Origins » Nazca Civilization › Coyolxauhqui › Tezcatlipoca › Tiwanaku › Wari Civilization » History

Characters and historical events ››

  1. Nazca Civilization
  2. Coyolxauhqui
  3. Tezcatlipoca
  4. Tiwanaku
  5. Wari Civilization
  6. Atahualpa
  7. Sacsayhuaman
  8. Tulum

Ancient Origins ›› Its historical characters and places

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Nazca Civilization

Origin and history
by Mark Cartwright

The Nazca civilization flourished on the southern coast of Peru between 200 BCE and 600 CE. They settled in the Nazca and other surrounding valleys with their principal religious and urban sites being Cahuachi and Ventilla, respectively. The culture is noted for its distinctive pottery and textiles, and perhaps above all, for the geoglyphs made on the desert floor commonly known as Nazca lines. These can be simple lines, cleared spaces, or animals and figures traced in outline, and, as they cover several kilometres, they are best appreciated from the air.


The Nazca were contemporary with, and then outlasted, the Paracas culture and many Paracas sites have been discovered beneath Nazca settlements. Politically, the Nazca civilization has been described as a collection of chiefdoms occasionally acting in unison for mutual interest rather than as a single unified state. Or as M.E. Moseley puts it, "individuality - with cultural coherence, but without large-scale or integrated power - were Nazca hallmarks". This interpretation is reinforced by the art and architecture of the Nazca which displays common themes across settlements but at the same time there is a general lack of uniform town planning or evidence of centralization. The maximum population of the Nazca has been estimated at 25,000 people, spread across small villages which were typically built on terraced hillsides near irrigated floodplains.
As they developed, the Nazca extended their influence into the Pisco Valley in the north and the Acari Valley in the south. In addition, as llamas, alpaca and vicuna do not survive in the coastal areas the use of their wool in Nazca textiles is evidence that trade was established with highland cultures. In addition, Nazca mummies have been discovered wearing headdresses made with the feathers of rainforest birds, once again, illustrating that goods were traded across great distances.
The Nazca have left a legacy of distinctive imagery on their pottery, textiles, and across the desert floor of Peru.
Graves, often placed up to 4.5 metres deep and accessed via a shaft, are the richest source of Nazca artefacts and reveal many aspects of the culture. Fine pottery and textiles were buried with the dead and with no particular distinction between male and female burials. The deceased is mummified, carefully wrapped in textiles and usually placed in a seated position, skulls sometimes display deliberate elongation, and we know the Nazca wore tattoos. Tombs, especially shaft ones lined with mud bricks, could be re-opened and more mummies added, perhaps indicating ancestor worship. Caches of trophy-heads often accompany the mummy, many showing signs of trephination which allowed several to be strung on a single cord as illustrated in pottery designs. Trophy-heads are also frequently incorporated into textile designs, especially in miniature and as border decoration. There were also burials of what appear to be sacrificial victims. These have the eyes blocked and excrement was placed in the mouth which was then pinned shut with cactus needles. Alternatively, the tongue was removed and kept in a cloth pouch.
Weakened by a generation-long drought in the 5th century CE, the Nazca were eventually conquered by the Wari - who assumed many of their artistic traits - and Nazca settlements, thereafter, never rose beyond provincial status.


Ventilla was the Nazca urban capital and covered over 2 square kilometres (495 acres) and included ceremonial mounds, walled courts, and terraced housing. To fight the ever-present threat of drought the Nazcans built an extensive network of underground aqueducts, galleries, and cisterns in order to ensure a good water-supply during the dry season and minimize evaporation. These were reached by impressive descending spiral ramps and lined with river cobbles.


Founded c. 100 BCE, Cahuachi, on the south bank of the Nazca River, 50 km inland, was a site of pilgrimage and the Nazca religious capital. It was probably first considered sacred because it was one of the few locations with a guaranteed year-round water supply. The lack of domestic architecture indicates it was not used as a place of habitation.
The sacred site covers 11.5 square kilometres (2,841 acres) and has around 40 large adobe mounds which take advantage of natural hills. The largest mound, known as the Great Temple, is over 20 metres high. All of the mounds have an adjoining plaza and are topped by adobe walls. The largest plaza measure 47 x 75 metres. A low wall, 40 cm high, surrounded the main sacred precinct. Posts and postholes across the site suggest canopies protected worshippers from the sun. Textile scenes also suggest that religious gatherings were connected to harvest festivals, and piles of rubbish consisting mostly of pottery shards at the site indicate ritual feasting. This rubbish was deliberately left so that it became a part of the mound. Consequently, the larger the mound, the more it had been used in rituals. Some mounds also contained burials and large pots containing fine textiles given as religious offerings.
More details of the religious ceremonies that may have been carried out at Cauachi are depicted in Nazca art, especially on pottery, and many are scenes involving shamans. These religious figures, in a drug-induced trance, appealed to nature spirits to guarantee favourable conditions for agricultural abundance. Music was an important part of these rites, as is evidenced by the abundance of ceramic drums and panpipes in the archaeological record. The principal Nazca god seems to have been the Oculate Being who is represented in art as a flying deity figure wearing strings of trophy-heads. He is frequently depicted in pottery and textile designs in a horizontal position with streamers flowing from his body. Large staring eyes and a snake-like tongue are other typical features.

Nazca Lines

The Nazca drew geoglyphs and lines across the surrounding deserts and hills which were either stylized drawings of animals, plants, and humans or simple lines which connected sacred sites or pointed to water sources. Their exact purpose is disputed, but the most widely held theory is that they were designed to be walked along as part of religious rites and processions.
The lines were made remarkably easily and quickly by removing the oxidised darker surface rocks which lay closely scattered across the lighter coloured desert pampa floor. Most designs are only visible from the air, but some were made on hillsides and so are visible from the ground.
Lines could be single - both straight and curved - or in groups and could cross each other in complicated networks. The width and length of lines can vary; one of the longest straight lines is 20 km long and the total combined length of Nazca lines has been estimated at over 1,300 km. Those lines used to describe a specific shape are generally composed of a single continuous line. Designs could be geometric shapes or animals such as a hummingbird, spider and even a killer whale. Trees, plants, and flowers were another subject, as were human figures.
The scale of the designs can be huge; many are at least the size of a sports field. They were also made over several centuries and very often newer designs overlap and ignore older ones which would strongly suggest a lack of long-term and unified planning and, therefore, that they were made by different groups at different times and served more than a single purpose.

