Feature Articles – Fake porn
The Peruvian Ullo temple with its giant phalli seemed to good to be true – a largely intact temple in which a cult of fertility had survived the onslaught of Christianity? Recently, it has been made obvious that it was indeed too good to be true…
by Philip Coppens
The Inca Ullo temple in Chucuito was not on our tour programme. It was on other tours’ programme though. Why was this? The local tour guide did not really give an answer. In retrospect, it seemed that tours with foreign guides visited the Ullo temple, but the local guides stayed away from it. Were the Peruvians ashamed of a temple that had been labelled a “temple of fertility”, as it contained several giant erect phalli? In retrospect, the answer is no – and though we did not realise it at the time, the locals must have known: this temple was not genuine.
Less than a year after our non-visit, the media reported that the site had been built in the early 1990s – 1993 – by people from Chucuito. The “ruins” were then dated to the 16th century, interpreted as a site where women would come to pray and ask for fertility. A total of 24 giant phalli grazed the site, some as high as 1.5 metres, some allegedly pointing towards the sun god Inti and the Earth goddess Pachamama… and thousands of visitors came to take photographs.
It seems that the locals were upset to see so many busses pass by, without stopping. The area of Lake Titicaca, around Puno, is a main tourist centre. On the way to Tiahuanaco, it was clear that there was room for an added photo opportunity. And once the tourists have descended from their busses, the locals can sell them their goods – injecting money into the local economy.
But what would make tourists stop? There are many Inca ruins, and around Lake Titicaca, the normal stops are Tiahuanaco, Puno for the floating islands of the Uros and its population and occasionally Sillustani. De Chullpas de Sillustani is one of the most important necropolae of the world, some chullpas measuring over 12 metres high. Hence, just another ruin would not do… but surely a temple of fertility with phalli would do it? And it did: the fortuitous discovery resulted in thousands of visitors stopping… the plan had worked.
Still, this was not merely the initiative of a few local villagers. They actually convinced the local authorities to invest money in their project – in an effort to bring tourism to the region. Rolando Paredes, director of the National Culture Institue of Puno, commented that “People have literally created a myth.” When the story broke in early 2005, it was briefly but widely reported in the media, but not widely followed up. At this particular paragraph, this article seems to be the longest one written yet on the subject. Though Ananova ran it, though the English tabloid The Sun featured it – after all, it had a male anatomy connection, so their readers would have demanded it – no further reports were forthcoming.
Some archaeologists were sceptical from the beginning. The site was near two churches. The Catholic Church was iconoclastic throughout the Incan world and a temple containing nothing but stone phalli would most surely have featured on their hit list. That something could miraculously survive the onslaught of Christianity, was indeed the telltale sign that this was a fake… In the end, it seems that the temple is indeed one of fertility – but of fertile imagination…