Our visit of Cusco begins!

Cusco Travel Blog

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The Cuzco Cathedral

Our first day in Cuzco was dedicated to walking around visiting the ancient capital city of the Inca Empire. Cuzco is a city in southeastern Peru, near the Urubamba Valley (Sacred Valley) of the Andes mountain range and considered the historic capital of the Inca Empire. It is the capital of the Cusco Region as well as the Cusco Province. The city has a population of about 300,000. Located on the eastern end of the Knot of Cusco, its altitude is around 3,300m.

 

Upon the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, the Quechua name "Qosqo" was transliterated into Spanish as "Cusco", which is how it appears on maps from the 17th and 18th centuries. On maps from the 19th century and through the mid-20th century, the name appears as "Cuzco". Today, in official Peruvian cartography the name has returned to the original transliteration: Cusco, with an S rather than a Z. The Z version of the name is still used in some official circumstances, such as the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites, but the S version is official usage in English.

 

The Killke occupied the region from 900 to 1200 A.D., prior to the arrival of the Incas in the 1200s. Archaeologists discovered, on March 13, 2008, the ruins of an ancient temple, roadway and irrigation systems at Sacsayhuaman, a famed fortress overlooking the Inca capital of Cuzco.

Elsa at Qoricancha
Previous carbon-14 dating of Sacsayhuaman revealed that the Killke culture constructed the fortress in the 1100s. In 2007, excavations uncovered another temple on the edge of the fortress, indicating religious as well as military use of the facility.

 

Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire (1200s-1532). Many believe that the city was planned to be shaped like a puma. The city had two sectors: the urin and hanan, which were further divided to each encompass two of the four provinces, Chinchasuyu, Antisuyu, Qontisuyu and Collasuyu. A road led from each of these quarters to the corresponding quarter of the empire. Each local leader was required to build a house in the city and live part of the year in Cusco, but only in the quarter of Cusco that corresponded to the quarter of the empire in which he had territory. After Pachacuti, when an Inca died his title went to one son and his property was given to a corporation controlled by his other relatives (a process called split inheritance), so each title holder had to build a new house and add new lands to the empire, in order to own the land his family needed to maintain after his death.

 

According to Inca legend, the city was built by Sapa Inca Pachacuti, the man who transformed the Kingdom of Cusco from a sleepy city-state into the vast empire of Tahuantinsuyu. But archaeological evidence points to a slower, more organic growth of the city beginning before Pachacuti. There was however a city plan, and two rivers were channeled around the city.

 

The first Spaniards arrived in the city on November 15, 1533. Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro officially discovered Cusco on March 23, 1534, naming it the "Very noble and great city of Cusco". The many buildings constructed after the Spanish conquest are of Spanish influence with a mix of Inca architecture, including the Santa Clara and San Blas barrios.

La Compania de Jesus
The Spanish undertook the construction of a new city on the foundations of the old Inca city, replacing temples with churches and palaces with mansions for the conquerors. During the colony, Cusco was very prosperous thanks to the agriculture, cattle raising, mining as well as the trade with Spain. This allowed the construction of many churches and convents, and even a cathedral, university and Archbishopric. Often, Spanish buildings were juxtaposed atop the massive stone walls built by the Inca.


A major earthquake in 1950 badly destroyed the Dominican Priory and Church of Santo Domingo, which were built on top of the impressive Coricancha (Temple of the Sun). The city's Inca architecture, however, withstood the earthquake. Many of the old Inca walls were thought to have been lost after the earthquake, but the granite walls of the Coricancha were exposed, as well as many walls throughout the city. While some wanted to restore the buildings to their colonial splendor, a contingent of Cusco citizens urged city officials to retain the exposed walls. Cusco was also hit by a major earthquake in 1650.

 

The Inca Empire was the largest empire in pre-Columbian America. The administrative, political and military center of the empire was located in Cusco. The Inca Empire arose from the highlands of Peru sometime in early 13th century. From 1438 to 1533, the Incas used a variety of methods, from conquest to peaceful assimilation, to incorporate a large portion of western South America, centered on the Andean mountain ranges, including large parts of modern Ecuador, Peru, western and south central Bolivia, northwest Argentina, north and north-central Chile, and southern Colombia. The Incas identified their king as "child of the sun."

