Sillustani is a burial ground with towering structures that predates the well-known Inca civilization. If you are in the general area of Puno, then the ancient tombs can be a rewarding visit as there only about an hour away from the city.
The towering structures are called Chullpas in the local language and are among the few remnants of the Colla people. The Colla were part of the indigenous populace of many parts of Peru and modern-day Argentina and Bolivia.
This civilization saw its downfall after the emergence of the Inca people that conquered most of the locals.
Basic Architecture Of The Chullpas
Generally, the stonework and structures that are attributed to the Colla people’s ingenuity are rough in appearance and less precisely cut. This is when they were compared with the Inca structures that came after.
The construction of the funeral pillars is also free from mortar as a building ingredient although the latter was used extensively by the Incas. Mortar was however detected in sites like Coricancha as the Incas fell inside the Bronze Age when certain materials were being used for building.
The structures are primarily built using stone and clay and many go as high as 12 meters with some shorter ones of 4 meters strewn in-between. Archeologists have dated the site to the 13th and 14th century and while the Colla people are believed to have constructed it, there is some evidence that other Aymara speaking tribes were also inhabiting the area for hundreds of years.
Order Of Building
Historians believe that the Sillustani structures were built largely for the graves of nobility and normal people would not have had access. Many of the towers seem dedicated to complete families with the notion arising that perhaps a few key families had reserved the area for their burials.
In the years since the discovery of these towers, a lot of them have sustained damage at the hands of grave robbers as the site was thought to house treasure.
The lesser finely crafted chullpas are dated as an earlier construction largely due to the absence of certain materials and because they are more eroded. They have been dated at 1200 to 1400 AD.
Some of the towers are dated as later additions to the flock, with the Inca continuing construction and perhaps also copying certain aspects for their other sites.
People on a Peru Holiday may find it interesting to know that while the Inca were a dominant influence with regard to heritage sites, other races also had their part to play.
Even before the Colla people, there was the Tiwanaku civilization that is believed to have had its stronghold in the area around Lake Titicaca. The ‘Hatun Colla’ as the tribe became known was a sort of off-shoot from the remains of the Tiwanaku civilization.
The Hatun Colla combined with the Lupaka people then controlled most of the region and adjoining islands of Lake Titicaca.
The Newer Chullpas And The Inca
Years after the excavation of various Inca sites such as Coricancha, historians have been able to draw a comparison and suggest that the Inca were good at imitation. They elaborated upon the designs of earlier people like the Tiwanaku.
During the study of the Coricancha, it was concluded that it consists of construction carried out by Andesite blocks with many Basalt stones. Many of the stones had to be transported over a considerable distance in order to be used in the build.
Since many of the Chullpas are made in a similar fashion it is, in fact, possible that the Colla people never made most of them. By this assessment, it would mean that the Inca people chose to honor the tradition and also incorporated the idea in their other major sites.
Each chullpa contains considerable human remains hence they were for funeral and burial purposes and not for other religious ceremonies.
Incas were quite keen to worship their dead especially in the cases of the higher nobility and royalty. Even after a king or other members of the Inca royal family had died, they were revered and through a series of rituals called upon for advice and guidance.
This is one of the reasons why the dead were mummified and buried either under temples or in tombs like the ones found in Sillustani. The towers at Sillustani contain human remains not specifically in the mummy form, which is part of why they are dated to Pre-Inca civilizations.
Intriguing Dome Quality
The funeral towers are unusual in the sense that not only do they curve upwards and out from below, they also form a dome-like tendency at the very top.
Some historians have chalked this up to strange décor while some think the towers may have had a part in ancient rituals to communicate with the dead.
Architecturally, the domes may have been designed as a filler for the top of the tower so that the bodies and human remains could be enclosed inside. The use of clay at that time must have made it easier to mold the mixture to the desired shape.
The chullpas that are the most finely crafted in Sillustani are built up in two carefully laid down layers. This has done wonders over the centuries to keep them upright without tilting over or breaking down and explains in part their remarkable longevity.
Sun God Worship
The path that the sun’s trajectory takes during the day was an important feature of Inca life as their main god was Inti and each god was thought to have been derived from him.
Each of the tomb towers in Sillustani has an opening at the very bottom and it typically faces east in order to follow the sun.
The Inca liked to define themselves as primarily sun worshippers even though their mythology has several god-like figures and origin stories. Perhaps the purpose of the opening in the tomb-towers was to guide departed souls so they could ultimately each the sun god and be united with him.
Theories Of Damage Over The Centuries
The funeral towers have lasted quite well considering how old they are but grave robberies over the passage of time have affected their overall state. Some historians believe that it is possible the tombs had precious or special stones embedded in them which were stolen away by robbers centuries ago.
Many theories also claim that earthquakes could have caused damage to the original structures as many of the chullpas have local dirt as a binding ingredient. If a binding agent like mortar had been used in the earlier structures, they would have aged much better.
The Sillustani tombs are nested on the hills of Lago Umayo Peninsula and they are a shining oasis in an otherwise isolated landscape.
If you are unsure of what to do in Peru, a trip to the Puno region and the islands of Lake Titicaca may be one of the best decisions you can make. Not only will you be able to witness amazing sites like the Sillustani; you can also opt for a new and exciting experience like booking a silent meditation retreat on one of the islands in Lake Titicaca.