to have been a corridor 30 feet broad extending around it. The piers which supported the Palace still remain, sunk deep in the ground, apparently resting on an even pavement of cut stones. Remove the superstructures of the best-built edifices of our cities, and few, if any, would expose foundations laid with equal care, and none of them stones cut with such accuracy, or so admirably fitted together. And I may say, once for all, carefully weighing my words, that in no part of the world have I seen stones cut with such mathematical precision and admirable skill as in Peru, and in no part of Peru are there any to surpass those which are scattered over the plain of Tiahuanaco. The so-called Palace does not seem to have been placed in any symmetrical relation towards the Temple, although seemingly dependent on it; nor, in fact, do any of the ancient structures here appear to have been erected on any geometric plan respecting each other, such as is apparent in the arrangement of most of the remains of aboriginal public edifices in Peru.

The Fortress stands to the southwest of the Temple , the sides of the two coinciding in their bearings, and is 64 feet distant from it. As I have already said, it is a great mound of earth, originally rectangular in shape, 620 feet in length and 450 in width, and about 50 feet high. It is much disfigured by the operations of treasure-seekers, who have dug into its sides and made great excavations from the summit, so that it now resembles rather a huge, natural, shapeless heap of earth than a work of human hands. The few of the many stones that environed it, and which the destroyers have spared, nevertheless enable us to make out its original shape and proportions. There are distinct evidences that the body of the mound was terraced, for there are still standing stones at different elevations, distant horizontally nine, eighteen, and thirty feet from the base. There may have been more terraces than these lines of stones would indicate, but it is certain that there were at least three before reaching the summit. This coincides with what Garcilazo tells us of the mound when first visited by the Spaniards. He says, speaking of the ruins under notice: “Among them there is a mountain or hill raised by hand, which, on this account, is most admirable. In order that the piled-up earth should not be washed away and the hill leveled, it was supported by great walls of stone. No one knows for what purpose this edifice was raised.” Cieza de Leon, who himself visited Tiahuanaco soon after the Conquest, gives substantially the same description of the so-called Fortress.

Outer terrace walls of fortress, and scattered blocks of stone.

Outer terrace walls of fortress, and scattered blocks of stone.

On the summit of this structure are sections of the foundations of rectangular buildings, partly undermined, and partly covered up by the earth from the great modern excavation in the centre, which is upwards of 300 feet in diameter, and more than 60 feet deep. A pool of water stands at its bottom. This latest piece of barbarism was, however, only in continuation of some similar previous undertaking. All over the Fortress and on its slopes lie large and regular blocks of stone, sculptured with portions of elaborate designs, which would only appear when the blocks were fitted together.

Some portions of the outer or lower wall are fortunately nearly intact, so that we are able to discover how it was constructed, and the plan and devices that were probably observed in all the other walls, as well as in some parts of the Temple. In the first place, large, upright stones were planted in the ground, apparently resting on stone foundations. They are about ten feet above the surface, accurately faced, perfectly aligned, and inclining slightly inwards towards the mound. They are placed seventeen feet apart from centre to centre, and are very nearly uniform in size, generally about three feet broad and two feet in thickness. Their edges are cut to present the kind of shoulders to which I alluded in describing the pilasters in front of the Temple , and of which the purpose now becomes apparent. The space between the upright stones is filled in with a wall of carefully worked stones. Those next the pilasters are cut with a shoulder to fit that of the pilaster they adjoin; and they are each, moreover, cut with alternate grooves and projections, like mortise and ten on, so as to fit immovably into each other horizontally. Vertically they are held in position by round holes drilled into the bottom and top of each stone at exact corresponding distances, in which, there is reason to believe, were placed pins of bronze. We here see the intelligent devices of a people unacquainted with the uses of cement to give strength and permanence to their structures. Nearly all the blocks of stone scattered over the plain show the cuts made to receive what is called the T clamp, and the round holes to receive the metal pins that were to retain the blocks in their places, vertically.

The Fortress has on its eastern side an apron, or dependent platform, 320 by 180 feet, of considerably less than half the elevation of the principal mound. Like the rest of the structure, its outline was defined by upright stones, most of which, however, have disappeared. The entrance seems to have been at its southeast corner, probably by steps, and to have been complicated by turnings from one terrace to another, something like those in some of the Inca fortresses.

