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Lake Titicaca in Bolivia

The Ancient Ruins On and Beneath the Sacred Lake Titicaca


Lake Titicaca is located in the Andes between Bolivia and Peru. It is the largest freshwater lake in South America, and is also regarded as the highest navigable lake in the world. Lake Titicaca is said to be the cradle of Peru’s ancient civilizations, and has been populated by numerous Andean cultures, including the Purakas, the Tiwanakus, and the Incas. The presence of these civilizations, especially the Incas, can be seen on Lake Titicaca by the ruins they left behind, including a mysterious underwater temple thought to be between 1,000 and 1,500 years old.

Taquile Island, Lake Titicaca

Taquile Island, Lake Titicaca (Wikimedia Commons)

The Sacred Site of Viracocha

Lake Titicaca is held as a sacred site by the Incas. In the Incan creation myth, the god Con Tiqui Viracocha emerged from Lake Titicaca bringing some human beings with him. After commanding the sun (Inti), moon (Mama Killa) and the stars to rise, Viracocha created more human beings from stone. After bringing them to life, Viracocha commanded them to go and populate the world. The Incas therefore believed that Lake Titicaca was their place of origin, and that upon death, their spirits would return to this lake.

Viracocha, the creator god of the Incas.

Viracocha, the creator god of the Incas. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Myths of Inti and Manco Capac on the Isla Del Sol

There are a number of islands on Lake Titicaca, some of which play an important part in Inca mythology. The Isla del Sol (Sun Island), for instance, is believed to be the home of the Incan sun god, Inti. Additionally, this is the birth place, according to one Incan legend, of Manco Capac, the founder of the first Incan dynasty. In this legend, Manco Capac was brought up from the depths of Lake Titicaca by Inti. Manco Capac and his siblings were sent up to the earth by the sun god, and emerged from the cave of Pacaritambo (or the waters of Lake Titicaca, according to another version of the legend). Manco Capac was carrying a golden staff, and was instructed to build a Temple of the Sun on the spot where the staff sank into the earth. Using underground caves, the siblings travelled to Cusco, where they built a temple in honor of their father, Inti.

Painting of Manco Capac. Created between 1750-1800.

Painting of Manco Capac. Created between 1750-1800. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Chincana Ruins: A Labyrinth of Stone

Ruins can also be found on the Isla Del Sol. For instance, on the northern tip of the island, one can find the Chincana ruins. This site, described as a ‘labyrinth of stone’, is said to have once been used as a holy complex by the Inca priests. On the southern side of the island one can find the 'Inca Steps,' a stone staircase with 206 steps leading up to a sacred fountain on the hill.

The Chincana ruins, Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca

The Chincana ruins, Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca (Lapoubelle1969)

The House of the Chosen Virgins of the Sun on the Isla de la Luna

More Inca ruins can be found on the Isla de la Luna (Moon Island), which is the second largest island on the lake. The largest island on Lake Titicaca, incidentally, is the Isla del Sol. During the time of the Inca Tupac Yupanqui, an ornate building, the 'House of the Chosen Virgins of the Sun,' was built to house chosen women who lived a nun-like lifestyle. The ruins of this building can still be seen today.

House of the Chosen Virgins of the Sun, Isla de la Luna, Lake Titicaca

House of the Chosen Virgins of the Sun, Isla de la Luna, Lake Titicaca (Sheila)

The Underwater Temple in Lake Titicaca

There were other cultures that lived on Lake Titicaca prior to the arrival of the Incas. In 2000, a team of international archaeologists made a spectacular discovery when they found the ruins of a mysterious underwater temple. This temple is thought to be between 1000 and 1500 years old, hence predating the Inca civilization, and was perhaps built by the Tiwanaku people. In terms of size, the ruins have been measured to be 200 meters by 50 meters (656.2 feet by 164 feet), almost twice the size of a normal football pitch.

Some of the gold artifacts recovered from the underwater temple in Lake Titicaca

Some stone artifacts recovered from the underwater temple in Lake Titicaca

Some of the gold and stone artifacts recovered from the underwater temple in Lake Titicaca (Taringa)

It has been reported that more than 200 dives were made in order to record the ruins on film. Additionally, the team also found a terrace for crops, a long road, and an 800 meter (2624.7 feet) long wall under Lake Titicaca. Artifacts found during the most recent excavations include a variety of ceramics, metal objects, cooking utensils, and human and animal remains. reports that the pieces have been dated “to the pre-Tiwanaku (before 300 AD), Tiwanaku (300-1100) and Inca (1100-1570) eras.”

The Bolivian culture minister, Wilma Alanoca, said there are plans to build “an underwater museum” for the almost 10,000 artifacts that have been pulled up from the submerged temple. If all goes to plan, the $10 million project will be more than a simple museum. Alanoca said, “It will be both a tourist complex and a centre for archeological, geological and biological research, which will make it the only one in the world.”

Top image: Lake Titicaca in Bolivia (Wikimedia Commons).

By Ḏḥwty


BBC News, 2000. Ancient temple found under Lake Titicaca. [Online]
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Bellos, A., 2000. Ancient wonder, Pre-Inca ruins found in lake Titicaca. [Online]
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Peru Cultural Society, 2015. Lake Titicaca history. [Online]
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Sacred Destinations, 2015. Lake Titicaca. [Online]
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UNESCO, 2015. Lake Titicaca. [Online]
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myths and legends and traditional knowledge is my love and interest of ancient places

The presence of roads and walls would seem to indicate they were above water at one time as legend and geology suggest.

The dates were arrived at by guessing? Was any carbon dating possible on any burnt logs ... seeds, nut left on the scene?

dhwty's picture


Wu Mingren (‘Dhwty’) has a Bachelor of Arts in Ancient History and Archaeology. Although his primary interest is in the ancient civilizations of the Near East, he is also interested in other geographical regions, as well as other time periods.... Read More

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