Peru - Chullpas of Sillustani

Andrys Basten, photos taken 5/21/97

(*Click* on photos for enlarged ones.)

Behind chullpas, Lake Umayo
We're now at Sillustani, a site about 35 miles from the shore city of Puno. It's about 13,500 ft above sea level and is one of many sites in the Puno area that hold mysterious burial towers, called chullpas. Sillustani is considered the most impressive. It overlooks Lake Umayo and the air here is beautifully clear; our guide said that people come here on weekend nights just to see the stars and to experience the air -- Puno is a city with loose sand, much of it in the air, so this excursion on our way to the train to Cuzco was a treat..

On our way up, we passed the the infamous Yanamayo prison high in these Andes where are kept the captured Tupac Amaru rebels and the American Lori Berenson. We shivered just passing by, as Peru is extremely cold at night in May and the prison, which has no windows but only open grates, is known for its intentionally primitive conditions, no mattresses allowed the prisoners.

The picture above, left, is of the tallest burial tower there. Most of the towers were said by the Spanish chroniclers to have been 'recently finished' in the middle 1500's though most were not completed for some reason. They were built by the Colla people, Aymara speakers who were conquered by the Incas in the 1400's, and the towers were most likely used as burial chambers for the nobles of that culture.

The architecture of these people is said to be more complicated than that of the Incas. There are no uneven edges, to which other stones have to be cut, unevenly, to fit. The site itself isn't as impressive, of course, as Ollantaytambo or Machu Picchu, but it's still a wonder. The burial tower above is about 40' high. Each tower has a small hole facing east, just large enough for a person to crawl through, the entrance closed after burials. These towers were made with chipping tools, it's said.

The photo above, right, is of the lake area behind the tall chullpa. The colors of water and sky were very saturated. I didn't carry a polaroid filter; this is the way it looked.

Unfinished chullpa
Sheep below chullpa
To the left is a partially built chullpa, less smoothly finished than the one above. It's thought that it was being built for a child.

On the right is one of two sheep I encountered while walking up to the taller tower.

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