Nazca Pottery

The Nazca have achieved a reputation for great artistry and their finely worked pottery is an excellent example. Vessels were thin-walled and could take on a wide variety of shapes. Distinctive forms include the double-spouted containers with a single handle and generally bulbous vessels without a flat bottom or base. Bowls, beakers, jars, effigy drums, and panpipes were also common. There were also vessels in the shape of human heads, no doubt inspired by the Nazca practice of taking trophy-heads following battles.
Influenced by the earlier Paracas culture designs, Nazca pottery vessels were decorated with a slip (before firing) to produce a wide array of vividly rendered patterns, gods, shamanic imagery, crustaceans, condors, monkeys, and mythical transformational creatures, especially felines. The Nazca went on to create their own unique style and designs evolved from naturalistic to highly ornamented and then to highly abstract forms. Often the design covers the entire vessel producing a wrap-around three-dimensional effect, even a narrative, for example, with battle scenes. Designs might also exploit the contours of the vessel, for example, a nose on a protruding part. Designs can also overlap each other to create the illusion of space and depth.
Maroon, light purple, and blue-grey were a favourite choice of colours but a very wide range was used, more, in fact, than in any other ancient Andean culture. Backgrounds were usually in white, red, or black. Outlining figures in black was another feature and another example of the Nazca delight in linear design. A final polishing gave the colours a fine shine.

Nazca Textiles & Metalwork

The Nazca were fond of not only wool weaving and embroidery but also of painting plain cotton cloth with an array of colourful images and motifs. Textiles have survived remarkably well, thanks to the extremely dry climate, and they illustrate that Nazca weavers possessed the full range of Andean techniques and employed an astonishing range of colours and shades to produce intricate and detailed designs. Figures were especially popular in designs and most often are depicted participating in harvest scenes which show such foodstuffs as maize and beans. Animals, similar to those in the geoglyphs and pottery designs, were also a popular subject. Looms, spindles, needles, cotton balls, and pots of dyes have all been excavated from Nazca settlements.
Nazca metalworkers beat gold into thin sheets which were cut to create silhouettes. Preferring to keep surfaces smooth and reflective, only a little repoussé work provides sparing decoration. Masks were produced which were worn over the mouth and made the wearer appear to have a golden beard and whiskers. Gold full-face masks, hair plumes, and nose and forehead ornaments were also produced. These gold masks transform the face of the wearer and recall the transformation ceremonies carried out by the shamans who were such a popular subject in Nazca art.
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[ 2 ]


Origin and history
by Mark Cartwright

Coyolxauhqui (pron. Koy-ol-shauw-kee) was the Aztec goddess of the Moon or Milky Way who was famously butchered by her brother Huitzilopochtli, the god of war, in Aztec mythology. This story was commemorated in a celebrated large relief stone found at the foot of the pyramid of sacrifices, the Templo Mayor at the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan.

Coyolxauhqui vs. Huitzilopochtli

Coyolxauhqui, whose name signifies 'Painted with Bells', was considered either the sister or mother of Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of war and patron of Tenochtitlan. In the first version of this mythical duel, Coyolxauhqui upset her son Huitzilopochtli when she insisted on staying at the legendary sacred mountain Coatepec ('Snake Mountain', also spelt Coatepetl) and not following Huitzilopochtli’s plan to re-settle at a new site – the eventual Tenochtitlan. The god of war got his own way by decapitating and eating the heart of Coyolxauhqui, after which he led the Aztecs to their new home.
In the second version of this family strife, rebellious Coyolxauhqui led her 400 brothers, known as the Centzon Huitznaua (the 'Four Hundred Huiztnaua' who represented the stars of the southern sky), in a bid to kill her mother, the goddess Coatlicue. The pretext for this attack had been the news that Coatlicue had become pregnant in somewhat bizarre and dishonourable circumstances. Performing her duties, one day, as a cleaner at the shrine on the top of the sacred mountain Coatepec, a ball of feathers suddenly descended from the heavens and when Coatlicue tucked this into her belt it miraculously impregnated her. The resulting child was none other than the powerful warrior Huitzilopochtli.
Huitzilopochtli chopped up Coyolxauhqui into several large chunks and lobbed the pieces down the sacred Snake Mountain.
Coyolxauhqui’s plot came unstuck, though, when one of the Huiztnaua lost heart and decided to warn the still unborn Huitzilopochtli. Rising to his mother's defence the god sprang from the womb fully-grown and fully-armed as an invincible warrior. In another version, the god springs from his mother's severed neck after Coyolxauhqui had decapitated her. Either way, with his formidable weapon, the xiuhcoatl ('Fire Serpent') which was actually a ray of the sun, the warrior-god swiftly butchered his unruly siblings and, chopping up Coyolxauhqui into several large chunks, he lobbed the pieces down the mountainside. The head of the goddess was tossed into the sky and so became the moon.
This gruesome sibling myth may symbolise the daily victory of the Sun (one of Huitzilpochtli's associations) over the Moon and stars. That is even if the association with the moon has no particular archaeological evidence to support it and some scholars have argued that Coyolxauhqui was, instead, associated with the Milky Way.

The Great Coyolxauhqui Stone

The myth of Coyolxauhqui’s demise at the hands of Huitzilopochtli was commemorated in a large stone disk, known as the Great Coyolxauhqui Stone, which was excavated at the base of the Templo Mayor, Tenochtitlan. It depicts in high relief the dismembered and decapitated corpse of Coyolxauhqui and dates to c. 1473 CE during the reign of Axayacatl. The goddess wears only a warrior’s belt with skull, a headdress with eagle down feathers, and a bell on her cheek. The Templo Mayor pyramid was actually a twin shrine to the rain god Tlaloc and the war god Huitzilopochtli. A double staircase climbed the temple, and the disk was placed, significantly, at the base of the steps leading to Huitzilpochtli’s shrine. It was atop this temple that humans were sacrificed and their bodies dismembered and tossed down the steps to land at the base, just as in the myth on Snake Mountain.
Besides reminding of the importance of Huitzilopochtli, the stone was also a stark warning to the enemies of the Aztecs who saw themselves as the victorious warrior Huitzilopochtli. Defeated warriors led up the steps of the Temple Mayor for the ultimate sacrifice would have been reminded that they were soon to be the equivalent of the defeated Coyolxauhqui.
The 3.4 m (10.5 ft) diameter stone was re-discovered in 1978 CE when workers were excavating the basement of a bookstore in downtown Mexico City. In condensing a three-dimensional scene onto a two-dimensional plain, it is one of the great masterpieces of Aztec art and now resides in the Museo del Templo Mayor in the city in which it was discovered.

