Monday, June 4, 2007

Cusco, Peru--The Inca Capital

From Copacabana, Dennis and I headed to Cusco, Peru. Below, I am at the border between Bolivia and Peru; and Dennis is looking sad because our bus was delayed and we weren't going to get to Cusco until 2 or 3 am (as opposed to 9pm).

The City

Cusco is a beautiful city, and a tourist hub given its prominent role in Inca history and proximity to Machu Picchu. Here are some images from Plaza de Armas, its central plaza:

As a tourist hub, Cusco is also a party city. Here are some pictures from a couple of nights out at the bars/clubs. You know Dennis by now, and the woman is Jackie, who works at The Point hostel where we were staying.

The Incas

Cusco was the capital of Inca civilization, and the word means "naval of the world." The Incas consolidated their power over much of northwestern South America (Peru, parts of Ecuador, Chile, Bolivia, etc.) around the 11th century and reigned for about 450 years until the Spanish came.

The word "Inca" originally referred to the ruler of the society, but eventually came to mean the entire civilization. Incas appear to have lived under a system of "benevolent dictatorship" in which the Inca's power was absolute (because he was thought to be descendant from the sun) but generally used for the good of the people.

They were conquered easily by Francisco Pizarro and an extremely small force despite their defendable mountain positioning largely because the Inca ruler chose to trust the strange new men and because of Spanish access to horses and guns.

Temple of the Sun

Our second day in town, Dennis and I went on a city tour of Cusco. Our guide Leo was awesome. Here were are together.

Our first stop was the Temple of the Sun, located in the heart of Cusco. The Inca nation was divided into four parts, with Cusco at the center (hence "naval"). The Temple of the Sun is located at the center of the center.

At the height of Inca power, there were 4000 priests in residence at this Temple. These priests spent much of their time studying astronomy, from which the Incas derived the bulk of their religion and iconography. For example, the three sacred Inca animals--the puma, serpent, and condor--are images derived from the Milky Way. This modern painting in the Temple shows some of the imagery in the star pattern:

As a result, the city of Cusco is shaped like a puma and the city of Machu Picchu was laid out in the form of a condor. The serpent is represented by the river that runs through the "sacred valley" surrounding Cusco.


From the Temple of the Sun, we headed to Sagsaywaman, a ruin that forms the head of the puma of Cusco and was the site of the first battle with the Spaniards. Here, Leo explained the three types of Inca architecture. The least refined is domestic architecture:

The finest is religious architecture. This uses no cement, just interlocking stone (this picture is actually from the Temple of the Sun):

And, the most imposing (using the largest stones) is military architecture:

This pic will give you an idea of just how large some of the rocks were:

All types made extensive use of the trapezoid to provide structural strength. As a result, Inca cities survived earthquakes that (in a delicious bit of irony) felled many later Spanish structures.

Next, we went to Qungo where we saw a sun dial that displays the face of a puma at the winter solstice, and an alter for sacrificing llamas and other animals to Mother Earth.

Overall, I loved Cusco and would recommend spending at least 3-4 days there (not including Machu Picchu).


Cesar said...

Adam, Your Blog its Awesome!! I also got a great time those days you were here in Lima-PerĂº. Hope to see you soon. -CESAR-

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh that's so awesome. I've never been to Machu Pichu and im peruvian but i might go soon. Oh and one more thing i hate cuy too!

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Anonymous said...

It is useful to try everything in practise anyway and I like that here it's always possible to find something new. :)

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