The tradition runs that there are large vaults filled with treasure beneath the great mound, and that here commences a subterranean passage which leads to Cuzco, more than four hundred miles distant. The excavations certainly reveal some curious subterranean features. The excavation at its southwest corner has exposed a series of superimposed cut stones, apparently resting on a pavement of similar character, twelve feet below the surface. It is said that Von Tschudi, when he visited the ruins, found some “caverns” beneath them (but whether under the Fortress or not does not appear), into which he endeavored to penetrate, but “was glad to be pulled out, as he soon became suffocated.” I found no such subterranean vaults or passages in any part of Tiahuanaco; but I do not deny their existence.

To the southeast of the Fortress, and about two hundred and fifty paces distant, is a long line of wall in ruins, apparently a single wall, not connected with any other so as to form an enclosure. But beyond it are the remains of edifices of which it is now impossible to form more than approximate plans. One was measurably perfect when visited by D’Orbigny in 1833, who fortunately has left a plan of it, more carefully made than others he has given us of ruins here or elsewhere. Since 1833, however, the iconoclasts have been at work with new vigor. Unable to remove the massive stones composing the base of what was called the Hall of Justice, they mined them, and blew them up with gunpowder, removing many of the elaborately cut fragments to pave the cathedral of La Paz. Enough remains to prove the accuracy of D’Orbigny’s plan, and to verify what Cieza de Leon wrote concerning these particular remains three hundred years ago.

The structure called the Hall of Justice occupied one end of a court something like that discoverable in the Temple. In the first place, we must imagine a rectangle, 420 feet long by 370 broad, defined by a wall of cut stones, supporting on three sides an interior platform of earth 130 feet broad, itself enclosing a sunken area, or court, also defined by a wall of cut stones. This court, which is of the general level of the plain, is 240 feet long and 160 broad. At its eastern end is, or rather was, the massive edifice distinguished’ as the Hall of Justice, of which D’Orbigny says:

“It is a kind of platform of well-cut blocks of stone, held together by copper clamps, of which only the traces remain. It presents a level surface elevated six feet above the ground, 131 feet long and 23 broad, formed of enormous stones, eight making the length and two the breadth. Some of these stones are 25 1/2 feet long by 14 feet broad, and 6 1/2 feet thick. These are probably the ones measured by Diego de Leon, who describes them as 30 feet long, 15 in width, and 6 in thickness. Some are rectangular in shape, others of irregular form.

Lesser monolithic doorway.

Lesser monolithic doorway.

On the eastern side of the platform, and cut in the stones of which they form part, are three groups of alcoves, or seats. One group occupies the central part of the monument, covering an extent of fifty-three feet, and is divided into seven compartments. A group of three compartments occupies each extremity of the monument. Between the central and side groups were reared monolithic doorways,(*) similar in some respects to the large one, only more simple, the one to the west alone having a sculptured frieze similar to that of the great gateway. In front of this structure, to the west, and about twenty feet distant, is a wall remarkable for the fine cutting of its stones, which are of a blackish basalt and very hard. The stones arc all of equal dimensions, having a groove running around them, and each has a niche cut in it with absolute precision. Every thing goes to show that the variety of the forms of the niches was one of the great ornaments of the walls, for on all sides we find stones variously cut, and evidently intended to fit together so as to form architectural ornaments.”

(*) One of these, not, however, standing in its original position, is shown in the view of the “Gateway at Cemetary.”

Gateway at Cemetary—front view.

Gateway at Cemetary—front view.

So much for the description of D’Orbigny. I measured one of the blocks with a double niche, which is shown in the engraving of the terrace walls of the Fortress. It is 6 feet 2 inches in length, 3 feet 7 inches broad, and 2 feet 6 inches thick. The niches are sunk to the depth of 3 inches.

One of the monolithic doorways originally belonging to this structure is unquestionably that forming the entrance to the cemetery of Tiahuanaco . This cemetery is an ancient rectangular mound, about a hundred paces long, sixty broad, and twenty feet high, situated midway between the village and the Fortress. Its summit is enclosed by an adobe wall, and, as I have said, the entrance is through an ancient monolithic gateway, of which I give a front and rear view.

Gateway at Cemetary—rear view.

Gateway at Cemetary—rear view.