 

The Quechua name for the empire was Tawantinsuyu which can be translated as The Four Regions or The Four United Regions. Before the Quechua spelling reform it was written in Spanish as Tahuantinsuyo.

Walking around Cuzco
Tawantin is a group of four things (tawa "four" with the suffix -ntin which names a group); suyu means "region" or "province". The empire was divided into four Suyus, whose corners met at the capital, Cusco (Qosqo), in modern-day Peru. The official language of the empire was Quechua, although scores if not hundreds of local languages were spoken. There were many local forms of worship, most of them concerning local sacred "Huacas", but the Inca leadership encouraged the worship of Inti " the sun god" and imposed its sovereignty above other cults such as that of Pachamama.

 

The Inca people began as a tribe in the Cusco area around the 12th century. Under the leadership of Manco Capac, they formed the small city-state of Cusco (Quechua Qusqu), shown in red on the map. In 1438 they began a far-reaching expansion under the command of Sapa Inca (paramount leader) Pachacuti, whose name literally meant "earth-shaker". During his reign, he and his son brought much of the Andes mountains (roughly modern Peru and Ecuador) under Inca control.

 

Pachacuti reorganized the kingdom of Cuzco into an empire, the Tahuantinsuyu, a federalist system which consisted of a central government with the Inca at its head and four provincial governments with strong leaders: Chinchasuyu, Antisuyu, Contisuyu, and Collasuyu. Pachacuti is also thought to have built Machu Picchu, either as a family home or as a summer retreat.

 

Pachacuti sent spies to regions he wanted in his empire; they brought reports on the political organization, military might and wealth. He would then send messages to the leaders of these lands extolling the benefits of joining his empire, offering them presents of luxury goods such as high quality textiles, and promising that they would be materially richer as subject rulers of the Inca.

Walking around Cuzco
Most accepted the rule of the Inca as a fait accompli and acquiesced peacefully. The ruler's children would then be brought to Cuzco to be taught about Inca administration systems, then return to rule their native lands. This allowed the Inca to indoctrinate the former ruler's children into the Inca nobility, and, with luck, marry their daughters into families at various corners of the empire.

 

It was traditional for the Inca's son to lead the army; Pachacuti's son Túpac Inca began conquests to the north in 1463, and continued them as Inca after Pachucuti's death in 1471. His most important conquest was the Kingdom of Chimor, the Inca's only serious rival for the coast of Peru. Túpac Inca's empire stretched north into modern day Ecuador and Colombia.

 

Túpac Inca's son Huayna Cápac added a small portion of land to the north in modern day Ecuador and in parts of Peru. At its height, Tahuantinsuyu included Peru and Bolivia, most of what is now Ecuador, a large portion of what is today Chile north of Maule River, where they met massive resistance by the Mapuche tribes. The empire also extended into corners of Argentina and Colombia. However, most of the southern portion of the Inca empire, the portion denominated as Collasuyu, was desert wasteland.

 

Tahuantinsuyu was a patchwork of languages, cultures and peoples. The components of the empire were not all uniformly loyal, nor were the local cultures all fully integrated. The Inca empire as a whole had an economy based on exchange and taxation of luxury goods and labour (it is said that Inca tax collectors would take the head lice of the lame and old as a symbolic tribute).

walking around Cuzco

 

Spanish conquistadors led by Francisco Pizarro and his brothers explored south from Panama, reaching Inca territory by 1526. It was clear that they had reached a wealthy land with prospects of great treasure, and after one more expedition (1529). Pizarro traveled to Spain and received royal approval to conquer the region and be its viceroy.

 

At the time they returned to Peru, in 1532, a war of the two brothers between Huayna Capac's sons Huascar and Atahualpa and unrest among newly-conquered territories " and perhaps more importantly, smallpox, which had spread from Central America " had considerably weakened the empire. It was an unfortunate fact for the Inca that the Spaniards arrived at the height of a civil war, fueled almost certainly by the devastating diseases that preceded the European colonization.

 

Pizarro did not have a formidable force; with just 180 men, 1 cannon and only 27 horses, he often needed to talk his way out of potential confrontations that could have easily wiped out his party. The Spanish horseman, fully armored, had great technological superiority over the Inca forces. The traditional mode of battle in the Andes was a kind of siege warfare where large numbers of usually reluctant draftees were sent to overwhelm opponents. The Spaniards had developed one of the finest military machines in the premodern world, tactics learned in their centuries' long fight against Moorish kingdoms in Iberia. Along with this tactical and material superiority, the Spaniards also had acquired tens of thousands of native allies who sought to end the Inca control of their territories. This, combined with an audacious military attack by the Spaniards in Cajamarca, allowed them to capture the emperor and send the Inca elite into a huge and paralyzing political struggle.

