Situated in the Andes range, marking the border of Bolivia & Peru and recognized as the largest freshwater lake in South America, Lake Titicaca is a favourite spot for honeymoon couples and is fondly called the Honeymoon Lake. Apart from its natural beauty, the large, deep and highest navigable freshwater lake has long drawn fascination with several captivating legends about a submerged city and another of Inca gold lost by the Spanish. The Incas regarded the lake as the birthplace of their civilization and according to their mythical stories, the legendary founder of the Inca dynasty, Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo, were sent down to Earth by the Sun.
However, before becoming part of the Incan Empire, the Tiahuanaco culture lived on the shore of Lake Titicaca, based in Cusco in Peru and archaeologists have found the remains of an almost ancient city under the waters of the lake, which are around 1500 years old, pre-dating the Incas. According to the popular myths, it was the ruins of Wanaka, a thriving city, a deposit bank for the plundered gold and treasures procured by the Spanish kings, which was subsequently submerged under the lake due to an earthquake or any such natural disaster.
However, the ruins submerged under the water of Lake Titicaca have been attributed to the indigenous Tiahuanaco or Tiwanaku people by Lorenzo Epis, the Italian archaeologist leading the Ayahuallpa 2000 scientific expedition. The ruins included a temple, measuring 600 by 160 feet (200 by 50 m), ceramic artifacts in abundance on the floor of the lake near the temple, a paved way of about 98 feet (30 m) and the remains of a wall, which runs for about 2600 feet (800 m). Apart from that, a terrace for crops was also found under the water of Titicaca, which led many to believe that the topography of the area was perhaps vastly different a thousand years ago.
Arrangements were made for more than 200 divers to go down to the depths of the lake of around 100 feet (30 m) to record the ruins on film, but they found it difficult to reach the ruins as they remain at greater depths. However, the underwater road, which is at an approximate depth of 65 feet (20 m), acted as a map to lead the divers. But despite the expedition launched by National Geographic in 1988, the experts considered the ruins that have so far been discovered are only the tip of an iceberg and with further expeditions, more will come to light.
The recovery of the utensils and pots used by the Tiwanaku or Tiahuanaco people, along with human bones and animal remains, led to the conclusion that the place was inhabited before it was submerged due to some natural catastrophe. The recovered items also include small statues and figures resembling puma, which was an important animal for the Incas and used in their ritualistic practices.
According to Professor Ruben Vela of Tiahuanaco Archaeological Institute, the construction of the submerged ruins suggests a lakeside temple that was once probably the meeting place of a religious pilgrimage. Many other researchers complemented the view as the ruins are an extension of the walls of the temple of Sun, located in the north of the island and previously existing Titicaca.
However, the people of the Island of the Sun are in no mood to provide any information about the temple or the ruins and they vehemently oppose the diving expeditions, which they claim affect the sanctity of the holy lake. They still believe that the lake possesses mystical powers of healing and they are against any invasive attempt to reach the ruins.
As Lake Titicaca is located at about 12.500 feet (3,800 m) above sea level, it proved to be a difficult task to recover the artifacts from its bed. Moreover, the remains of the underwater city are spread beyond the lake in Peru to parts of Bolivia. Nevertheless, a preservation project for both the onshore and the underwater site has been scheduled. It has been decided that while the large immovable structures made of stone will be kept in a submerged museum with strong glass walls, through which the visitors will see the hidden city, the smaller artifacts that have been collected will be exhibited in an onshore museum. UNESCO has promised help to fund the project and the Peruvian government hopes that on completion of the project, the underwater ruins of Lake Titicaca will attract tourists, which will in turn benefit the locals.