Home > South America > Bolivia > The Southwest: Salt-flats, Colored Lakes and Vineyards > The Southwest Overview > History
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Southwest Bolivia has an enthralling geological history. A significant part of this region is blanketed by the Southern Altiplano, which is part of the arid, high-altitude plateau that stretches from Ecuador to Argentina. This area of the Altiplano was once home to the enormous Lake Ballivián nearly 200,000 years ago. However, severe climatic changes led to its eventual split into two: Lake Titicaca to the north and Lake Minchín to the south. Present-day Salar de Uyuni, Salar de Coipasa and Lake Poopó are all remnants of Lake Minchín and its sub-lakes that formed over time. Over a period of approximately 30,000 years, as the climate gradually became drier, Lake Minchín evaporated, depositing thick layers of salt that now form the world´s biggest salt flat: the Salar de Uyuni.

These shifts in climate not only affected the natural terrain, but continued to impact the people living in the region. The southwest of Bolivia was occupied by the Tiwanaku civilization from as early as 1500 BC, whose capital city was situated close to Lake Titicaca. The empire continued to expand in scope and power over seven centuries and remained a dominant force in the region for almost 500 years. However, Tiwanaku was an agricultural-based society so when when years of decreasing rainfall produced drought-like conditions, it quickly began to its lose power and finally collapsed around 1150 AD.

Afterward, the region remained relatively devoid of human inhabitants until the Inca Empire conquered the territory in the mid-15th century under the rule of Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui. However, their control was relatively short-lived because the empire fell within two years of the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in 1532. Tupiza became a colonial urban center in 1537 thanks to its prime geographic location and its essential mineral and agricultural wealth. The discovery of silver, gold, copper and zinc throughout the region led to the development of numerous mines. Many colonial cities and villages centered around mining sprung up as well. Today the region continues to be dominated by small agricultural and mining communities.

By Jena Davison

I am a curious, passionate and free-spirited travel writer, currently working as a Staff Writer and Editor for V!VA. Shortly after...

22 Feb 2010

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