Other Representations in Art

Other notable representations of Coyolxauhqui are a fragmentary greenstone (diorite) slab which is older and (along with a stucco sculpture of the goddess) lay beneath the stone disk described previously. This earlier stone shows Huitzilopochtli’s xiuhcoatl weapon piercing the goddess’ chest and probably dates to the reign of Motecuhzoma I (1440-1469 CE).
Another famous representation of Coyolxauhqui is a large greenstone severed head found at Tenochtitlan which was probably carved during the reign of Ahuitzotl (1486-1502 CE). The goddess once again has the golden coyolli bells on each cheek. This head now resides in the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.
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[ 3 ]


Origin and history
by Mark Cartwright

Tezcatlipoca (pron. Tez-ca-tli-po-ca) or ‘Smoking Mirror’ in Nahuatl was one of the most important gods in Postclassical Mesoamerican culture and a particularly important deity for the Toltecs (from the 10th century CE) and later, for the Aztecs, most especially at Texcoco. Often considered as the supreme god he took on a bewildering array of names and manifestations depending on where and by whom he was worshipped. Invisible and omnipotent, he was known as a Creator god, the god of sustenance, a patron of warriors and as the bringer of both good and evil he was the very embodiment of change through conflict.
Tezcatlipoca was the 10th of the 13 Lords of the Day and associated with the horned owl in the Mesoamerican calendar whilst his nagual or animal spirit was the jaguar. For the Mexica he was associated with day 1: Death and the god was especially worshipped during Tóxcatl, the 6th month of the 18-month solar year with those who did revere the god carrying the epithet titlacauan, meaning ‘we are his slaves’, indicative perhaps that, for good or bad, there was no escaping the attentions and influence of Tezcatlipoca.

A Creator God

Tezcatlipoca was believed to be the son of the primordial androgynous god Ometeotl. In Aztec mythology he was the brother of Quetzalcoatl, Huizilopochtli and Xipe Totec. In the complex Mesoamerican creation myths Tezcatlipoca ruled the first world of the Sun but was then overthrown by Quetzalcóatl. The two later cooperated, however, to create the 5th Sun. Transformed into giant snakes, the two gods attacked and dismembered the female reptilian monster known as Tlaltcuhtli (or Cipactli), one part became the earth and the other the sky. Trees, plants and flowers sprang from the dead creature’s hair and skin whilst springs and caves were made from her eyes and nose and the valleys and mountains came from her mouth.
The god could intervene directly in human affairs to bring both happiness and sorrow.

The Many Faces of Tezcatlipoca

Sharing traits with the earlier God II of the Classic Maya, Tezcatlipoca was often regarded as the one supreme omnipotent god in various Mesoamerican cultures and all other gods could be considered as manifestations of this one great being. He was known as Black Tezcatlipoca or the ‘Smoking Mirror’, god of the day and of Texcoco. The mirror may signify that the god is all-seeing or that he rules over all of the earth, sometimes referred to as a smoking mirror. He is also known as Blue Tezcatlipoca, the ‘Hummingbird Sorcerer’, god of Tenochtitlán, where he was associated with the sun and the war god Huitzilopochtli. He could be known as Red Tezcatlipoca, the ‘Flayed One’ and associated with the gods Camaxtli and Xipe Totec (god of the Tlaxcaltecans) or as White Tezcatlipoca, the ‘Plumed Serpent’ or Quetzalcóatl, god of the Cholula. Yet another manifestation of the god was as Tepeyolohtli, the jaguar god that lived in the centre of the mountain of the earth.
Ever-present, the god could intervene directly in human affairs to bring both happiness and sorrow. Tezcatlipoca could take on more sinister connotations when he was known as lord of the shadows or night, a sorcerer of black magic and the bringer of evil, death and destruction as Chalchiuhtecólotl, ‘Precious Owl’ or Chalchiuhtotolin, ‘Precious Turkey’. Also associated with conflict he was known as Yaotl or ‘Enemy’ and was patron of warriors and their training camps (telpochcalli). He was not always protective to soldiers, though, for sometimes he could be found at crossroads at the dead of night, ready to challenge any unsuspecting warriors.
In a similar vein, Tezcatlipoca could represent those other disagreeable elements of the human condition: intense cold, sin and misery when he took on the guise of Itztlacoliuhqui. Finally, in a more positive role, when he was Omácatl, he was seen as the patron of the aristocracy and feasts. In keeping with the god’s complex character of conflicting opposites, though, in this role he could at the same time represent thieves and evil sorcerers.

Tóxcatl Ceremonies

In the month of Tóxcatl, the sixth month (or 5th) of the Aztec solar year, Tezcatlipoca was worshipped in special ceremonies. As with other Aztec religious rites an important part of the ceremony was the impersonation of the god, most often by a prisoner of war, typically the best looking and most courageous one. For one year before, in fact, the captive was tutored by priests, treated as a noble and even given four women to look after him. These women themselves impersonated four goddesses - Atlatonan, Huixtocihuatl, Xilonen and Xochiquetzal. When the special month finally came around the impersonator was handsomely dressed in a warrior costume and in a symbolic wedding festival he married his four goddesses. Honoured with flowers and dances the man-god was then ferried to a dedicated temple where he was promptly sacrificed and his heart removed to honour the real Tezcatlipoca.

Mythical Adventures

Besides the Creation, Tezcatlipoca is involved in many mythical tales and one of the more curious is the arrival of the first dogs. The trouble began with the old couple Tata and Nene, survivors from the flood which had previously destroyed the 4th world. Finally making land they beached their cypress log boat and proceeded to make a fire by rubbing sticks together. Then they decided to cook a fish but the smoke from their fire disturbed the stars, especially Citlallatonac and Citlalicue. These gods complained vociferously to Tezcatlipoca who, perhaps a little harshly, lopped off the heads of the couple and reattached them to their backsides, thus, the very first dogs were created.
Another story explains Tezcatlipoca’s association with music. One day the god instructed a black wind god to go to the sun and fetch some music. The wind god needed help for such a dangerous mission and so he enrolled Tezcatlipoca’s assistants - a turtle, mermaid and a whale - these he put together to make a bridge so that he might cross the ocean. The sun saw the wind god arriving and warned his entourage of musicians not to answer any demands the wind might make, otherwise, they would be sent back to earth with the wind. However, the wind god started singing in such an irresistible manner that one of the musicians felt compelled to answer and so he was punished by the sun and made to return to earth, bringing with him the gift of music. The god’s love of music was also displayed during the ceremony in Tóxcatl where the Tezcatlipoca impersonator broke a flute every step of the pyramid he climbed on his way to being sacrificed.

