HIGH ANDEAN SUMMIT ARCHITECTURE: LESSONS FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF CONTEMPORARY CULTURAL LANDSCAPES

Woven Landscapes

Andrés Felipe Riveros Cristoffanini For Lofscapes
24.11.2015
(2) Licancabur crater and photomontages of summit architecture drawings published by (b.) Le Paige (1978) and (c.) Reinhard (1980) © Andres Riveros C. for LOFscapes

On the peaks of the Andes, stone infrastructures that are markedly ceremonial were created. Almost without altering their surroundings, these constructions contributed to the development of cultural landscapes, loading the territory with multiple meanings. This constitutes in itself a lesson that our invited columnist, the architect Andrés Riveros C., affirms we could put into practice today given the evident deterioration of our ecosystems. These structures evidence a sensitive way of intervening in the natural context that is compatible with its conservation and care.

On these Andean summits, stone infrastructures were developed with a marked ceremonial sense (1) and, due to the territorial roots that underlie them, their analysis can shed light on an approach to cultural landscapes, a notion that includes all the manifestations of the interaction between people and their environment. Cultural landscapes are multidimensional and dynamic constructions that humanize and mark the territory as a consequence of a socionatural coevolution, in which the environment, in addition to being physically transformed, acquires meaning and shared values for the communities that inhabit it (2). Here it is interesting to highlight two central ideas related to this concept: on the one hand, the fact that cultural landscapes involve a transformation of the territory and on the other, that they are loaded with meaning for the societies that inhabit them.

(2) See Buxó, “Paisajes Culturales y Reconstrucción Histórica de la Vegetación” (Cultural Landscapes and Historical Reconstruction of Vegetation) in Revista Científica Ecosistemas 15 (2006), p.1-6


High Andean Landscapes

In the Andean territory, geographical elements of different orders, such as slopes, streams, lakes and mountains, have sacred meanings, with summits being the most revered (3). There are at least 166 archaeological sites of the high Andes that have characteristics of sanctuary, offerings, or ceremonial sites. The vestiges extend between the Corupuna volcano in Peru and Cerro el Plomo in the Metropolitan Region, Central Chile, covering more than 2,000 kilometers of mountain range (4, see fig. 1).

(3) See Zuidema, “Catachillay: The Role of the Pleiades and of the Southern Cross, and Alpha and Beta Centauri in the calendar of the Incas” en A. Aveni y G. Urton (eds.), Ethnoastronomy and Archaeoastronomy in the American Tropics 358, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences (1982), p.203-229.


According to the study developed by Berenguer, Aldunate, and Castro (1), the hills would have at least four different meanings: first, they would be related to the lineage of families and ancestors; second, they would have hierarchies according to the height of the hills; third, they would contribute to the construction of local identity; and finally, they would support certain key functions for the viability of societies, such as livestock, mining, climate regulation, water availability, good fortune and health, to name a few.

Summit architecture developed on top of the mountains and on the way to these peaks. The constructions, which in some cases were more than 6,000 meters above sea level, were built with stones from the same place, involving great physical effort for those who made them and also for those who used them. The activities carried out in these infrastructures were strictly religious (fig. 2-4).

The evidence indicates that the summit architecture was oriented, generally, towards certain mountains or other notable elements of the territory (1), and that it also served as a calendar to measure the seasons throughout the year (4). Even so, it is not entirely clear how architecture acted as a mechanism to give meaning to the territories, but we do know that these constructions did not radically alter the environments in which the structures were located, even though they contributed to the process of giving meaning. Then, we might think that, somehow, this architecture served to transform the territory into landscape through a change in the way of seeing and interpreting it.

(1) See Berenguer, Aldunate and Castro, “Orientaciones Orográficas de las Chulpas en Likan: La Importancia de los Cerros en la Fase Toconce,” B. Bittman (ed.), Simposio Culturas Atacameñas. (The Orographic Orientations of the Chulpas in Likan: The Importance of Mountains in the Toconce Phase) 44 Congreso Internacional de Americanistas (Antofagasta: Universidad del Norte, 1984), p.175-220.
(4) See Ricardo Moyano, “El Adoratorio del Cerro El Potro: Arqueología de Alta Montaña en la Cordillera de Copiapó, Norte de Chile” (The Adoratorio of Cerro El Potro: Archeology in the Cordillera of Copiapo, Northern Chile) in Revista Estudios Atacameños 38 (2009), p.39-51.


The modification made by this summit architecture has an impact on the Andean cultural landscapes that is not directly and physically reflected in the territory, but remains in the imaginary of people, as knowledge transmitted through the constructions and ceremonies they hosted. Therefore, the information that was disseminated in these places forms a fundamental part in the development of culture and its adaptation to the territory.

According to the high Andean vision, the mountains, along with being natural elements, are also cultural landscapes that strongly determined the way in which societies developed. This is why it is important to highlight that the high Andean cultural landscapes are loaded with meanings, and yet they minimally intrude upon their environment, which accounts for a landscape management that did not imply degradation. Given the obvious deterioration of our ecosystems, this is a lesson we urgently need to put into practice so that we can apply sensitive means to interact with the landscape, which in turn are compatible with its conservation and care.

Andrés Riveros Cristoffanini is an Architect from the Universidad del Desarrollo (2009) and holds a Master’s degree © in Wild Areas and Nature Conservation from the University of Chile. He is currently dedicated to architecture, research in urban ecology, environmental consulting, and he is part of the Fundación Legado Chile.


(1) Sequence of America 1) Contour of America, (2) Area over 4,000 m of altitude, (3) Architecture of summits or high sanctuaries © Andrés Riveros C. for LOFscapes
(3) Ricardo Moyano, Unit A of the Metallurgical Center in Cerro el Potro(2009) © Revista de Estudio Atacameños
(4) Ricardo Moyano, Summit Architecture Built with local Stones (2009) © Revista de Estudio Atacameños
(5) Andean vision of the sacred mountains (left) versus ‘objective’ vision (right) © Andrés Riveros C. for LOFscapes based on illustrations by Reinhard (1983).
(6) Babak Tafreshi, Night View of the Licancabur Volcano over an ice field (2011) © twanight.org
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2019-10-28T17:39:48-03:00
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