Located on the Andes mountain range, the Cuzco region of Peru is one of the most spectacular places on our planet. The city of Cuzco is the capital of the Cuzco region and lies at an elevation of 11,200 ft. The Cuzco region also includes the scenic Urubamba Valley, which is known as the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
The sacred city of Cuzco used to be the capital of the Inca Empire. The Kilke people inhabited the Cuzco region from 900 CE and until Incas arrived in the 13th century. It remained the capital of the Incas until the Spanish defeated the last Inca ruler in 1532 CE.
Qorikancha – Inca Temple of Sun God
Qorikancha, which means a golden compound in Quechua, was a magnificent Inca temple dedicated to the Sun God Inti. It was rebuilt by Pachacuti, a powerful Inca emperor who was also known for rebuilding the city of Cuzco. The walls of the temple were made of finely polished, precisely cut and perfectly fitting stones and were covered with sheets of gold. Qorikancha was also the home for the Inca royal mummies, some of which were believed to be the mummies of former Sapa Incas. In the niches, there were golden statues of huacas (sacred objects)and emeralds.
When the Spanish saw Qorikancha, they were awestruck by its beauty and opulence, and yet they plundered the treasure and destroyed the royal mummies. Because the Qorikancha structure being very strong, they were unable to destroy it entirely. They left remaining part of the temple as is and built the Convent of Santo Domingo on top of the ruins.
Just like the Romans, the Incas were excellent engineers. Inca structures with precise stone masonry and fine workmanship were far more superior than the colonial structures. When earthquakes struck the Cuzco region, most of the Spanish buildings collapsed whereas the Inca structures remained intact.
The Spaniards used the stones from Qorikancha as foundations for the cathedral and the Convent of Santo Domingo.
The Convent of Santo Domingo with Qorikancha ruins inside
Because the ruins of Qorikancha are inside the Convent of Santo Domingo, you need to enter through the convent to visit them.
Ruins of Qorikancha
The doors, windows, and niches in the interior walls of Inca structures are of trapezoidal in shape, which not only helps the stability of the building but also improves the aesthetics.
The Spanish donated the area around Qorikancha to Dominicans, who built the Convent of Santo Domingo on top of Qorikancha. You can now see the Spanish colonial structures with the Inca structures side-by-side.
Colonial Mural Painting
During the Spanish colonial period, the interior sides of Inca structures were covered with plaster and decorated with mural painting. The mural painting shown below was most likely drawn in the 17th century and part of the decoration of the Chapter House of Santo Domingo Priory. It was restored in May 2005.
This amazing fortress-like complex was originally built by the Kilke people around 1100 CE. When the Inca conquered the Kilke, they expanded the complex further. After the Spanish conquered the Inca, they destroyed as much as they can and reused the stones for other structures such as churches.
Because of its structure and the style, historians widely believe Saksaywaman was a fortress and not a temple. Some of the stones used in the structure were so massive they weighed between 90 to 120 tons. Stones were of different sizes and shapes but were perfectly fused together like a Jigsaw puzzle. It is not fully understood how this structure was constructed by the people who did not have sophisticated metal tools.
The Urubamba Valley runs along the Urubamba River and is called the sacred valley of the Incas. Many mountain peaks lie on both sides of this scenic valley and some of them as high as 18,000 feet.
The Inca cultivated maize in the Urubamba Valley and used it to brew Chicha, a drink that Incas used in their festivals and celebrations.
Located in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, Ollantaytambo is where the famous Battle of Ollantaytambo took place. The Inca resistance leader and the Inca Emperor Manco Inca – who happened to be another brother of Atahualpa (the last independent Inca Emperor)- defeated the Conquistadors led by Francisco Pizarro’s half-brother Hernando Pizarro. When Hernando Pizarro arrived at the fortress (see image below) with his cavalry and the native soldiers, Manco Inca flooded the plain below the fortress forcing Hernando’s cavalry to retreat. The Spanish returned with greater force and eventually took over Ollantaytambo and Manco Inca retreated to the forests.
The image below shows the fortress of Manco Inca where he defeated the Spanish Conquistadors.
The rooftops of some houses in the Cuzco region have ceramic statues of two bulls and a cross. The tradition of placing the statues of bulls on the rooftops predates the Spanish rule. The native people in this region believe that the statue of a bull on the rooftop brings wealth and happiness to the family. They also consider the bull a symbol of fertility. After the native people were converted to Catholicism, they kept this tradition but added a cross in between the bulls.
The time seems to have stopped in a village near Ollantaytambo. It has houses, buildings and the drainage channels from Inca times. The residents of this village mostly live their lives like people used to live in Inca times.
The images below show the village streets and people.
Peruvian Andes Mountains
The Andes Mountain range passes through the Cuzco region. The name Andes was derived from Quechua word anti which means east.
In the Cuzco region, two popular peaks on the Andes mountain range are: Veronica and Salcantay. The Veronica peak is one of the most visible peaks around the Cuzco region. You can view the Veronica peak during the bus journey from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo and train journey to Aguas Calientes from Ollantaytambo.
Salcanty is located 50 miles northwest of Cuzco and the peak is visible from the Inca trail.
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