It is 7 feet 5 inches in extreme height, 5 feet 10 1/2 inches in extreme width, and 16 1/2 inches thick. The doorway, or opening, is 6 feet 2 inches in height, and 2 feet 10 inches wide. The frieze has a repetition of the ornaments composing the lower line of sculptures of the great monolith, but it has suffered much from time and violence. The ornamentation of the back differs from that of the front, and seems to have been made to conform to the style adopted in the interior of the structure.

In making our measurement in the cemetery we disturbed a pack of lean, hungry, savage dogs of the Sierra-an indigenous species—which had dug up the body of a newly-buried child from its shallow, frozen grave, and were ravenously devouring it. They snarled at us with bristling backs and bloodshot eyes as we endeavored to drive them away horn their horrible feast—by no means the first, as the numerous rough holes they had dug, the torn wrappings of the dead, and the skulls and fragments of human bodies scattered around too plainly attested. I subsequently represented the matter to the cura, but he only shrugged his shoulders, ejaculating, “What does it matter? They have been baptized, and all Indians are brutes at the best.”

Returning to the Hall of Justice, we find, to the eastward of it, a raised area 175 feet square, and from 8 to 10 feet high, the outlines defined by walls of cut stone. This seems to have escaped the notice of travelers; at least, it is not mentioned by them. In the centre of this area there seems to have been a building about fifty feet square, constructed of very large blocks of stone, which I have denominated the “Sanctuary.” Within this, where it was evidently supported on piers, is the distinctive and most remarkable feature of the structure. It is a great slab of stone 13 feet 4 inches square, and 20 inches in thickness. It is impossible to describe it intelligibly, and I must refer to the engraving for a notion of its character. It will be observed that there is an oblong area cut in the upper face of the stone, 7 feet 3 inches long, 5 feet broad, and 6 inches deep. A sort of sunken “portico” 20 inches wide, 3 feet 9 inches long, is cut at one side, out of which opens what may be called the entrance, 22 inches wide, extending to the edge of the stone.

At each end of the “portico” is a flight of three miniature steps leading up to the general surface of the stone, and sunk in it, while at the side of the excavated area are three other flights of similar steps, but in relief. They lead to the broadest part of the stone, where there are six mortises, 8 inches square, sunk in the stone. 6 inches, and forming two sides of a square, of 3 feet 7 inches on each side, and apparently intended to receive an equal number of square columns. The external corners of the stone are sharp, but within six inches of the surface they are cut round on a radius of twelve inches.

Symbolical slab.

Symbolical slab.

I cannot resist the impression that this stone was intended as a miniature representation or model of a sacred edifice, or of some kind of edifice reared by the builders of the monuments of Tiahuanaco. The entrance to the sunken area in the stone, the steps leading to the elevation surrounding it, and the naos opposite the entrance, defined perhaps by columns of bronze or stone set in the mortises and supporting some kind of roof, constituting the shrine within which stood the idol or symbol of worship—all these features would seem to indicate a symbolic design in this monument. The building in which it stood, on massive piers that still remain, was constructed of blocks of stone, some of them nearly fourteen feet in length and of corresponding size and thickness, and was not so large as to prohibit the probability that it was covered in. Looking at the plan of the Temple, and of the enclosure to the area, one side of which was occupied by the building called the Hall of Justice, we cannot fail to observe features suggestive of the plan cut in the great stone which I have called symbolical.

Front of great monolithic gate-way.

Front of great monolithic gate-way.

The most remarkable monument in Tiahuanaco, as already intimated, is the great monolithic gateway. Its position is indicated by the letter m in the plan. It now stands erect, and is described as being in that position by every traveler except D’Orbigny, who visited the ruins in 1833, and who says it had then fallen down. I give two views of this unique monument, both from photographs, of some interest to me, as the first it was ever my fortune to be called on to take. It will be seen that it has been broken—the natives say by lightning—the fracture extending from the upper right-hand angle of the opening, so that the two parts lap by each other slightly, making the sides of the doorway incline towards each other; whereas they are, or were, perfectly. vertical and parallel—a distinguishing feature in all of the door-ways and sculptures of Tiahuanuco. This monolith has attracted so much attention, and the drawings that have been given of it have been so exceedingly erroneous, that I have sought to reproduce its features with the greatest care, using the line, the pencil, the photograhs, and the cartridge-paper mould.

Back of great monolithic gate-way.

