Plato's Sacred Mountain

by Jim Allen, author "Atlantis: The Andes Solution"

December 2000, I had the sudden and unexpected chance once more to return to the Bolivian Altiplano in search of the fabled lost city of Atlantis described by Plato. This time it was for a documentary on behalf of The Learning Channel and there was some doubt if we could squeeze the expedition in before the rains came and the otherwise dry and dusty Altiplano reverted once more to a lake or inland sea.

This time the target was Pampa Aullagas, a site I had seen in the distance on the expedition of the previous year and which looked like an island on the SW corner of the lake, the only way to describe it is like a three-tiered wedding cake, the uppermost tier was a little islnd with a white band surrounding it and perched upon the next, lower tier etc.

We had some good interviews with the local archaeologists of DINAAR, the National Archaeology Institute who were keen on this area. They told us there was a gap in the archaeology record there between 30,000BC and 4,000BC, also they suspected the site and nearby Quillacas had at one time been large population centres although this had changed due to climatic changes ie drying up of the environment.

Eduardo Pareja had made some dives on a sunken temple in Lake Titicaca and pointed out that in the Andean philosophy a temple was not a place with four walls, but rather a sacred landscape.

We rolled into the main square at Pampa Aullagas and found the village completely deserted, the villagers were busy with a celebration party somewhere out the back. Just behind the church and towering over us was an enormous mound covered in stones, the lower portions of which had tumbled down. This was, as we found when we made the climb, one of the outer rings of land Plato had talked about and from the level summit we could see there before us was a ring which at one time would have been filled with water and now was a circular sandy depression, the water level since then having dropped considerably. To the left the sandy "canal" continued around in a circle with a gap where the boats could sail in. To the right it continued for a certain distance then abruptly broke off altogether - the entire southern section of the site had disappeared beneath the ground and the ground surrounding the site also looked like it had dropped considerably so that what was formerly the sea wall (and was covered in coral-like deposits) was now some 40 to 60 feet up on the air.

Next day we made the climb to the summit, climbing over another circular canal-like depression on the inside which surrounded the central cone itself. From the top we could see the level plain all around with the sea, Lake Poopo in the distance and to the west, passing by the site the canal-like Rio Laca Jahuira which depending on the water levels sometimes discharged into Lake Poopo and sometimes the other way into the Salar de Coipasa.

The magnificence and splendour of the place was such that it was easy to imagine that this would be a sacred site, where the kings of Atlantis had gathered according to Plato every 5 and every 6 years alternately.

But there were no ruined palaces to be seen, only tumbled down stones and cactus and in our Western minds we expect of Atlantis ruined palaces with walls of gold as Plato described. But then Plato was presenting an image of a Greek-style city and maybe it is more appropriate to remember Eduardo Parajas words of an Andean temple being a "sacred landscape".

As to the perfectly circular canals we had imagined based on popular drawngs, I looked up Platos words again and he said in the beginning..... "Near the plain at a distance of 50 stades (from the sea) there stood a mountain that was low on all sides. And Poseidon, to make the hill impregnable broke it off all round about; and he made circular belts of sea and land enclosing one another alternately, some greater, some smaller, two being of land and three of sea, which he carved as it were out of the midst of the island." Critias 108E-121C And that was what we found, except that the sea had dropped and the "belts of sea" were now sandy bottomed depressions.

So here is a site that has all the factors that Plato mentioned, firstly it is in the centre of the level rectangular plain at a distance of 50 stades from the sea. It has the required red, black and white stone. It has underground hot and cold springs. It is a route centre at the southern end of the lake, from here boats could sail to the far end of Lake Titicaca some 380 miles to the north, also the rivers Laca Jahuira and Marquez both discharge into the lake here.

The site has been sunk by earthquakes and a Bolivian legend called "The Legend of the Desaguadero" tells of a city on the edge of a lake, punished by the gods and submerged by the sea, in exactly the same manner as Plato’s.

And here is perhaps the most surprising point of all. In the Aymara language Aullagas means "Desaguadero", furthermore Lake Poopo was previously called Lake Aullagas and the nearby Rio Laca Jahuira which runs past the site and may have been the original canal to the sea that Plato talked about was formerly called Rio Desaguadero. Need we look further?

According to Plato, the site of Atlantis was located on an island (continent) opposite the Pillars of Hercules (Strait of Gibraltar) and is described as: "Bordering on the sea and extending through the centre of the whole island there was a plain....The whole region rose sheer out of the sea to a great height, but the part about the city was all a smooth plain, enclosing it round about, and being itself encircled by mountains which stretched as far as to the sea; and the plain had a level surface and was as a whole rectangular in shape... it was originally a quadrangle, rectilinear for the most part and elongated." Critias 108E-121C

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