7 Heritage Sites You Must Visit In Bolivia

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7 Heritage Sites You Must Visit In Bolivia

Date: Feb 1, 2023
Author: Collins.cidar 911 No Comments

Thinking about taking a sustainable trip to South America? Well Bolivia might be just what the best version of yourself ordered! From National Parks, historical cities, forts, missions, ancient road systems, and and being the Spiritual Centre of the Tiwanaku Culture, Bolivia is sure to serve up an adventure for the most discerning and curious culture and heritage explorers. If you’re looking to reconnect with indigenous communities then you can will find Bolivia to have the largest percentage of natives in South America. You can even hire a local guide and discover an authentic perspective of what it is to be Bolivian while advocating for regenerative practices that take community tourism into account. But where to start? Well why not at one of any 6 cultural UNESCO World Heritage anchor sites or the epic natural site of of the Noel Kempff Mercado.

Noel Kempff Mercado National Park

Noel Kempff Mercado National Park/Photographer: Susan/Flickr

The National Park is one of the largest (1,523,000 ha) and most intact parks in the Amazon Basin. With an altitudinal range of 200 m to nearly 1,000 m, it is the site of a rich mosaic of habitat types from Cerrado savannah and forest to upland evergreen Amazonian forests. The park boasts an evolutionary history dating back over a billion years to the Precambrian period. An estimated 4,000 species of flora as well as over 600 bird species and viable populations of many globally endangered or threatened vertebrate species live in the park.

City Of Potosí

City Of Potosí/Photographer: Tom BCN/ Flickr

Potosí is the example par excellence of a major silvers mine of the modern era, reputed to be the world’s largest industrial complex in the 16th century. A small pre-Hispanic-period hamlet perched at an altitude of 4,000 m in the icy solitude of the Bolivian Andes, Potosí became an “Imperial City” following the visit of Francisco de Toledo in 1572. It and its region prospered enormously following the discovery of the New World’s biggest silver lodes in the Cerro de Potosí south of the city. The major colonial-era supplier of silver for Spain, Potosí was directly and tangibly associated with the massive import of precious metals to Seville, which precipitated a flood of Spanish currency and resulted in globally significant economic changes in the 16th century. The whole industrial production chain from the mines to the Royal Mint has been conserved, and the underlying social context is equally well illustrated, with quarters for the Spanish colonists and for the forced labourers separated from each other by an artificial river. Potosí also exerted a lasting influence on the development of architecture and monumental arts in the central region of the Andes by spreading the forms of a baroque style that incorporated native Indian influences. 

By the 17th century there were 160,000 colonists living in Potosí along with 13,500 Indians who were forced to work in the mines under the system of mita (mandatory labour). The Cerro de Potosí reached full production capacity after 1580, when a Peruvian-developed mining technique known as patio, in which the extraction of silver ore relied on a series of hydraulic mills and mercury amalgamation, was implemented. The industrial infrastructure comprised 22 lagunas or reservoirs, from which a forced flow of water produced the hydraulic power to activate 140 ingenios or mills to grind silver ore. The ground ore was amalgamated with mercury in refractory earthen kilns, moulded into bars, stamped with the mark of the Royal Mint and taken to Spain. 

The city and region retain evocative evidence of this activity, which slowed significantly after 1800 but still continues. This includes mines, notably the Royal mine complex, the biggest and best-conserved of the some 5,000 operations that riddled the high plateau and its valleys, dams that controlled the water that activated the ore-grinding mills, aqueducts, milling centres and kilns. Other evidence includes the superb monuments of the colonial city, among them 22 parish or monastic churches, the imposing Compañía de Jesús (Society of Jesus) tower and the Cathedral. The Casa de la Moneda (Royal Mint), reconstructed in 1759, as well as a number of patrician homes, whose luxury contrasted with the bareness of the rancherias of the native quarter, also remain. Many of these edifices are in an “Andean Baroque” style that incorporates Indian influences. This inventive architecture, which reflects the rich social and religious life of the time, had a lasting influence on the development of architecture and monumental arts in the central region of the Andes. 