Representations in Art

The earliest certain representations of the god in art appear in the stone sculpture of the Chichen Itzá in the Early Postclassical period (900-1200 CE). Here he may have a smoking mirror on his head and a serpent in place of a foot, whilst in later depictions of the god he has a polished black obsidian mirror instead of a left foot. This replacement of the foot is a reference to a wound he received in his famous battle with Tlaltecuhtli during the Creation. He is often in the company of a turquoise snake, may have stripes painted on his face in yellow and black and wear a costume with corn designs (in reference to his role as god of the dry season and war) and skulls and bones (as he is an underworld god). Sometimes he carries four arrows in his right hand, weapons he uses to punish wrongdoers. The god could be depicted in different colours depending on which cardinal point he was representing - black for north, blue for south, red for east and white for west.
Tezcatlipoca is often represented wearing a turquoise mask with a black eye band. Indeed, one of the most famous art objects of the god is the decorated skull now in the British Museum in London. The skull is covered in turquoise and black lignite mosaic with red thorny oyster shell in the nasal cavity. Polished pyrite surrounded by white conch shell provide the eyes. The mask interior is lined with deerskin and the same material is used for the two straps attached to the skull. This striking object may well be one of the gifts that the Aztec king Montezuma II gave to Hernando Cortés in 1519 CE.
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[ 4 ]


Origin and history
by Mark Cartwright

Tiwanaku (or Tiahuanaco) was the capital of the Tiwanaku empire between c. 200 - 1000 CE and is situated in the Titicaca basin. At an altitude of 3,850 metres (12,600 ft) it was the highest city in the ancient world and had a peak population of between 30,000 and 70,000 residents. The Tiwanaku empire, at its largest extent, dominated the altiplano plains and stretched from the Peruvian coast to northern Bolivia and included parts of northern Chile. Tiwanaku is located near the southern (Bolivian) shores of the sacred Lake Titicaca and it would become the centre of one of the most important of all Andean cultures. The architecture, sculpture, roads, and empire management of Tiwanaku would exert a significant influence on the later Inca civilization.


Tiwanaku was founded some time in the Early Intermediate Period (200 BCE - 600 CE). The first examples of monumental architecture date to around 200 CE but it was from 375 CE that the city became grander in its architecture and scope. These new structures included large religious buildings, gateways, and sculptures. The layout of the city centre was constructed on an east-west axis, built in a grid design, and the whole was surrounded by a moat (perhaps only symbolic) on three sides which linked with Lake Titicaca on the fourth side of the city.
In mythology Lake Titicaca was considered the centre of the world, two islands on it were made into the sun and moon, and it was the site where the first race of stone giants was produced and subsequently, the human race. It has been suggested that many of the monuments at the site were placed in alignment with the sunrise and or the midday sun. However, the fact that many of Tiwanaku's monuments have been shifted about over the centuries makes the discovery of their original positions extremely difficult.
Outside of the moat there were residential buildings arranged in compounds and built using mud bricks. Irrigation was also provided for crops via canals, aqueducts and dikes which brought water from the lake. Such measures allowed for a successful and reliable agricultural yield (especially potatoes) and for sustained population growth so that at its peak the city covered up to 10 square kilometres.
Tiwanaku was the capital of one of the most influentional pan-Andean cultures.

The Sacred Centre

One of the striking features of Tiwanaku are the large open spaces for ceremonial and religious activities which employ fine monumental stonework, work which has long been admired including by the Incas. Their are two principal types of walls - those with large irregular blocks and those with fine-fitting and straight-edged blocks. Many blocks at Tiwanaku display grooves cut into them for the placing of ropes which made their transportation and positioning easier. Blocks could be held together using bronze clamps or staples, usually cast directly into T and I-shaped sockets in the stone. The precision of some of the cut blocks suggests the use of relatively sophisticated tools and instruments of measurement. An indication of these skills is that the much later Inca deliberately imported their stonemasons from the Lake Titicaca basin in direct homage to the gifted builders of Tiwanaku.
The focal point of the sacred precinct was the Akapana Temple which was an artificial hill over 15 metres high and shaped into seven tiers. Steps were cut into the east and west sides. The top of the mound was made into a flat area of 50 square metres and used to create a T-shaped sunken court. The court is paved with andesite and sandstone slabs and drainage was provided by stone channels which cascaded water down each of the terraces. The site may have been used in shamanic rituals and a High Priest was buried there with a puma effigy incense burner and puma-headed humans iconography also covers the stonework of the temple.
The Kalasasaya is another sacred structure, this time rectangular and measuring 130 by 120 metres. Its sacred sunken court provided space for public and religious ceremonies and, as a reminder of this, has severed stone heads protruding from the interior of its sandstone perimeter walls which also include regularly placed tall columns. The precinct is accessed via a single staircase which again has stone columns either side. Standing in the precinct is the Ponce Monolith, a 3.5 metre tall stone perhaps depicting a ruler, High Priest, or god of Tiwanaku. The figure holds a kero (qero) or tall beaker in one hand and a staff-like object, perhaps a sceptre or coca snuff tablet, in the other.
In the north-west corner (not its original position) of the Kalasasaya is perhaps the most famous structure of Tiwanaku, the monumental Gateway of the Sun. Carved from a single massive block of andesite stone, the Gateway is 2.8 metres high and 3.8 metres wide. The opening in the gate, with its distinctive double jamb, is 1.4 metre wide. The top portion has relief carvings of 48 winged demons or angels, each with either a human or bird head and wearing a feathered headress. These figures are set in three rows and in the centre is a deity who has been identified as the Staff Deity from the Chavin culture, forerunner of the Andean creator god Viracocha. The god holds a staff with condor heads in each hand (identified by some as a spear-thrower and arrows), has a mask like face, has 19 rays coming from his head which end in either a circle or puma head, and is crying, probably to signify rain. Underneath these figures is a row of geometrical designs. Each side of the gate has a single rectangular niche.
Yet another temple, known as the Semi-Subterranean Temple, also has a sunken court which measures 28.5 metres by 26 metres and was accessed via a single staircase leading down into the court from the south side. The interior wall of this court also has stone heads protruding from it. In the centre of the court stelae or sculptures were found such as the 'Bennett Stela' which is 7.3 metres high and depicts possibly a ruler or High Priest of Tiwanaku. It is the tallest stone sculpture surviving from any ancient Andean culture. The figure is weeping and holds a beaker in one hand and a staff in the other. The figure is also covered in 30 small representations of animals and mythical creatures.
The Pumapunku was another temple mound, once again with a T-shape sunken court but this time the mound has only three tiers and is situated 1 km to the south-west of the main complex. The Pumpapunku is 150 square metres in area and 5 metres high. Unlike the Akapana mound there are stone portals with huge monolith lintels which functioned as a gateway to the whole sacred complex.