Back of great monolithic gate-way.

We must imagine first a block of stone, somewhat broken and defaced on its edges, but originally cut with precision, 13 feet 5 inches long, 7 feet 2 inches high above-ground, and 18 inches thick. Through its centre is cut a door-way, 4 feet 6 inches high, and 2 feet 9 inches wide. Above this door-way, and as it now stands on its south-east side or front, are four lines of sculpture in low-relief, like the Egyptian plain sculptures, and a central figure, immediately over the door-way, sculptured in high-relief. On the reverse we find the door-way surrounded by friezes or cornices, and above it on each side two small niches, below which, also on either side, is a single larger niche. The stone itself is a dark and exceedingly hard trachyte. It is faced with a precision that no skill can excel; its lines are perfectly drawn, and its right angles turned with an accuracy that the most careful geometer could not surpass. Barring some injuries and defacements, and some slight damages by weather, I do not believe there exists a better piece of stone-cutting, the material considered, on this or the other continent. The front, especially the part covered by sculpture, has a fine finish, as near a true polish as trachyte can be made to bear.

The lower line of sculpture is 7 1/2 inches broad, and is unbroken; the three above it are 8 inches high, cut up in cartouches, or squares, of equal width, but interrupted in the centre, immediately over the doorway, by the figure in high-relief to which I have alluded. This figure, with its ornaments, covers a space of 32 by 21 1/2 inches. There are consequently three ranges or tiers of squares on each side of this figure, eight in each range, or forty-eight in all. The figures represented in these squares have human bodies, feet, and hands; each holds a sceptre; they are winged; but the upper and lower series have human heads wearing crowns, represented in profile, while the heads of the sixteen figures in the line between them have the heads of condors.

The central and principal figure is angularly but boldly cut, in a style palpably conventional. The head is surrounded by a series of what may be called rays, each terminating in a circle, the head of the condor, or that of a tiger, all conventionally but forcibly treated. In each hand he grasps two staves or sceptres of equal length with his body, the lower end of the right-hand sceptre terminating in the head of the condor, and the upper in that of the tiger, while the lower end of the left-hand sceptre terminates in the head of the tiger, and the upper is bifurcate, and has two heads of the condor. The staves or sceptres are not straight and stiff, but curved as if to represent serpents, and elaborately ornamented as if to represent the sinuous action of the serpent in motion. The radiations from the head—which I have called rays, for want of a better term—seem to have the same action. An ornamented girdle surrounds the waist of this principal figure, from which depends a double fringe. It stands upon a kind of base or series of figures approaching nearest in character to the architectural ornament called grecques, each extremity of which, however, terminates in the crowned head of the tiger or the condor. The face has been somewhat mutilated, but shows some peculiar figures extending from the eyes diagonally across the cheeks, terminating also in the heads of the animals just named.

Centre figure on great monolith.

Centre figure on great monolith.

The winged human-headed and condor-headed figures in the three lines of squares are represented kneeling on one knee, with their faces turned to the great central figure, as if in adoration, and each one holds before him a staff or sceptre. The sceptres of the figures in the two upper rows are bifurcate, and correspond exactly with the sceptre in the left hand of the central figure, while the sceptres of the lower tier correspond with that represented in his right hand.

Sculptured figure on great monolith.

Sculptured figure on great monolith.

The relief of all these figures is scarcely more than two-tenths of an inch; the minor features are indicated by very delicate lines, slightly incised, which form subordinate figures, representing the heads of condors, tigers, and serpents. Most of us have seen pictures and portraits of men and animals, which under close attention resolve themselves into representatives of a hundred other things, but which are so artfully arranged as to produce a single broad effect. So with these winged figures. Every part, the limbs, the garb, all separate themselves into miniatures of the symbols that run all through the sculptures on this singular monument.

The fourth or lower row of sculpture differs entirely from the rows above it. It consists of repetitions—seventeen in all—smaller and in low-relief, of the head of the great central figure, surrounded by corresponding rays, terminating in like manner with the heads of animals. These are arranged alternately at the top and bottom of the line of sculpture, within the zigzags or grecques, and every angle terminates in the head of a condor.

