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    Land of winds > The land > History | Issue 09 (Mar.-Apr. 2012)
    By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

Builders of chullpas

Builders of chullpas

The chullpas (Aymara term) are tower-shaped funerary monuments constructed with adobe or, sometimes, with stones. They can be circular or rectangular ranging from 2 to 4 metres in height, though may reach up to 8 metres. They usually have only one opening (square, triangular or pointed) facing to the east. Some are unadorned while others are decorated with colourful designs and intricate carvings. Most of the chullpas were built during the 13th and 14th century by the inhabitants of the old Aymara kingdoms settled in the Bolivian Altiplano, though there are similar constructions raised in Bolivia, Peru and northern Chile during the Inca period (15th and 16th centuries), which are known under the same name.

Due to the lack of remains in the Qhara Qhara (Caracara) or Yampara territories there is no archaeological evidence that these structures existed in all Aymara kingdoms. On the other hand, some neighbouring peoples, such as the Uru and the Puquina, would have also constructed similar monuments. According to some archaeologists, Inca people might have “copied” these structures from Aymara subjects after the Tawantinsuyu army occupied their territories. Whether or not this was the case, the arrival of the Europeans put an end to the practice of making these burial monuments.

The chullpas were the burial sites of mallkus (chiefs) and other “noble” people with social status within their community, their family (wives, children), some relatives and even their close friends. The bodies of the dead were buried in a cist (a small excavated or stone-built coffin-like box) under the sepulchral monument, placed in foetal position and wrapped in llama’s hide sacks, woven blankets or plaited straw. Corpses were buried with their possessions, food and offerings. Although some of these burials might have been individual tombs, the chullpa was built as a mausoleum for a particular ayllu or extended family.

To date, more than one hundred chullpares or chullperíos (groups of chullpas) have been identified across the Bolivian Altiplano. Broadly speaking, those located in the northern part (the Titicaca surroundings) and the south of Peru use to be stone-built circular structures, while the ones found in the central and southern region of the Bolivian Altiplano and in Chile are rectangular and constructed with adobe.

Constructores de chullpas

The group of chullpas at Kulli Kulli Alto, close to Ayamaya (province of Aroma, department of La Paz, Bolivia) is one of the best known. It comprises over 60 rectangular adobe towers between 3 and 5 meters high (see picture B). Also in the department of La Paz there are seven square adobe chullpas located at Mantecani; the ones at Tolerani (near Umala, province of Aroma), were built with adobe and reach 4 metres; and the burial site at Cóndor Amaya, near Patacamaya includes 21 adobe towers painted in yellow (allegedly of Aymara origins) and red (allegedly of Inca origins) colours.

In the department of Oruro, the chullpas located at the “enchanted town” of Pumiri (near Turco, province of Carangas) deserve a special mention for these are one of the few examples of “coloured” towers. Some of them were built with adobe bricks of different colours, while in others (Pumiri) the façade was covered with mud creating geometric patterns in red, white and grey (see picture A).

Archaeologists have found that the oldest chullpas are the ones built near the Poopó Lake (department of Oruro), which might have belonged to the Sura (Sora), Karanka (Caranga) and Pacaxe (Pacaje) kingdoms and would have been constructed during the 13th century, while those close to the Lake Titicaca might have belonged to the Lupaqa (Lupaca), Qulla (Colla) and Kana (Cana) kingdoms and would date back to the 14th century.

Outside Bolivia, the most interesting chullpas are located at Caillama (in the Chapiquiña mountains, province of Parinacota, Arica and Parinacota region, Chile); at Sillustani (Lake Umayo, Puno, department of Puno, Peru) and Cutimbo (Puno); at Molloco (near Acora, Puno); at Ninamarca (Pisac, province of Calca, department of Cusco, Peru); and at Mauk’allaqta archaeolgical site (close to Yauri, province of Espinar, department of Cusco), among which there is one of the few chullpas with a dome.

It is recorded that several Aymara chiefs, who were displaced from their territories alongside their people after the Tawantinsuyu army conquered the Bolivian Altiplano, were buried in their family chullpas at their birthplace.

At present, some of these monuments are protected, however, a significant number are in a state of neglect, have been looted or seriously damaged. It is a very sad fate for those once proud landmarks of the Altiplano, etched in the collective memory of locals alongside the relevant figures buried inside.

Chullpa, in Wikipedia.
Chullpas in Cartographic Modeling Lab.
Article. “Identidad étnica y muerte: torres funerarias (chullpas) como símbolos de poder étnico en el altiplano boliviano de Pakasa (1250-1600 d.C.)” by Risto Kesseli y Martti Pärssinen. In Bulletin de l’Institut Français d’Études Andines, 34(3), (2005), pp. 379-410 [es].
Article. “Las prácticas funerarias de los grupos étnicos en el Altiplano andino”, by Jedu A. Sagárnaga Meneses. In Archivos Bolivianos de Historia de la Medicina, 10(1-2) (2004) [es].
Article. “Cóndor Amaya, un tesoro en grave peligro”, by Jedu A. Sagárnaga Meneses. In Los [es].

Picture 01. Chullpas near La Paz.
Picture 02. Chullpas at Sillustani.
Picture 03. Chullpas at Ninamarca.
Picture 04. Molloco Chullpa.
Picture 05. Mauk’allaqta Chullpa.
Picture 06. Chullpas at Cutimbo.
Picture 07. Caillama Chullpa.

Picture A  |  Picture B

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