THEY HAVE ATTRACTED thousands of tourists who come to deepest, darkest Peru looking for an amusing photo-opportunity.
But a circle of giant stone penises - supposedly erected as a fertility symbol by the ancient Incas - was exposed as a fake.
Far from being relics of the 15th-century Inca empire, the 24 rocks at Chucuito were actually built in the mid-1990s to attract tourists.
The news is a blow for travellers from all over the world who paid for tours to the site near Lake Titicaca.
Visitors who came to see Chucuito’s rock members - some of them 1.5m (5ft) high - were told that, according to legend, Inca women visited to cure infertility and sexual problems.
Some of the stones were said to point towards various deities, including the Inca Sun god Inti and Earth goddess Pachamama. It was even claimed that virgins would sit for hours on top of the phalluses to increase their chances of getting pregnant.
But the ‘ruins’ and accompanying legends were devised 12 years ago by people living near Lake Titicaca, who feared they were being left off the tourist trail.
They decided they needed an interesting attraction to entice visitors and secure money from the local council to improve facilities for the local community.
The ruse worked and Chucuito was soon featured on the itineraries of tour operators offering trips to the many genuine Inca sites dotted around the famous lake.
However, although some companies perpetuated the myth, others remained distinctly sceptical.
They pointed to the existence of two nearby Christian churches as proof that the stones were fake.
When the Spanish invaded South America, missionaries destroyed all structures they considered pagan - so leaving fertility symbols intact near two churches was seen as suspect.
‘The Inca empire was at its height roughly between 1430 and 1530,’ said website TravelMole.
‘Tourists were attracted to the ruins but experts recently found out they were built to persuade authorities to invest more.’