The three outer columns of winged figures, and the corresponding parts of the lower line of sculpture, are only blocked out, and have none of the elaborate, incised ornamentation discoverable in the central parts of the monument. A very distinct line separates these unfinished sculptures from those portions that are finished, which is most marked in the lower tier. On each side of this line, standing on the rayed heads to which I have alluded, placed back to back, and looking in opposite directions, are two small but interesting figures of men, crowned with something like a plumed cap, and holding to their mouths what appear to be trumpets. Although only three inches high, these little figures are ornamented in the same manner as the larger ones, with the heads of tigers, condors, etc.

These are the only sculptures on the face of the great monolith of Tiahuanaco. I shall not attempt to explain their significance.
D’Orbigny finds in the winged figures with human heads symbols or representations of conquered chiefs coming to pay their homage to the ruler who had his capital in Tiahuanaco, and who, as the founder of sun-worship and the head of the Church as of the State, was invested with divine attributes as well as with the insignia of power. The figures with condors’ heads, the same fanciful philosopher supposes, may represent the chiefs of tribes who had not yet fully accepted civilization, and were therefore represented without the human profile, as an indication of their unhappy and undeveloped state. By parity of interpretation, we may take it that the eighteen unfinished figures were those of as many chieftains as the ruler of Tiahuanaco had it in his mind to reduce, and of which, happily, just two-thirds had claims to be regarded as civilized, and, when absorbed, to be perpetuated with human heads, and not with those of condors. Another French writer, M. Angrand, finds a coincidence between these sculptures and those of Central America and Mexico, having a corresponding mythological and symbolical significance, thus establishing identity of origin and intimate relationship between the builders of Tiahuanaco and those of Palenque, Ocosingo, and Xochicalco.

Leibnitz tells us that nothing exists without a cause; and it is not to be supposed that the sculptures under notice were made without a motive. They are probably symbolical; but with no knowledge of the religious ideas and conceptions of the ancient people whose remains they are, it is idle to attempt to interpret them. Nowhere else in Peru, or within the whole extent of the Inca empire, do we find any similar sculptures. They are, as regards Inca art, quite as unique in Peru as they would be on Boston Common or in the New York Central Park.

The reverse of the great monolith shows a series of friezes over the doorway, five in number, of which the engraving will give a better idea than any description. Above the entrance on either hand are two niches, twelve by nine inches in the excavation. It will be observed that those on the right have a sort of sculptured cornice above them which those on the left have not. The second one on the left, it will also be observed, is not complete, but evidently intended to be finished out on another block, which was to form a continuation of the wall of which the gateway itself was designed to be a part. Indeed, as I have said, nearly all the blocks of stone scattered over the plain are cut with parts of niches and other architectural features, showing that they were mere fragments of a general design, which could only be clearly apparent when they were properly fitted together.

The lower niches, now on a level with the ground, show that the monolith is sunk deeply in the soil. They exhibit some peculiar features. At each inner corner above and below are vertical sockets, apparently to receive the pivots of a door, extending upwards and downwards seven inches in the stone. D’Orbigny avers that he discovered the stains of bronze in these orifices and I have no doubt that these niches had doors, possibly of bronze, hinged in these sockets, and so firmly that it was necessary to use chisels (the marks of which are plain) to cut into the stone and disengage them. These large niches are 28.2 inches by 18.2 inches wide. On the face of the monolith, on each side of the doorway, but near the edges of the stone, are two mortises 10 inches by 9, and 6 inches deep, and 12 inches by 6, and 3 1/2 inches deep respectively, which are not shown in the drawings published by D’Orbigny and some others.

I very much question if this remarkable stone occupies its original position. How far it has sunk in the ground it was impossible for me to determine, for the earth was frozen hard, and we had no means of digging down to ascertain. D’Orbigny, as I have already said, states it was fallen when he visited it. Who has since raised it, and for what purpose, it is impossible to say. No one that we could find either knew or cared to know anything about it. It seems to me not unlikely that it had a position in the hollow square of the structure called the Temple, in some building corresponding with that called the Hall of Justice. Or, perhaps, it had a place in the structure enclosing the stone I have ventured to call symbolical. It is neither so large nor so heavy that it may not be moved by fifty men with ropes, levers, and rollers and although we no not know of any reason why it should have been removed from its original position, we know that many of the heaviest stones have been thus moved, including the monolithic doorway at the entrance of the cemetery.

