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Pilgrimage to Pumapunku

“The [Pumapunku] temple was a place of great religious importance and a center of pilgrimage, and it drew people to Tiwanaku. It’s easy to see why,” says archaeologist Alexei Vranich. In Tiwanaku times, pilgrims probably began their treks on the shores of Lake Titicaca, some 10 miles away from Pumapunku. According to Andean religion, the creator emerged from the waters of Lake Titicaca to shape the Earth and the first people. Perhaps because of this, the lake’s shores are ringed with the ruins of small shrines and temples dating as far back as 700 B.C.

Much of Pumapunku temple is now in ruins, but Vranich believes the walls would have been covered with sheets of beaten gold and silver as well as colorful textiles, with floors colored with layers of red, blue, and green paints. Vranich says it would have been a "mind-altering, life changing experience made even more so by the drugs they were taking." Hallucinogenic cactus and drug paraphernalia have been found among Tiwanaku’s ruins.

Photograph by:
  • Jonathan Irish/National Geographic Creative