Fuerte de Samaipata

Fuerte de Samaipata/ Photographer:travelmag.com/ Flickr

Located in the Province of Florida, Department of Santa Cruz, the archaeological site of Fuerte de Samaipata consists of two clearly identified parts: the hill with its many carvings, believed to have been the Ceremonial Centre and area to the south of the hill, which formed the administrative and residential district and the political administration. The site is known to have been occupied and used as a ritual and residential centre by people belonging to the Mojocoyas culture as early as AD 300, and it was at this time that work began on the shaping of this great rock. It was occupied in the 14th century by the Inca, who made it a provincial capital. This is confirmed by the features that have been discovered by excavation – a large central plaza with monumental public buildings around it and terracing of the neighbouring hillsides for agriculture – which are characteristic of this type of Inca settlement. It formed a bulwark against the incursions of the warlike Chiriguanos of the Chaco region in the 1520s. The strategic location of the site, which had attracted the Inca to it, was also recognized by the Spaniards. The silver mines of the Cerro Rico at Potosí began to be worked in 1545 and the colonial settlement of Samaipata became an important staging post on the highway from Asunción and Santa Cruz to the colonial centres in the High Andes such as La Plata (modern Sucre), Cochabamba and Potosí. With the establishment of the new town of Samaipata in the Valle de la Purificación, the ancient settlement had no further military importance and was abandoned.

The Ceremonial Centre consists of a huge monolithic rock of red sandstone composition of dimensions 220 m long, by approximately 60 m wide, fully carved with a variety of representations of animals, geometric shapes, niches, canals, vessels of great religious significance, which was done by specialist craftsmen, sculptors, with great skill and mastery of the stone. This monument, dominating the town below, is one of the most colossal pre-Columbian ceremonial works of the Andes and the Amazon regions, testimony of hydraulic use, the cult of deities and entities represented in nature as sacred animals in purification and fertility rituals. It is a unique testimony to pre-Hispanic traditions and beliefs, and has no parallel anywhere in the Americas. The carvings in the western part include two felines on a circular base, the only examples of high-relief carving in the whole site. The remains of a stone wall of the Inca period cut across a number of the carvings, indicating a pre-Inca date. These include two parallel channels, between and alongside them there are smaller channels cut in zigzag patterns, giving rise to the local name for this feature, El Dorso de la Serpiente.

At the highest point is Coro de los Sacerdotes, which consists of a deeply cut circle with triangular and rectangular niches cut into its walls. Further to the east is a structure which probably represents the head of a feline. Most of the southern face of the rock was originally dominated by a series of at least five temples or sanctuaries; of which only the niches cut into their walls survive. The Casa Colonial is situated on an artificial platform at the foot of the rock. Excavations have revealed evidence of Inca and pre-Inca structures here, and so it is known as the Plaza of the Three Cultures. The house of the colonial period, only the stone lower walls of which survive, is in characteristic Arab-Andalusian style, with a central open courtyard.

The administrative and political sector is situated on a series of three artificial platforms to the south of the rock. It is made up of a series of architectural structures corresponding to different periods of cultural settlements: the “Ajllahuasi” or house of the chosen – housing for women whose role was to make the clothes of the Inca, as well as to be sacrificed in rituals as wives of the Inca, the compound Kallanka for military use, the “Court” or commercial area which was used for the exchange of products, “Tambo” a space for the provision of arms, clothing and utensils, less complex terraced agricultural crops and residential areas used for surveillance.

The archaeological site of El Fuerte de Samaipata constitutes a complex artistic, architectural and urban form alone testifies to the existence of the extraordinary development of pre-Columbian cultures in the Andes-Amazon region with high ceremonial and religious tradition embodied dramatically the colossal carved stone.

Historic City of Sucre

Historic City of Sucre/ Photographer: Dan Lundberg/Flickr

The Historic City of Sucre, located in the foothills of the Sica Sica and Churuquella in central-south of Bolivia, is an excellent, intact and well-preserved illustration of the architectural blending achieved in Latin America through the assimilation of local traditions and styles imported from Europe.  Founded by the Spanish in 1538 as Ciudad de la Plata de la Nueva Toledo (Silver Town of New Toledo) on the lands of the Yampara, indigenous culture of the Characas confederation, La Plata was for many years the judicial, religious and cultural centre of the region. The city was renamed in honour of the deceased leader of the fight for Independence, Antonio Jose de Sucre in 1839, when it was declared the first capital of Bolivia

The historic city was designed according to a simple urban plan with checkerboard- patterned streets, similar to other towns founded by the Spanish in America in the 16th century.  The mineral wealth of the nearby city of Potosi influenced the economic development of La Plata that was also an important cultural centre (University of Saint-Francois-Xavier, the Royal Academia Carolina, and San Isabel de Hungria Seminario) and the seat of the Characas Audiencia, forerunner of the present Supreme Court. In 1609, the city became the seat of an archbishopric and during the 17th century La Plata served as a religious centre for the Spanish eastern territories. 