Walking around Cuzco
Atahualpa ordered the death of his opponent, Huascar, and the Spaniards skillfully manipulated the various factions within the Inca state. They also were able to continually increase their native allies and ultimately launched a successful attack on the capital city of Cuzco.

 

Their first engagement was the Battle of Puná, near present-day Guayaquil, Ecuador on the Pacific Coast; Pizarro then founded the city of Piura in July 1532. Hernando de Soto was sent inland to explore the interior, and returned with an invitation to meet the Inca, Atahualpa, who had defeated his brother in the civil war and was resting at Cajamarca with his army of 80,000 troops.

 

Pizarro and some of his men, most notably a friar by the name of Vincente de Valverde met with the Inca, who had brought only a small retinue. Through an interpreter Friar Vincente demanded that he and his empire accept the yoke of King Charles I of Spain and convert to Christianity. Due to the language barrier and perhaps poor interpretation, Atahualpa became somewhat puzzled by the friar's description of Christian faith and was said to have not fully understood the envoy's intentions. After Atahualpa attempted further enquiry into the doctrines of the Christian faith under which Pizarro's envoy served, the Spanish became frustrated and impatient, attacking the Inca's retinue (see Battle of Cajamarca) and capturing Atahualpa as hostage.

 

Atahualpa offered the Spaniards enough gold to fill the room he was imprisoned in, and twice that amount of silver. The Inca fulfilled this ransom, but Pizarro deceived them, refusing to release the Inca afterwards. During Atahualpa's imprisonment Huascar was assassinated elsewhere. The Spaniards maintained that this was at Atahualpa's orders; this was used as one of the charges against Atahualpa when the Spaniards finally decided to put him to death, in August 1533.

Nelson at the Inca Museum

 

The Spanish installed Atahualpa's brother Manco Inca Yupanqui in power; for some time Manco cooperated with the Spanish, while the Spanish fought to put down resistance in the north. Meanwhile an associate of Pizarro's, Diego de Almagro, attempted to claim Cuzco for himself. Manco tried to use this intra-Spanish feud to his advantage, recapturing Cuzco (1536), but the Spanish retook the city afterwards. Manco Inca then retreated to the mountains of Vilcabamba, Peru, where he and his successors ruled for another 36 years, sometimes raiding the Spanish or inciting revolts against them. In 1572 the last Inca stronghold was conquered, and the last ruler, Túpac Amaru, Manco's son, was captured and executed. This ended resistance to the Spanish conquest under the political authority of the Inca state.

 

After the fall of Tahuantinsuyu, the new Spanish rulers brutally oppressed the people and suppressed their traditions. Many aspects of Inca culture were systematically destroyed, including their sophisticated farming system. The Spaniards used the Inca mita (mandatory public service) system to literally work the people to death. One member of each family was forced to work in the gold and silver mines, the foremost of which was the titanic silver mine at Potosí. When a family member died, which would usually happen within a year or two, the family would be required to send a replacement.

 

The effects of smallpox on Tahuantinsuyu (or the Inca empire) were even more devastating. Beginning in Colombia, smallpox spread rapidly before the Spanish invaders first arrived in the empire. The spread was probably aided by the efficient Inca road system. Within months, the disease had killed the Sapa Inca Huayna Capac, his successor, and most of the other leaders. Two of his surviving sons warred for power and, after a bloody and costly war of the two brothers, Atahualpa become the new Sapa Inca.

Inca Museum
As Atahualpa was returning to the capital Cuzco, Francisco Pizarro arrived and through a series of deceits captured the young leader and his best general. Within a few years smallpox claimed between 60% and 94% of the Inca population, with other waves of European disease weakening them further. Smallpox was only the first epidemic. Typhus (probably) in 1546, influenza and smallpox together in 1558, smallpox again in 1589, diphtheria in 1614, measles in 1618 - all ravaged the remains of Inca culture.

 

The most powerful figure in the empire was the Sapa Inca ('the unique Inca'). Only descendants of the original Inca tribe ever ascended to the level of Inca. Most young members of the Inca's family attended Yachay Wasis (houses of knowledge) to obtain their education.

