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Cutting Edge of Architecture

Tiwanaku stone masons put their talent to the test with the Pumapunku temple. Surrounding the temple, the stone masons created a series of courtyards, sunken spaces, staircases, and other details to not only transform the landscape and influence how visitors experienced it, but integrate the landscape into their religious beliefs. The central temple, Akapana, was built in a series of seven levels to resemble the nearby Quimsachata peaks. To make it more like a mountain, the Tiwanaku plumbed the Akapana with drains so that when it rained, the water would rush through the mountain-temple and create the sound of a thundering waterfall. Most impressively, upon entering the temple, the view of Illimani Mountain disappeared; the Tiwanaku possibly believed this sacred peak to be home to the spirits of the dead. "They knew the effect it would have, that Illimani would disappear," archaeologist Alexei Vranich says. "It was one of the optical illusions they created here."

Text Source: Morell, Virginia, and Kenneth Garrett. "Empires Across the Andes." National Geographic Magazine June 2002: 106+. National Geographic Virtual Library.
Image by:
  • Gregory A. Harlin/National Geographic Creative