Residential Buildings

No storehouses or administrative buildings have been found at the site but there were large residential areas surrounding the sacred centre, these now lie under fields used for agriculture. These more humble structures were made using dried-mud bricks (adobe) and built on cobblestone foundations. There were also finer buildings in this area, elite residences with high adobe walls surrounding a coutyard and buildings constructed from finely-cut stone blocks. One of these buildings, known as the 'Palace of the Multicoloured Rooms', has walls which were painted in many coats over time in colours such as blue, green, red, orange and yellow. There are also canals, drainage channels, hearths, wall niches, and stone paved courtyards. Dedicated burial goods were excavated at the entrance to the building - gold, silver and turquoise jewellery, human remains, a llama foetus, pottery and bone tools.

Sculpture, Pottery & Textiles

Much of the sacred imagry at Tiwanaku can be found in other Andean cultures. The culture at Tiwanaku was influenced by its predecessors in the Titicaca basin, for example, the imagry of the Chavin and the architecture at Chiripa and Pukará. Repeated images at the site include the Staff Deity, severed trophy heads, and winged creatures (usually depicted in profile and running) with bird heads such as the condor and falcon. The Staff Deity appears on the famous Gateway of the Sun and is in typical pose: frontal holding a staff in each hand, rays coming from his head, a mask-like face, and wearing a tunic with kilt and belt. The image also appears on pottery and elsewhere in architecture and was likely the inspiration for the later worshipped Creator god Viracocha.
There are also several examples of large stone sculptures which the people of Tiwanaku may have intended to represent the first race of giants in pan-Andean mythology or former Tiwanaku rulers and priests. Some sculptures still have gold pins embedded in them suggesting fabric was used to dress them. They can also display traces of paint, indicating they were once brightly decorated. Other interesting sculptures from the site include a huge boulder sculpted into a model of a sacred precinct and the chachapumas, sculptures of puma-headed warriors who hold a knife in one hand and a severed human head in the other. These, along with the stone wall heads and finds of polished human skulls, strongly sugest a cult to the pan-Andean decapitator god. Other rituals are suggested by mass burials at the site such as one grave with 40 males, all with signs of being cut to pieces. The fact that the remains are buried in an area of rain-deposited sediment suggests that they were sacrificed after a catastrophic climate event.
Pottery finds include cups, bowls and jars with anthropomorhpic designs all with the distinctive orange base of Tiwanaku pottery. Distinctive shapes are the tall beakers and large storage vessels which were partially buried in pits. Many vessels show evidence of some degree of mass production using moulds. Most are brightly painted and gods, animals and geometric designs were a popular subject. Of particular note are vessels in the form of human heads, some capture precise idiosyncratic features and are, therefore, genuine portraits of a specific person or model. Tiwanaku pottery was exported throughout the empire and beyond via the large llama caravans used to connect Tiwanaku to its empire.
As with other Andean cultures, the residents of Tiwanaku were skilled weavers. Textiles rarely survive in the quantities of other more durable artefacts but enough examples are available to illustrate the skill and innovation of textile producers at the site. For example, a woollen tunic has flower decorations set in hard to achieve diagonal lines. Woollen hats from Tiwanaku have a distinctive box shape and are composed of five separately woven panels stitched together, sometimes with tassles added at the corners. Tiwanaku textiles use bright colours and the decorative motifs familiar from pottery - animals, birds, gods, and human figures - but these can appear in more abstract form and be squashed or stretched to suit the form of the object, especially in wall hangings and clothes. Geometric forms were also widely used in textile patterns, particularly the stepped diamond motif which is also seen in Tiwanaku architectural sculpture.


The Tiwanaku empire collapsed around c. 1000 CE when faced with attacks from the Aymara Kingdoms, a collective group of states which included Colla, Lupaka, Cana, Canchi, Umasuyo and Pacaje. Tiwanaku the city was abandoned, possibly as late as c. 1100 CE, probably due to excessive drought brought about by regional climate change, but their monumental stone art and architecture survived to inspire the reverential Incas to similar artistic feats and they continue to impress the modern-day visitor with their timeless appeal.
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[ 5 ]

Wari Civilization

Origin and history
by Mark Cartwright

The Wari civilization flourished in the coastal and highland areas of ancient Peru between c. 450 and c. 1000 CE. Based at their capital Huari, the Wari successfully exploited the diverse landscapes they controlled to construct an empire administered by provincial capitals connected by a large road network. Their methods of maintaining an empire and artistic style would have a significant influence on the later Inca civilization.
The Wari were contemporary with those other great Middle Horizon (c. 600 - 1000 CE) cultures centred at Tiwanaku and Pukara. The more militaristic Wari were also gifted agriculturalists and they constructed canals to irrigate terraced fields. The economic stability and prosperity this brought allowed the Wari to implement a combined strategy of military might, economic benefits, and distinct artistic imagery to forge an empire across ancient Peru. Their superior management of the land also helped them resist the 30-year drought period which during the end of the 6th century CE contributed to the decline of the neighbouring Nazca and Moche civilizations.
The Wari were undoubtedly influenced by contemporary cultures, for example, appropriating the Chavin Staff deity -- a god closely associated with the sun, rain, and maize, all so vital to cultures dependent on agriculture and the whims of an unreliable climate. They transformed it into a ritual icon present on textiles and pottery, spreading their own branded iconography and leaving a lasting legacy in Andean art.
The Wari implemented a combined strategy of military might, economic benefits, and distinct artistic imagery to forge an empire across ancient Peru.


The capital at Huari (25 km north of modern Ayacucho) is located at an altitude of 2,800 m and is spread over 15 square kilometres. It was first settled around 250 CE and eventually had a population possibly as high as 70,000 at its peak. Huari shows typical features of Andean architecture: densely packed wall-enclosed rectangular structures which can be further divided into a maze of compartments. The city's walls are massive (up to 10 metres high and 4 metres thick) and built using largely unworked stones set with a mud mortar. Buildings had two or three stories, courtyards were lined with stone benches set in the walls, and drains were stone-lined. The floors and walls of buildings were generally covered with plaster and painted white.
There is little distinction in Wari architecture between public and private buildings and little evidence of town planning. A royal palace has, however, been identified in the northwest section of the city, its oldest area of habitation and called Vegachayoq Moqo. A now ruined temple was located in the Moraduchayuq compound in the southeast of the city. It was built in the 6th century CE and had subterranean parts with the whole structure once painted red. Like other buildings at the site it was deliberately destroyed and ritually buried. The city seems to have been abandoned c. 800 CE for reasons unknown.
Tombs have been excavated at Huari which contained fine examples of Wari textiles. Ceramics are also amongst finds at the site. A royal tomb was discovered in the Monjachayoq zone which consists of 25 chambers on two different levels, all lined with finely cut stone slabs. In addition, a shaft descends to a third level chamber which has the shape of a llama. Finally, a circle chamber was cut out at a fourth level down. The llama-shaped tomb, looted in antiquity, was the royal resting place and dates to 750-800 CE.
Huari was once surrounded by irrigated fields and fresh water ran through the city via underground conduits. Further indicators of prosperity are the presence of areas dedicated to the production of specific goods such as ceramics and jewellery. Precious materials for these workshops and imported goods indicate trade with far-flung places: shells from the coast and Spondylus from Ecuador, for example. The presence of buildings used for storage at Huari and other Wari cities also indicates a centrally controlled trade network spread across ancient Peru.