The Tawantinsuyu was a federalist system which consisted of a central government with the Inca at its head and four provinces: Chinchay Suyu, Anti Suyu, Kunti Suyu, and Qulla Suyu. The four corners of these provinces met at the center, Cusco. Each province had a governor who oversaw local officials, who in turn supervised agriculturally-productive river valleys, cities and mines. There were separate chains of command for both the military and religious institutions, which created a system of partial checks and balances on power. The local officials were responsible for settling disputes and keeping track of each family's contribution to the mita (mandatory public service).      

The Inca diet consisted primarily of potatoes and grains, supplemented by fish, vegetables, nuts, and maize (corn). Camelid (llama and alpaca) meat and cuyes (guinea pigs) were also eaten in large quantities. In addition, they hunted various wild animals for meat, skins and feathers. Maize was malted and used to make chicha, a fermented alcoholic beverage. The Inca road system was key to farming success as it allowed distribution of foodstuffs over long distances. The Inca also constructed vast storehouses, which allowed them to live through El Niño years while neighboring civilizations suffered.

The Inca believed in reincarnation. Those who obeyed the Incan moral code" ama suwa, ama llulla, ama quella (do not steal, do not lie, do not be lazy)" "went to live in the Sun's warmth while others spent their eternal days in the cold earth".

The Cuzco Cathedral at night
The Inca also practiced cranial deformation.  They achieved this by wrapping tight cloth straps around the heads of newborns in order to alter the shape of their still-soft skulls into a more conical form. Studies are needed to determine whether these deformations caused actual brain damage.

Architecture was by far the most important of the Inca arts, with pottery and textiles reflecting motifs that were at their height in architecture. The main example is the capital city of Cuzco itself. The breathtaking site of Machu Picchu was constructed by Inca engineers. The stone temples constructed by the Inca used a mortarless construction that fit together so well that you couldn't fit a knife through the stonework. This was a process first used on a large scale by the Pucara (ca. 300 BC"AD 300) peoples to the south in Lake Titicaca, and later in the great city of Tiwanaku (ca. AD 400"1100) in present day Bolivia. The Inca imported the stoneworkers of the Tiwanaku region to Cuzco when they conquered the lands south of Lake Titicaca. The rocks used in construction were sculpted to fit together exactly by repeatedly lowering a rock onto another and carving away any sections on the lower rock where the dust was compressed. The tight fit and the concavity on the lower rocks made them extraordinarily stable.

Almost all of the gold and silver work of the empire was melted down by the conquistadores. Ceramics were painted in numerous motifs including birds, waves, felines, and geometric patterns. The most distinctive Inca ceramic objects are the Cusco bottles or ¨aryballos¨.  Many of these pieces are on display in Lima in the Larco Archaeological Museum and the National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology and History.

A very important Inca technology was the Quipu, which were assemblages of knotted strings used to record information, the exact nature of which is no longer known. Originally it was thought that Quipu were used only as mnemonic devices or to record numerical data. Recent discoveries, however, have led to the theory that these devices were instead a form of writing in their own right. The Inca made many discoveries in medicine. They performed successful skull surgery, which involved cutting holes in the skull to release pressure from head wounds. Coca leaves were used to lessen hunger and pain, as they still are in the Andes. The Chasqui (messengers) chewed coca leaves for extra energy to carry on their tasks as runners delivering messages throughout the empire.

Qoricancha at night

The Incas used weapons and had wars with other civilizations in the area. The Inca army was the most powerful in the area at that time, because they could turn an ordinary villager or farmer into a soldier, ready for battle. This is because every male Inca had to take part in war at least once so as to be prepared for warfare again when needed. By the time the empire had reached its large size, every section of the empire contributed in setting up an army for war.

Our first stop was the iconic Plaza de Armas (main square) which is the centre of Inca Cusco and, still today, remains at the heart of modern Cusco. During Inca times the Plaza was known as Huacaypata (the Place of Tears or the Weeping Square) and was a place of ceremonies and military parades. It has been said that when the Inca's conquered new lands they would bring back some of the soil to be mixed with the soil of Huacaypata, as a symbolic gesture to incorporate the newly gained territories into the Inca empire. The Plaza was once flanked with Inca palaces. The remains of the ancient walls of Inca Pachacutec's palace can still be seen on the north-west side of the square.

