Cusco, the capital of Incas

Centuries ago Cusco was a sacred place. Legends says it was founded by Manco Cápac and his sister, Mama Cora, who emerged from the waters of the lake Titicaca. The siblings were sent to the earth by Inti (the God of the Sun) to bring the people order and peace. They followed the road deep into the mountains until their golden staff sunk into the ground. This place was the Cusco valley. Some say that the Incas built they city in the shape of puma, the sacred animal. The belly of the puma was the main square of the city, the river its spine and the head was formed by the fortress Sacsayhuaman.

Nowadays, not much is left in Cusco from its old masters. The foundations of the Temple of the Sun, Inticancha (Inti – sun, cancha – enclosed), are still where they used to be. It must have been a breathtaking place, Spanish describe the walls and floors covered by the sheets of gold. Now the visitor can only imagine how it used to look like. The whole complex was destroyed and the conquistadors constructed a catholic church right on top of it. They also change the name to the one better reflecting their ambitions – Coricancha, the ‘golden enclosure’ (cori – gold).

However up in the hills around the Cusco valley one can still get the feeling of how this area used to look like.


Up from the Cusco valley

The area up from Cusco is full of the ancient shrines, carved stones and ruins.

Just a short hike up form Cusco are the ruins of Sacsayhuaman, famous for its monumental stonework. In fact, I was completely amazed by the massive walls and perfectly fitting giant rocks. It looks so advanced and so impressive that the usually admired Spanish churches seem to be just a poor imitation. The walls goes in the zigzag  for about 600m and most of the block still seem untouched by the flow of time. The largest of them weights more than 300 tones, brilliantly designed to fit its neighbours. The massive rocks give the place a look of the fortress, and actually Inca defended themselves here against the Spanish.  But as I learned during this trip, no Inca site is really detached from a spiritual meaning – in Sacsayhuaman the protective walls are arranged in the zigzag, referring to the deity of the lightning and many of the sacred objects seem to point out that the place used to be a spiritual site as well as a fortress.


Sacsayhuaman – fortress or a ceremonial site?

Up from Sacsayhuaman one can find several Inca sites more, all close to the main road that goes to Pisac and easily reachable by a local bus. The furtherest of the sites is Tambo Machay – set in a small lovely valley it shows the Inca’s admiration for water. The place probably used to be a ceremonial site dedicated to water, the set of canals and small streams work until now. P1360589


Look at this huge stone – is it not astonishing how Incas incorporated the natural parts of the landscape in their architecture?

Some minutes down lies Puca Pucara, often called a fortress but more probably an Inca recreation spot. Inca used to stop there with his court to take part in the water ceremonies at Tambo Machay.

But the most surprising sites of all, at least in my opinion, was Qenko, a sacred huaca. For the eyes of the European, who always looks a practical and scientific reason to explain the existence of the things, this place looks just like a bunch of weird shaped stones. That is probably where its name comes from – quenco means a labyrinth and for many it is still not more than a labyrinth. However, on the summer solstice, the 21st of June, the stone undergo a transformation, and shadows take a shape of puma and condor, the sacred Inca animals and the place reveals its cosmological meaning.

cajamarca and around

Puma waking up in Qenko on the summer solstice (from the book by Mallku Aribalo)


One thought on “Cusco, the capital of Incas

  1. Pingback: Ancient Andes – science and mysticism | Becoming a Cajamarquina

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