Another important Wari centre was at Pikillacta, southeast of Huari which was founded c. 650 CE. Located at an altitude of 3250 m, the heart of this administrative and military settlement site was built in a rectangular form measuring 745 x 630 metres and is laid out in a precise geometrical pattern of squares. The interiors of individual compounds are, however, idiosyncratic in layout.
As at other Wari sites, access was strictly controlled via a single, winding entrance. Notable finds at Pikillacta include 40 miniature greenstone figures depicting elite citizens and small figurines (no larger than 5 cm) of transformational shamans, warriors, bound captives, and pumas in copper, gold, and semi-precious stone. The site was abandoned c. 850 - 900 CE and there is evidence of destruction by fire of some buildings and deliberately sealed doorways.
Other important Wari cities were Viracochapampa, Jincamocco, Conchopata, Marca Huamachuco, and Azangaro. There were also purely military sites such as the fort at Cero Baul, which bordered on Tiwanaku territory to the south. These sites were connected to water sources and each other by a system of roads.

Wari Art

Wari art is best evidenced in textile finds which often depict the Staff Deity, plants, the San Pedro cactus flower, pumas, condors, and especially llamas, illustrating the importance of these herd animals to the Wari. Textiles were buried with the dead and those tombs in the dry dessert have been well-preserved. Textiles were multi-coloured, although blue was particularly favoured, and designs were composed of predominantly rectilinear geometric forms, especially the stepped diamond motif. At the same time, despite seemingly regular geometric patterns, weavers often introduced a single random motif or colour change (typically using green or indigo) into their pieces. These could be signatures or an illustration that rules could always have exceptions.
Wari designs eventually became so abstract that figures were essentially unrecognisable, perhaps in a deliberate attempt by the elite to monopolize their interpretation. Abstract figures distorted almost beyond recognition may also be an attempt to represent the shamanic transformation and drug-induced trance consciousness which were part of Wari religious ceremonies.
Popular Wari pottery forms were the double-spouted vessels seen elsewhere in Andean cultures, large urns, beakers, bowls, and moulded effigy figures. Decorative designs were heavily influenced by those used in Wari textile production. The Staff Deity was an especially popular subject for beakers (kero) as were warriors with dart throwers, shields, and military tunics.
Precious metals were also a popular medium for elite goods. Notable finds from a royal tomb at Espiritu Pampa include a silver face mask and breast-plate, gold bracelets, and other jewellery in semi-precious stones such as greenstone and lapis lazuli. Human figures in typical Wari costume - sleeveless tunic and four-cornered hat - were also made in hammered precious metals.

The Wari Legacy

Although the exact causes of Wari decline are not known, theories range from over-extension of the empire to another period of extended drought in the 9th century CE. Whatever the reasons, the region returned to a situation of fragmented polities for several centuries.
The most lasting legacy of the Wari is their artistic style which not only influenced the contemporary Moche but also the later Lambayeque civilization, and later still, the Incas. A large number of the roads built by the Wari were also used by the Incas within their own extensive road system, as were a great number of Wari terraces for agriculture. The capital at Huari was looted in antiquity and again in the 16th century CE by the Spanish.
Re-discovered in the mid-20th century CE, the first excavations began in the 1940's and continue today, gradually revealing the wealth and power once enjoyed by one of the most important of all ancient Andean cultures.
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[ 6 ]


Origin and history
by Mark Cartwright

Atahualpa (also Atawallpa) was the last ruler of the Inca empire who reigned from 1532 CE until his capture and execution by the invading Spanish forces led by Pizarro in 1533 CE. The troubled Incas had suffered six years of damaging civil war and Atahualpa was only just enjoying his ascendancy to the throne when the Spanish arrived to turn the Inca world upside down. Further weakened by European-introduced diseases which wiped out millions, the Incas could do nothing against the better-armed invaders who would stop at nothing to gain the fabulous riches of the Americas’ largest ever empire.

Civil War & Succession

Atahualpa’s father Wayna Qhapaq died in 1528 CE of smallpox, the most distinguished victim of the epidemic of European diseases which had spread from central America even faster than the foreign invaders themselves could manage. This epidemic killed a staggering 65-90% of the native population. When Wayna Qhapaq died without choosing a second heir (his first choice Ninan Cuyuchi also died of smallpox) Atahualpa battled for the throne with his half-brother Waskar (or Huascar) in a hugely damaging civil war which the Spanish would be only too glad to take advantage of when they arrived on Inca territory in 1532 CE. Atahualpa was based in the northern capital at Quito while Waskar was at Cuzco. After diplomatic relations soured between the two brothers, open warfare broke out in the north. There followed a series of battles costly to both sides until, after six years of fighting, Atahualpa finally prevailed.
By the time Spanish arrived, Atahualpa had managed to capture Waskar but the factions which had deeply split the empire remained. Waskar was imprisoned and his kin-group was killed, as were those who had supported him. Atahualpa even killed historians and destroyed the Inca quipu records. This was to be a total renewal, what the Incas called a pachakuti or ‘turning over of time and space’, an epoch-changing event which the Incas believed periodically occurred through the ages. What Atahualpa did not know was that another pachakuti was less than a year away, and this time he would be its victim.
Atahualpa’s reign may have been brief but, as the Sapa (‘Unique’) Inca, he lived a life of extreme luxury.
Atahualpa’s reign may have been brief but, as the Sapa (‘Unique’) Inca, he lived a life of extreme luxury. Drinking from gold cups, wearing silver-soled sandals and treated as a manifestation of the Sun god Inti on earth, Atahualpa was the head of the largest and richest empire the Americas had ever seen. His taste for opulence was chronicled by the Spanish who said that he once ordered a cloak made only from bat skins. As the Inca king, he had the right to wear even more gold jewellery than the already over-laden nobility. His regalia included a feather headband (Ilauto), a golden mace (champi), and king-size golden ear-spools. The monarch travelled on a gold and silver litter further embellished with parrot feathers. He was fed food by a servant, and anything the royal person touched was collected and burnt in an annual ceremony to ward off witchcraft. If ever there was a pampered ruler it was the Sapa Inca of ancient Peru.