The northern and western sides of the Plaza are now lined by arcades with shops and travel agencies. There are many restaurants, bars and coffee shops with beautifully carved wooden balconies overlooking the Plaza - a great place to relax and enjoy the view. The Plaza's north-eastern edge is dominated by the Cathedral which is flanked on the right-hand side by the El Triunfo church. On the south-east side is the smaller but more ornate church of La Compania de Jesus with its impressive pair of belfries.

La Compania de Jesus rivals with the Cathedral in grandeur and prominence. The original structure was built in the 1570's by the Jesuits on the site of Inca Huayna Capac's palace, known as Amaru Cancha or Palace of the Serpents and was said to be the most beautiful of all the Inca palaces. Huayna Capac was the last Inca to rule over an undivided, unconquered empire. The first church was destroyed in the earthquake of 1650. The present day building was finally completed 18 years later in 1668. The most impressive feature of La Compania is the incredible baroque facade with two majestic bell towers. The interior is cool and a little gloomy apart from a stunning gilded altar-piece which is often lit up at night. The church also possesses several important works of art from the Cusquena School.

Inca monument
On the right hand side of the church is the Lourdes Chapel which is now used as an exhibition centre to display local paintings and handicrafts.


We went down and up Av. Sol, the main commercial street of Cuzco and went to lunch in a small restaurant where we drank the famous Inca Cola, which tastes like bubble gum. We then continued up to the Inca Museum where we spent around 2 hours on a guided tour about the Inca history. If you only have time to visit one museum visit this one. It has the most complete collection of Inca artifacts. We then ate dinner at a Pizzeria near our Hotel. Afterwards Daniel and I decided to stay at the Plaza de Armas to take some night pictures.

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The Cuzco Cathedral
The Cuzco Cathedral
Qoricancha
Qoricancha
The Incas
The Incas
Elsa at Qoricancha
Elsa at Qoricancha
La Compania de Jesus
La Compania de Jesus
Walking around Cuzco
Walking around Cuzco
Walking around Cuzco
Walking around Cuzco
walking around Cuzco
walking around Cuzco
Walking around Cuzco
Walking around Cuzco
Nelson at the Inca Museum
Nelson at the Inca Museum
Inca Museum
Inca Museum
The Cuzco Cathedral at night
The Cuzco Cathedral at night
Qoricancha at night
Qoricancha at night
Inca monument
Inca monument
Hotel Marqueses
Hotel Marqueses
Hotel Marqueses
Hotel Marqueses
Cuzco streets
Cuzco streets
Cuzco streets
Cuzco streets
Cuzco streets
Cuzco streets
Hotel Marqueses
Hotel Marqueses
Hotel Marqueses
Hotel Marqueses
Inca Cola!
Inca Cola!
The Cuzco Cathedral group photo
The Cuzco Cathedral group photo
La Compania de Jesus
La Compania de Jesus
Our group on a Cuzco street
Our group on a Cuzco street
Purgatory!!!
Purgatory!!!
A photo shot with Lamas
A photo shot with Lamas
The famous Inca walls
The famous Inca walls
Beautiful architecture
Beautiful architecture
La Compania de Jesus at night
La Compania de Jesus at night
The Cuzco Cathedral at night
The Cuzco Cathedral at night
Qoricancha at night
Qoricancha at night
Leaving our Hotel
Leaving our Hotel
The Plaza de Armas at night
The Plaza de Armas at night
The pilars of Cuzco
The pilars of Cuzco
La Compania de Jesus at night
La Compania de Jesus at night
The Cuszo Cathedral at night
The Cuszo Cathedral at night
The Plaza de Armas at night
The Plaza de Armas at night
The Plaza de Armas at night
The Plaza de Armas at night
The Cuzco Cathedral at night
The Cuzco Cathedral at night
The Plaza de Armas at night
The Plaza de Armas at night
Walking around Cuzco at night
Walking around Cuzco at night
Hotel Marqueses
Hotel Marqueses
The entrance to the Marqueses Hotel
The entrance to the Marqueses Hotel
Hotel Marqueses Panoramic
Hotel Marqueses Panoramic
A Panoramic view of the Plaza de A…
A Panoramic view of the Plaza de …
The Hotel Marqueses
The Hotel Marqueses
Cusco
photo by: Vlindeke