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Bolivian Architecture

Unfortunately, the less than favorable environmental conditions and also looting have contributed to the loss of many pre-Columbian structures in Bolivia. That said, there are a number of stone and adobe ruins left over from the glory days of the Inca and their predecessors. Inca architecture is admittedly less common here than in neighboring countries, but many branches of the Inca road system pass through Bolivia, and there are a number of sites that offer a glimpse at the famous Inca stonework. You will furthermore find dozens of fascinating pre-Inca ruins scattered throughout Bolivia.


On the southeastern shores of Lake Titicaca are remnants of the Tiwanaku Empire—a highly advanced pre-Inca society. Important Tiwanaku constructions were typically monumental stone structures, often consisting of large gateways, platforms and sunken courts. Much of the stone is carved out with religious iconography displaying sacred animals and beings. The figure of the “staffed god” is perhaps the most prevalent image found among the ruins.


Other noteworthy ruins include the pre-Inca temple, El Fuerte of Samaipata, the pre-Inca Mollo city of Iskanwaya and the Inca site of Incallacta, east of Cochabamba.


While a number of smaller buildings and houses have survived from the colonial era, most of the remaining colonial architecture in Bolivia is religious. Earlier churches are simpler in style, often made with adobe, while later models are much more ornate. In the late 17th century the architecture started to stray away from exclusively European styles and began to incorporate local indigenous iconography and symbols. Check out the San Lorenzo church of Potosí, for instance, to see how the European and the Indigenous influences combine to create a unique mestizo style of architecture and design.


La Paz native, Emilio Villanueva, studied engineering and architecture in Chile and is the founder of the school of architecture in the Universidad de La Paz. He also designed a number of noteworthy buildings in the city such as the Hospital General (1916-25), the Banco Central de Bolivia (1926), the 13-story tower of the Universidad Mayor de San Andes (1941-8) and the Hernando Siles Stadium in La Paz (1942, dest. 1975). Although much of his earlier work is French influenced, his later designs incorporate pre-Inca styles and concepts.


In bigger Bolivian cities, the architecture is much like that of any other city, with skyscrapers and large office buildings. Although many homes are simple in style, others are heavily influenced by the Spanish presence. In smaller highland villages and communities the houses are more functional than extravagant, with mud or adobe walls and dirt floors.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Bolivia: Bolivian Art and Bolivian Dance.

By Emma Mueller
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry...
17 Jul 2009

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