Pizarro Arrives

On Friday, 15th of November, 1532 CE the 168-man force of Spaniards led by Francisco Pizarro approached the Inca town of Cajamarca in the highlands of Peru. Pizzaro sent word that he wished to meet the Inca king, there enjoying the local springs and basking in his recent victory over Waskar. Atahualpa agreed to finally meet the much-rumoured bearded white men who were known to have been fighting their way from the coast for some time. Confidently surrounded by his 80,000 strong army Atahualpa seems not to have seen any threat from such a small enemy force and he made Pizarro wait until the next day. Then, seated on a low wooden throne and accompanied by all his wives and nobles, the Inca ruler finally came face to face with these curious visitors from another world.

Atahualpa is Captured

The first formal meeting between Pizarro and Atahualpa involved a few speeches, a drink together while they watched some Spanish horsemanship and not much else. Both sides went away planning to capture or kill the other party at the first available opportunity. The very next day Pizarro, using the conveniently labyrinth-like architecture of the Inca town to his advantage, set his men in ambush to await Atahualpa’s arrival in the main square. When the royal troop arrived Pizarro fired his small canons and then his men, wearing armour, attacked on horseback.
In the ensuing battle, where firearms were mismatched against spears, arrows, slings, and clubs, 7,000 Incas were killed against zero Spanish losses. Atahualpa was hit a blow on the head and captured alive. Either held for ransom by Pizarro or even offering a ransom himself, Atahualpa’s safe return to his people would only happen if a room measuring 6.2 x 4.8 metres were filled with all the treasures the Incas could provide up to a height of 2.5 m. This was done and the chamber was piled high with gold objects from jewellery to idols. The room was then filled twice again with silver objects. The whole task took eight months and the value today of the accumulated treasures would have been well over $50 million. Meanwhile, Atahualpa continued to run his empire from captivity and Pizarro sent exploratory expeditions to Cuzco and awaited reinforcements from Panama. Then, having got his ransom, Pizarro summarily tried and executed Atahualpa anyway, on the 26th of July 1533 CE. The Inca king was originally sentenced to death by burning at the stake but, after the monarch agreed to be baptized, this was commuted to death by strangulation.
Some of Pizarro’s men thought this was the worst possible response but the wily Spanish leader had seen just how subservient the Incas were to their king, even when he was held captive by the enemy. As one Miguel de Estete described the king receiving visitors during his captivity,
When they arrived before him, they did him great reverence, kissing his feet and hands. He received them without looking at them. It is remarkable to record the dignity of Atahualpa and the great obedience they all accorded him (D’Altroy, 93).
As a living god, Pizarro perhaps knew that only the king’s death could bring about the total defeat of the Incas. Indeed, even in death the Inca king exerted an influence over his people for the severed head of Atahualpa gave birth to the enduring Inkarri legend. For the Incas believed that one day the head would grow a new body and their ruler would return, defeat the Spanish, and restore the natural order of things.

The Collapse of the Inca Empire

One of the reasons the Inca empire collapsed so swiftly following Atahualpa’s death, perhaps in less than 40 years, was the fact that it was founded on, and maintained by, force, and the ruling Incas (only 40,000) were very often unpopular with their subjects (10,000,000 of them), especially in the northern territories. This was not least because the Incas extracted heavy tribute from conquered peoples – both in kind and labour - and loyal Inca subjects were forced on these communities to better integrate them into the empire. The Inca Empire, in fact, had still not reached a stage of consolidated maturity – it had only just reached its greatest extent a few years before.
It was a combination of factors then, a veritable perfect storm of rebellion, disease, and invasion, which brought the downfall of Atahualpa and the mighty Inca Empire. In addition, the Inca mode of warfare was highly ritualized where such things as deceit, ambush, and subterfuge were unknown. Inca warriors were highly dependent on their officers, and if these fell in battle, a whole army could quickly collapse in panicked retreat. These factors and the superior weaponry of the Europeans meant the Incas had very little chance of defending a huge empire already difficult to manage.


Pizarro received criticism from the Spanish king Carlos I for treating a foreign sovereign so shabbily, and his attempts to install a puppet ruler – Thupa Wallpa, the younger brother of Waskar - failed to restore any sort of political order. The Spanish soon found out that the vast geographical spread of their new empire and its inherent difficulties in communication and control (even if their predecessors had built an excellent road system) meant that they faced the same management problems as the Incas. Added to this was the massive population decline following epidemics and communities still resentful of outside rule. For those local tribes, a change in rulers, unfortunately, brought no respite from a rapacious overlord, once again, eager to steal their wealth and impose on them a foreign religion.
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[ 7 ]


Origin and history
by Mark Cartwright

The Sacsayhuaman (also Saksaywaman or Saqsawaman, meaning ‘Royal Eagle’) fortress-temple complex lies at the northern edge of the former Inca capital Cuzco. Constructed during the reign of Pachacuti (1438-1471 CE) and his successors, its massive, well-built walls remain today as a testimony not only to Inca power but also the skills of Inca architects and their approach of blending their monumental structures harmoniously into the natural landscape. The Sacsayhuaman is still used today for reenactments of Inca-inspired ceremonies.


The fortress was the largest structure built by the Incas. It was constructed on an elevated rocky promontory facing the northern marshy ground outside the Inca capital of Cuzco. Pottery finds indicate that the site had previously been occupied by Inca residents. Begun in the reign of the great Inca empire builder Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, or perhaps his son Thupa Inca Yupanqui in the mid-15th century CE, the design was credited to four architects: Huallpa Rimachi, Maricanchi, Acahuana, and Calla Cunchui. The first structures were made using only mud and clay. Subsequent rulers then replaced these with magnificent stonework which employed huge finely-cut polygonal blocks, many over 4 metres in height and weighing over 100 tons. To complete such a massive project 20,000 labourers were drafted in under the well-established Inca system of extracting both goods and labour from peoples they conquered. Working in a system of rotation 6,000 were given quarrying duties while the other 4,000 dug trenches and laid the foundations. The walls of the fortress were built in vertical sections, probably, each section being the responsibility of one ethnic labour group.
The Incas were master stonemasons. Huge blocks were quarried and shaped using nothing more than harder stones and bronze tools. Marks on the stone blocks indicate that they were mostly pounded into shape rather than cut. Blocks were moved using ropes, logs, poles, levers, and earthen ramps (telltale marks can still be seen on some blocks), and some stones still have nodes protruding from them or indentations which were used to help workers grip the stone. That rocks were roughly hewn in the quarries and then worked on again at their final destination is clearly indicated by unfinished examples left at quarries and on various routes to building sites. The fine cutting and setting of the blocks on site was so precise that mortar was not necessary. Finally, a finished surface was provided using grinding stones and sand.
The Fortress complex included temples, notably one to the sun god Inti, & was used as a location for Inca ceremonies.
Experimental archaeology has demonstrated that it was much quicker than scholars had previously thought to prepare and dress the stones used by the Incas. Even so, it would have taken many months to produce a single wall. The Incas also ensured that their blocks interlocked and the walls were sloped to maximise their resistance to earthquake damage. Time has proved their efficiency as 500 years of earthquakes have done remarkably little damage to Inca structures left in their complete state and the Sacsayhuaman is no exception.