In addition to the various features of Tiahuanaco already enumerated, I must not neglect to notice the vast blocks of unhewn and partially hewn stones, that evidently have never entered into any structure, which lie scattered among the ruins. The positions of two or three are indicated in the plan. The one to the northeast of the Temple is 26 by 17, and 3 1/2 feet aboveground. It is of red sandstone, with deep grooves crossing each other at right angles in the centre, twenty inches deep, as if an attempt had been made to cut the stone into four equal parts. Another of nearly equal dimensions, partly hewn, was between the Temple and the Fortress. Another, boat-shaped and curiously grooved, lies to the northwest of the great mound. It measures upwards of forty feet in length, and bears the marks of transportation from a considerable distance.

Head of statue near Tiahuanuco.

Head of statue near Tiahuanuco.

There were formerly a number of specimens of sculpture in Tiahuanaco besides the two monolithic gateways I have described. Says Diego de Leon: “Beyond this hill [referring to the Fortress] are two stone idols, of human shape, and so curiously carved that they seem to be the work of very able masters. They are as big as giants, with long garments differing from those the natives wear, and seem to have some ornament on their heads.” These, according to D’Orbigny, were broken into pieces by blasts of powder inserted between the shoulders, and not even the fragments remain on the plain of Tiahuanaco. The head of one lies by the side of the road, four leagues distant, on the way to La Paz , whither an attempt was made to carry it. I did not see it, but I reproduce the sketch of it given by D’Orbigny, merely remarking that I have no doubt the details are quite as erroneous as those of the figures portrayed by the same author on the great monolith. The head is 3 feet 6 inches high and 2 feet 7 inches in diameter; so that if the other proportions of the figure were corresponding, the total height of the statue would be about eighteen feet.

D’Orbigny found several other sculptured figures among the ruins; one with a human head and wings rudely represented; another of an animal resembling a tiger, etc. Castelnau mentions “an immense lizard cut in stone,” and other sculptured figures. M. Angrand, whose notes have been very judiciously used by M. Desjardains, speaks of eight such figures in the village of Tiahuanaco, besides two in La Paz , and one, broken, on the road thither.

Columns and figures in stone in Tiahuanuco.

Columns and figures in stone in Tiahuanuco.

I found but two; rough sculptures of the human head and bust, in coarse red sandstone, one of a man and the other of a woman, standing by the side of the gateway of the church of Tiahuanaco. They are between four and five feet high, roughly cut, much defaced, and more like the idols which I found in Nicaragua, and have represented in my work on that country, than any others I have seen elsewhere.

Among the stones taken from the ruins, and worked into buildings in the town of Tiahuanaco, are a number of cylindrical columns cut from a single block, with capitals resembling the Doric. One of these stands on each side of the entrance to the court of the church, 6 feet high and 14 inches in diameter. There are also many caps of square columns or pilasters, besides numbers of stones cut with deep single or double grooves, as if to serve for water-conduits when fitted together—a purpose the probability of which is sanctioned by finding some stones with channels leading off at right angles, like the elbows in our own water-pipes.

The stones composing the structures of Tiahuanaco, as already said, are mainly red sandstone, slate-colored trachyte, and a dark, hard basalt. None of these rocks are found in situ on the plain, but there has been much needless speculation as to whence they were obtained. There are great cliffs of red sandstone about five leagues to the north of the ruins, on the road to the Desaguadero; and, on the isthmus of Yunguyo, connecting the peninsula of Copacabana with the mainland, are found both basaltic and trachytic rocks, identical with the stones in the ruins. Many blocks, hewn or partially hewn, are scattered over the isthmus. It is true this point is forty miles distant from Tiahuanaco in a right line, and that, if obtained here, the stones must have been carried twenty-five miles by water and fifteen by land. That some of them were brought from this direction is indicated by scattered blocks all the way from the ruins to the lake; but it is difficult to conceive how they were transported from one shore to the other. There is no timber in the region of which to construct rafts or boats; and the only contrivances for navigation are floats, made of reeds, closely bound into cylinders, tapering at the ends, which are turned up so as to give them something of the outline of boats. Before they become water-soaked these floats are exceedingly light and buoyant.

As to how the stones of Tiahuanaco were cut, and with what kind of instruments, are questions which I do not propose to discuss. I may, nevertheless, observe that I have no reason to believe that the builders of Tiahuanaco had instruments differing essentially in form or material from those used by the Peruvians generally, which, it is certain, were of champi, a kind of bronze.

