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 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.
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:
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).