If the theory that all of Cuzco was laid out to form a puma shape when seen from above is correct, then Sacsayhuaman was its head. The fortress has three distinct terraces which recede backwards on each other. The walls, each reaching a height of 18 metres, are laid out in a zigzag fashion stretching over 540 metres so that each wall has up to 40 segments, which allowed the defenders to catch attackers in a crossfire; a result helped also by the general curvature of the entire fortress facade. In addition, Inca architects very often sought to harmoniously blend their structures into the surrounding natural landscape and the outline of the Sacsayhuaman was similarly built to mimic the contours of the mountain range which towers behind it. This is particularly evident when the sun creates deep triangular shadows between the zigzag terraces in exactly the same way that it does on the mountain range with its peaks and valleys.
In another defensive consideration, there is only one small doorway on each terrace which gave access to the interior buildings and towers on the hillside behind. Eyewitness Spanish accounts describe a large circular four or five-storey tower centrally placed within the fortress and its foundations (along with those for two others) can be seen today. To the rear of the complex, in an area known as the Suchuna (slide), there were more terraces, patios, outbuildings, and a system of water supply including cisterns and aqueducts. Finally, there is an area of stepped terracing cut into the side of the Rodadero Hill, which is thought to have been a religious shrine, perhaps dedicated to the earth goddess Pachamama, or a viewing platform for the Inca ruler to watch ceremonies from or a place for astronomical observations.


On completion, the fortress was said to have had a capacity for at least 1,000 warriors, but it was rarely needed as the Incas did not suffer invasions from enemy states. Probably, for this reason, Sacsayhuaman was designed as much more than a fortress. The complex included temples, notably one to the sun god Inti, and was used as a location for Inca ceremonies. The Sacsayhuaman was also a major Inca storage depot where arms, armour, foodstuffs, valuable textiles, ceramics, metal tools, and precious metals were kept.
The Sacsayhuaman did operate as a fortress during the Spanish conquest of Peru from 1532 CE. The Spaniards, led by Francisco Pizarro, conquered Cuzco shortly after killing the Inca ruler Atahualpa in 1533 CE but then faced an organised and sustained siege from a large Inca army. Pizarro sent his brother Juan to attack the Sacsayhuaman using cavalry and then climb the walls with ladders. The offensive was successful, even if Juan died in the process, and the occupation of the fortress allowed the Spanish to resist the siege.

Later Use

Following the collapse of the empire after the European invasion, most of the stones of the Sacsayhuaman were reused elsewhere in the colonial buildings of Cuzco. The ruins were covered in earth by the Spanish to prevent their use by rebel Inca forces and the site was not rediscovered until its excavation in 1934 CE. Today the ruins of the fortress are the location for the annual Inca reenactment festival the Inti Raymi, held on the winter solstice.
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[ 8 ]


Origin and history
by Mark Cartwright

Tulum, on the east coast of the Yucatan peninsula in southern Mexico, was an important Mesoamerican centre which displayed both Maya and Toltec influence. Tulum was a major trading and religious centre between the 11th and 16th centuries CE and, dramatically situated near the sea, it is one of the most evocative ancient sites in Mexico.
First settled in the 6th century CE, Tulum prospered, especially so under Mayapán influence from c. 1200 CE, and was an important centre trading in such typical barter goods of the period as cotton, foodstuffs, copper bells, axes, and cacao beans. Protected by the jungle of Quintana Roo, the site survived the general Maya collapse and was largely left untouched by the Spanish.
The ceremonial complex of Tulum, built on a 12 metre high limestone cliff, was surrounded on three sides by fortification walls, while the fourth side faces the Caribbean Sea. Indeed, the very name Tulum is a colonial one and means ‘wall’. The original local name may have been Zama meaning ‘dawn’ in reference to the site’s position facing east across the sea.
The largest structure is the Castillo which is in fact a temple pyramid displaying architectural influences from the Toltec civilization.
Residential buildings were built outside the sacred walled area which was reserved for the rulers of Tulum. The largest structure is the Castillo (Castle) which is in fact a temple pyramid displaying architectural influences from the Toltec civilization, such as over-door niches and serpent-columns. In addition, the stucco sculpture which decorates the building recalls those at Mayapán. The halls of the Castillo, and also Structure 25, are also notable for their well-preserved examples of beam-and-mortar roofs.
The Temple of the Frescoes is a squat square building which has undergone several modifications over the centuries. In the Classic period there seems only to have been a vaulted shrine, but this was later surrounded by a larger structure which had a four-column facade. Later still, the second storey was added. Stucco faces on the exterior suggest the building was dedicated to the god Itzamnaaj.
The earliest wall paintings, which give the building its name, date to the 11th or 12th centuries CE, but some are certainly later, perhaps post conquest. They depict figures performing various actions such as a woman grinding corn on a stone (metate), the goddess Chak Chel carrying two images of the god Chahk, and the Aztec god Tezcatlipoca with his black eye band and turquoise mask. The latter strongly suggests contact with central Mexican centres. Most figures are strikingly painted in blue on a black background, and panels are divided by twisted snake-like borders, perhaps representing umbilical cords and therefore a genealogical connection between the figures. Frescoes appear on both the outer and inner walls of several other buildings at Tulum but always using only three colours – red, blue, and yellow – with outlines painted in black and accompanied by Maya glyphs.
Other structures at Tulum include the dramatically sited Temple of the Winds which was built in honour of the wind god and helped guide sailors through the reef, a palace building in a poor state of preservation, various platforms, and the Temple of the Descending God. This latter building and the presence on several other structures of stucco figures of winged gods descending suggest the site was specifically in honour of this strange deity also known as the ‘diving god’ and perhaps connected to the planet Venus and the associated Maya god Xux Ek.
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