I have thus rapidly presented an outline of the remains of Tiahuanaco—remains most interesting, but in such an absolute condition of ruin as almost to defy inquiry or generalization. Regarding them as in some respects the most important of any in Peru, I have gone more into details concerning them than I shall do in describing the better-preserved and more intelligible monuments with which we shall have hereafter to deal.

We find on a review that, apart from five considerable mounds of earth now shapeless, with one exception, there are distinct and impressive traces of five structures, built of stones or defined by them—the Fortress, the Temple, the Palace, the Hall of Justice, and the Sanctuary—terms used more to distinguish than truly characterize them. The structure called the Fortress may indeed have been used for the purpose implied in the name. Terraced, and each terrace faced with stones, it may have been, as many of the terraced pyramids of Mexico were, equally temple and fortress, where the special protection of the divinity to whom it was reared was expected to be interposed against an enemy. But the absence of water and the circumscribed area of the structure seem to weigh against the supposition of a defensive origin or purpose. But, whatever its object, the Fortress dominated the plain; and when the edifices that crowned its summit were perfect, it must have been by far the most imposing structure in Tiahuanaco.

The Temple seems to me to be the most ancient of all the distinctive monuments of Tiahuanaco. It is the American Stonehenge. The stones defining it are rough and frayed by time. The walls between its rude pilasters were of uncut stones; and although it contains the most elaborate single monument among the ruins, and notwithstanding the erect stones constituting its portal are the most striking of their kind, it nevertheless has palpable signs of age, and an air of antiquity which we discover in none of its kindred monuments. Of course, its broad area was never roofed in, whatever may have been the case with smaller, interior buildings no longer traceable. We must rank it, therefore, with those vast open temples (for of its sacred purpose we can scarcely have a doubt), of which Stonehenge and Avebury, in England, are examples, and which we find in Brittany, in Denmark, in Assyria, and on the steppes of Tartary, as well as in the Mississippi Valley. It seems to me to have been the nucleus around which the remaining monuments of Tiahuanaco sprung up, and the model upon which some of them were fashioned. How far, in shape or arrangement, it may have been symbolical, I shall not undertake to say; but I think that students of antiquity are generally prepared to concede a symbolical significance to the primitive pagan temples as well as to the cruciform edifices of Christian times.

We can hardly conceive of remains so extensive as those of Tiahuanaco, except as indications of a large population, and as evidences of the previous existence on or near the spot of a considerable city. But we find nowhere in the vicinity any decided traces of ancient habitations, such as abound elsewhere in Peru, in connection with most public edifices. Again, the region around is cold, and for the most part arid and barren. Elevated nearly thirteen thousand feet above the sea, no cereals grow except barley, which often fails to mature, and seldom, if ever, so perfects itself as to be available for seed. The maize is dwarf and scant, and uncertain in yield; and the bitter potato and quinoa constitute almost the sole articles of food for the pinched and impoverished inhabitants. This is not, prima facie, a region for nurturing or sustaining a large population, and certainly not one wherein we should expect to find a capital. Tiahuanaco may have been a sacred spot or shrine, the position of which was determined by an accident, an augury, or a dream, but I can hardly believe that it was a seat of dominion.

Some vague traditions point to Tiahuanaco as the spot whence Manco Capac, the founder of the Inca dynasty, took his origin, and whence he started northwards to teach the rude tribes of the Sierra religion and government; and some late writers, D’Orbigny and Castelnau among them, find reasons for believing that the whole Inca civilization originated here, or was only a reflex of that which found here a development, never afterwards equaled, long before the golden staff of the first Inca sunk into the earth where Cuzco was founded, thus fixing through superhuman design the site of the imperial city. But the weight of tradition points to the rocky islands of Lake Titicaca as the cradle of the Incas, whence Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo, his wife and sister, under the behest of their father, the Sun, started forth on their beneficent mission. Certain it is that this lake and its islands were esteemed sacred, and that on the latter were reared structures, if not so imposing as many other and perhaps later ones, yet of peculiar sanctity.

But before starting on our visit to that lake and its sacred islands, I must relate some of the incidents of our stay in Tiahuanaco.

End of Chapter XV. Book excerpt from “Peru; incidents of travel and exploration in the land of the Incas,” at Archive.org.

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