Cusco and The Incas

Cusco was the cultural and administrative capital of the Inca civilization that arose from the highlands of Peru in the early 13th century. The Incas, like the Mayans of Southern Mexico and Central America, were able to build one of the largest empires through the conquests of large parts of Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, Colombia and built the largest civilization in South America till it fell to the Spanish conquerors in 1572.

The most famous architectural marvel of the Incas is Machu Picchu, one of the 7 Wonders of The World. The Incas built many such architectural monuments, and all of them had stonework which employed a special technique. I will give a pictorial narrative of this engineering technique at a later part. Furthermore, extensive road networks reaching all corners of the empire, finely-woven garments, etc. were some of the indicators of the high caliber of governance put in place by the Incas to keep this vast empire together.

I had been to Cusco in April 2013 to visit Machu Picchu. The flight from the Peruvian capital city Lima took an hour to land in Cusco. Cusco city is a tourist destination in its own right and has many a must-seen places on the tourist itinerary before one embarks on the uphill journey to Machu Picchu. One such tourist hotspot is the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin, built by the Incas in 1550; it was later restored and renovated by the Spanish. The Cathedral portrays a fusion of the Inca culture and Christianity. Christ on the crucifix is dark-skinned, with the traditional Inca cloth covering Him; statues of Mother Mary in the shapes of mountains, etc. No cameras were allowed inside the cathedral.

Another attraction is Coricancha — also spelled as Qoricancha meaning The Golden Temple in Quechua, the indigenous language used by the tribes, including the Incas, in South America — the most important temple of the Incas, dedicated to Inti, the sun god whom they worshipped. 

Sun Temple picture:

The Incas employed a special stonework technique to build this Cathedral and the myriad architectural gems that dot this landscape. This amazing technique stands testimony to the prodigious expertise possessed by the Empire. I am taking you through a pictorial tour, along with narratives, to understand this technique.

Every building-unit is single stone-carved and is chiseled its way through all the corners. So there are no joints at any corners of the unit to connect with the adjacent ones on the same line.

And every unit is connected one over the other not by any plastering substance but by a technique that is unparalleled in human records. Brick over brick with no plastering in between….amazing!!

The technique: Each unit is chiseled out with a square-beam on its top and an equally measured square-cavity at the lower side. The beam is locked into the cavity of the unit above, thus, creating a compact structure to build walls. Have a look at the building-unit:

Peru is an earthquake-prone area, and there were catastrophic quakes in Cusco in 1950. But the Inca buildings, including the Cathedral, survived the quake because this technique had an inbuilt mechanism to tide over the quakes. Beam is not fully tight inside the cavity but can move a bit, thus, giving space for the shockwaves to pass through.

Cusco is 3,390 meters above the mean sea level. It is a beautiful city, closer to nature with less moorings of urbanization. The city is set in the valleys encircled by beautiful mountains whose trajectory resembles waves in still-motion.

An overlooking view of Cusco at night is splendid, clearly showing the mountains going into their natural slumber while the valley-city gets lit up to keep itself awake.

A man with Lord Ganesha tattoo. I met this man in the city, and he came forward to me after identifying me as Indian and was happy to show the tattoo to me.

Sacsaywaman is believed to have been a fortress of the Incas as the archaeological ruins have storage rooms for military gadgets. This is another engineering marvel from the Incas. They used big stones which were chiseled to perfect-boulders to fit each other without mortars — the same stonework technique used to build the sun temple.

It is incomprehensible to imagine the amount of labor needed for such arduous works. Scientists find it difficult to clearly fathom out how the Incas managed to transport big stones to such heights. The site’s altitude is 3701 meter.

An young Japanese couple was there in our group.

The above three pictures were clicked using their camera, and I am thankful to them for emailing the pictures to me as promised by them.

Alpacas and Llamas were the main domesticated animals.These animals served twin purposes — their hides were used to make warm clothes and their meat for consumption. Llamas are bigger and taller than Alpacas.The most striking difference between them is the shape of their ears: Alpaca have short spear-shaped ears, but ears of llamas are longer and banana-shaped. The most expensive warm cloth is the one made from “Baby Alpacas,” duplicates of which are also available and that are called “May be Alpacas.”

There are six stages in the making of warm clothes as depicted in the picture below:

Visit to the above monuments and places was done on the day I landed in Cusco, and it was a guided-tour. I took a package from a travel agent in Lima, costing USD850 for the 3-day sojourn. So there were tour guides to assist from the time I landed in Cusco. The tour to Machu Picchu was on the second day, and I will write about that exhilarating experience in another blog soon.

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