Many religious buildings located on the 113.76 ha of the historic centre of the city bear witness to the period that marked the beginnings of the Spanish city, including churches dating back to the 16th century, such as San Lázaro, San Francisco, Santo Domingo and the Metropolitan Cathedral, the construction of which began in 1559 and was completed 250 years later. The Casa de la Libertad (House of Freedom), constructed in 1621 as part of the Convent of the Jesuits, is considered to be the most important historic monument of Bolivia because it was here where the events leading to the independence of the country took place.  The buildings of the 18th century are characteristic of the local architecture and similar to those built during the same period at Potosi. The more recent buildings (late 18th century and early 19th century) retained the patios that characterized earlier times but were adapted to the Neoclassical style imported from metropolitan Spain.  The buildings of Sucre illustrate eloquently the blending of local architectural traditions and styles imported from Europe, including those at the beginning of the Renaissance, Mudejar, Gothic, Baroque and Neoclassical periods, between the 16th and 19th centuries.

Jesuit Missions of the Chiquitos

Jesuit Missions of the Chiquitos/Photographer: eddy vasquez/Flickr

Between 1691 and 1760, a series of remarkable reducciones de indios (mission settlements of Christianized Indians) largely inspired by the “ideal cities” envisioned by 16th-century humanist philosophers was founded by the Society of Jesus in the Chiquitos territory of eastern Bolivia. Here on the semi-arid frontier of Spanish South America now known as Chiquitanía the Jesuits and their indigenous charges blended European architecture with local traditions. The six historic missions that remain intact – San Francisco Javier, Concepción, Santa Ana, San Miguel, San Rafael and San José – today make up a living yet vulnerable heritage in the territory of Chiquitanía.

The idealized urban model for the missions featured houses for the Indians regularly spaced along the three sides of a rectangular square, with the fourth side reserved for the church, workshops and schools. The churches are remarkable examples of the adaptation of European Christian religious architecture to local conditions and traditions. They resemble large houses with a gable roof overhanging a west gallery extended as a porch. Long walls defining three interior aisles divided by wooden columns and two exterior galleries, also supported by columns, constitute a unique type of architecture, distinguished by the special treatment of the carved wooden columns and banisters. The church at San José is the only exception, being of stone construction and inspired stylistically by a baroque model. In addition to rich interior decoration, many of these churches house remarkable popular art objects such as sculptures, paintings, altars and pulpits.

Unlike other Jesuit missions in South America, the Jesuit Missions of the Chiquitos survived the expulsion of the Society of Jesus in 1767, though by the 1850s the reducciones system of the missions had disappeared. These traditional architectural ensembles have more recently become vulnerable under the impact of changes following the agrarian reform of 1953 that threatened the local social and economic infrastructure.

Qhapaq Ñan, Andean Road System

Qhapaq Ñan, Andean Road System/ Photographer: Kyle Magnuson/Flickr

Qhapaq Ñan, Andean Road System is an extensive Inca communication, trade and defence network of roads and associated structures covering more than 30,000 kilometres. Constructed by the Prehispanic Andean communities over several centuries, the network reached its maximum expansion in the 15th century, during the consolidation of the Tawantinsuyu, when it spread across the length and breadth of the Andes. The network is based on four main routes, which originate from the central square of Cusco, the capital of the Tawantinsuyu. These main routes are connected to several other road networks of lower hierarchy, which created linkages and cross-connections. 137 component areas and 308 associated archaeological sites, covering 616.06 kilometers of the Qhapaq Ñan highlight the achievements of the Incas in architecture and engineering along with its associated infrastructure for trade, storage and accommodation as well as sites of religious significance. The road network was the outcome of a political project implemented by the Incas linking towns and centers of production and worship together under an economic, social and cultural programme in the service of the State.

The Qhapaq Ñan, Andean Road System is an extraordinary road network through one of the world’s most extreme geographical terrains used over several centuries by caravans, travellers, messengers, armies and whole population groups amounting up to 40,000 people. It was the lifeline of the Tawantinsuyu, linking towns and centres of production and worship over long distances. Towns, villages and rural areas were thus integrated into a single road grid. Several local communities who remain traditional guardians and custodians of Qhapaq Ñan segments continue to safeguard associated intangible cultural traditions including languages.

The Qhapaq Ñan by its sheer scale and quality of the road, is a unique achievement of engineering skills in most varied geographical terrains, linking snow-capped mountain ranges of the Andes, at an altitude of more than 6,600 metres high, to the coast, running through hot rainforests, fertile valleys and absolute deserts. It demonstrates mastery in engineering technology used to resolved myriad problems posed by the Andes variable landscape by means of variable road construction technologies, bridges, stairs, ditches and cobblestone pavings.

