Tiahuanaco, near the shores of Lake Titicaca, was the center of a powerful, self-sustaining empire in the southern Central Andes. The roots of the Tiahuanaco capital can be found in the early village underlying the 1.5-square-mile civic-ceremonial core. The city was settled by 400 B. C. on the Tiahuanaco River, which empties into Lake Titicaca 9.3 miles to the north. The small farming village evolved into a regal city of multi-terraced platform pyramids, courts and urban areas, covering a total 2.31 square miles between AD 100 and 1000.
Little is known of the 30,000 to 60,000 urban dwellers or of the city’s crafts or administrative functions. We also know little about the storage system that was required for the bounty of surplus foods from the agricultural fields, the vast llama herds on the Poona, and the abundant fish caught in the lake. The core of this imperial capital was surrounded by a moat that restricted access to the temples and areas frequented by royalty.
The largest terraced pyramid of the city, the Akapana, was once believed to be a modified hill, and has proven to be a massive human construction with a base 656 feet square and a height of 55.8 feet. Its base is formed of beautifully cut and joined facing stone blocks. Within the cut- stone retaining walls are six T- shaped terraces with vertical stone pillars, an architectural technique that is also used in most of the other Tiahuanaco monuments. On the summit of the Akapana, reached by wide staircases, there was a sunken court with an area 164 feet square serviced by a subterranean drainage system.
Associated with the Akapana are four temples: the Semi-subterranean, the Kalasasaya, the Putuni, and the Kheri Kala. The first of these, the Semi-subterranean Temple, was studded with sculptured stone heads set into cut-stone facing walls and in the middle of the court was located a now-famous monolithic stela. Named for archaeologist Wendell C. Bennett who conducted the first archaeological research at Tiahuanaco in the 1930's, the Bennett Stela represents a human figure wearing elaborate clothes and a crown. The ancient Tiahuanaco heartland is estimated to have been about 365,000, of whom 115,000 lived in the capital and satellite cities, with the remaining 250,000 engaged in farming, herding, and fishing.
Adjacent to the sunken court, residences of the elite were revealed, while under the patio the remains of a number of seated individuals, believed to have been priests, faced a man with a ceramic vessel that displayed a puma-an animal sacred to the Tiahuanaco. Ritual offerings of llamas and ceramics, as well as high-status goods made of copper, silver and obsidian were also encountered in this elite residential area. The cut-stone building foundations supported walls of adobe brick, which have been eroded away by the yearly torrential rains over the centuries.
Tiahuanaco society was self-sustaining, for its agricultural, herding, and fishing resource base was more than sufficient to support the complex state administrative apparatus and the population under its control. The Tiahuanaco Empire collapsed between 1000 and 1100 A. D. It was a magnificent royal city that was calculated to inspire awe in the commoners. The walls of the temples and the stone monolithic statues and gateways are now shorn of their gold, textiles, and painted surfaces, which for centuries had shimmered from afar in the bright sunlight.