Puno & Lake Titicaca History

The history of the Lake Titicaca area is documented by the large number of ruins from Inca and Pre Inca times that can be found in this area. The two mayor pre Inca sites that one can find around this region are the Ruins of Tiahunaco and the funerary towers of Sillustani. The first was built by one of the earliest civilizations and can be found on the Bolivian side of the Lake. These ruins are seen as one of the foundations of Inca architecture. Building constructions used in this site can be found back in many of the buildings constructed by the Incas in later ages. Sillustani is a pre-Inca burial ground on the shores of Lake Titicaca near Puno. The tombs, which are built above ground in tower-like structures called chullpas, are the vestiges of the Colla people, the Aymara who were conquered by the Inca in the 1400s. The structures housed the remains of complete family groups, although they were probably limited to nobility. Many of the tombs have been dynamited by grave robbers, while others were left unfinished.

Ancestor worship and kinship were integral parts of Aymara culture, and the chullpas were built to emphasize the connection between life and death. The insides of the tombs were shaped like a woman's uterus, and corpses were mummified in a fetal position to recreate their birth. Some of the tombs also have lizards carved into the stone. Because they could re-grow their tails, lizards were considered a symbol of life. The only openings to the buildings face east, where it was believed the Sun was reborn by Mother Earth each day.

The architecture of the site is often considered more complex than typical Inca architecture. In contrast with the Inca, who used stones of varying shapes, the Colla used even rectangular edges. While chullpas are not unique to Sillustani and are found across the Altiplano, the site is considered the best and most preserved example of them. Apart from the remnants and constructions these left behind, we have not much proof anymore of these civilizations.

The Aymara were, as many people in this part of South America, were incorporated into the Inca society around the 1400’s. They took over a large part of their constructing skills and the societies were completely submerged into the Inca culture. The process of this is still unclear as the Inca Legend says that the first Inca, Manco Inca was born on the Island of the Sun and according to Andean legend, Lake Titicaca was the birthplace of civilization. Viracocha, the creator deity, lightened a dark world by having the sun, moon, and stars rise from the lake to occupy their places in the sky. From here he travelled north until Cusco where he established the capital of this new empire. This why the islands on lake Titicaca, especially Taquile and Isla del Sol have several small to medium sized ruins and terracing that goes back for hundreds of years and are still being cultivated today.

Taquile, whose Quechua name some believe was Intika, was part of the Inca Empire and has a number of Inca ruins. The island was one of the last locations in Peru to capitulate to Spanish domination during the Spanish conquest of Peru. It was captured for Carlo V and eventually passed to Count Rodrigo of Taquila, who inspired the island's current name. The Spanish forbade traditional dress and the islanders adopted the Spanish peasant dress that they are known for still using today, which they combine with extraordinarily finely-made Andean-style garments.

On Amantani Island you can find other Inca ruis, among them are the most famous called Pachamama & Pachatata (Mother Earth & Father Earth). There are also eight communities on the island.

The floating islands are supposedly constructed by refuges to escape the Inca in the 13th Century and inventively used the high reeds that can be found on the lake to develop islands, providing them with the space to live on the lake.

Lake Titicaca is truly a place where history is very much still alive. Walking through these highlands, see the islanders cultivate their crops as doing hundreds of years ago and see communities were time almost appeared to have stand still. And almost anywhere you go in this region, the beautiful deep blue color of the lake with the snowcapped mountains reflecting will never be far away. After a visit to this region you will understand why this was such an important area this was to ancient civilizations.

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