Tiwanaku: Spiritual and Political Centre of the Tiwanaku Culture

Tiwanaku: Spiritual and Political Centre of the Tiwanaku Culture/Author: Rodrigo VarasCopyright: © Rodrigo Varas/Flickr

Tiwanaku is located near the southern shores of Lake Titicaca on the Altiplano, at an altitude of 3,850 m., in the Province of Ingavi, Department of La Paz. Most of the ancient city, which was largely built from adobe, has been overlaid by the modern town. However, the monumental stone buildings of the ceremonial centre survive in the protected archaeological zones.

Tiwanaku: Spiritual and Political Centre of the Tiwanaku Culture began as a small settlement which later flourished into a planned city between 400 A.D. and 900 A.D. The maximum expression of this culture is reflected in the civic – ceremonial organized spatially with a centre oriented toward to the cardinal points, constructed with impressive ashlars stones carved accurately and equipped with a complex system of underground drainage that was controlling the flow of rain waters.

The public – religious space of this city is shaped by a series of architectural structures that  correspond to different periods of cultural accessions: Temple Semi-underground, Kalasasaya’s Temple, Akapana’s Pyramid, Pumapumku’s Pyramid. In addition, the area politician – administrative officer is represented by structures as the Palace of Putuni and Kantatallita. This architectural complex reflects the complex political structure of the period and its strong religious nature. The most imposing monument at Tiwanaku is the Pyramid of Akapana. It is a pyramid originally with seven superimposed platforms with stone retaining walls rising to a height of over 18m. Only the lowest of these and part of one of the intermediate walls survive intact. Investigations have shown that it was originally clad in sandstone and andisite and surmounted by a temple. It is surrounded by very well-preserved drainage canals. The walls of the small semi-subterranean temple (Templete) are made up of 48 pillars in red sandstone. There are many carved stone heads set into the walls, doubtless symbolizing an earlier practice of exposing the severed heads of defeated enemies in the temple.

To the north of the Akapana is the Kalasasaya, a large rectangular open temple, believed to have been used as an observatory. It is entered by a flight of seven steps in the centre of the eastern wall. The interior contains two carved monoliths and the monumental Gate of the Sun, one of the most important specimens of the art of Tiwanaku. It was made from a single slab of andesite cut to form a large doorway with niches (Hornacinas) on either side. Above the doorway is an elaborate bas-relief frieze depicting a central deity, standing on a stepped platform, wearing an elaborate head-dress, and holding a staff in each hand. The deity is flanked by rows of anthropomorphic birds and along the bottom of the panel there is a series of human faces. The ensemble has been interpreted as an agricultural calendar.

The settlers of this city perfected the technology for carving and polishing different stone materials for the construction, which, together with architectural technology, enriched the monumental spaces. .

The economic base of this city is evidenced through the almost 50.000 agricultural fields, known locally as Sukakollos, characterized by their irrigation technology which allowed the different cultures to easily adapt to the climate conditions. The artificial terraces constitute an important contribution to agriculture and made possible a sustained form of farming and consequently the cultural evolution of the Tiwanaku Empire. These innovations were subsequently taken up by succeeding civilizations and were extended as far as Cuzco.

The social dynamics of this population of the highland plateau were sustained in strong religious components that are expressed in a diverse iconography of stylized of zoomorphic and anthropomorphous images. The political and ideological power represented in different material supports extended to the borders coming up to the population’s vallunas and  to more remote coastal  areas. Many towns and colonies were set up in the vast region under Tiwanaku rule. The political dominance of Tiwanaku began to decline in the 11th century, and its empire collapsed in the first half of the 12th century. Tiwanaku: Spiritual and Political Centre of the Tiwanaku Culture is one of the urban accessions the most important pre-Inca of the Andean region of South America. Tiwanaku: Spiritual and Political Centre of the Tiwanaku Culture was the capital of a powerful empire that lasted several centuries and it was characterized by the use of new technologies and materials for the architecture, pottery, textiles, metals, and basket-making. It was the epicentre of knowledge and ‘saberes’ due to the fact that it expanded its sphere of influence to the interandean valleys and the coast.

The politics and ideology had a religious character and it incorporated to the sphere of influence to different ethnic groups that lived in different regions. This multiethnic character takes form of the stylistic and iconographic diversity of his archaeological materials. The monumental buildings of his administrative and religious centre are a witness of the economic and political force of the cardinal city and of his empire.

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