Stone & Air - Ancient Peru

Cuzco: Navel of the World

Cuzco is the place to start your exploration of Incan culture. Cuzco was the Incan capital, the center of their religious and administrative life. The town is built on the Incan stonewalls, marvels of engineering put together without mortar and able to withstand more than 500 years of wrenching earthquakes. Unlike sprawling Lima, this is a relatively small city of 250,000 inhabitants. Cuzco is often compared to Kathmandu in Nepal for being at cosmopolitan, of manageable size, and the springboard for excursions into the surrounding countryside. In Cuzco proper, the prime Incan attraction is Koricahcha, the Incan empire's richest temple. The Church of Santo Domingo now stands on most of its site. But you can still visit its three side chambers dedicated to the moon, thunder and the rainbow.

Cuzco was alternately the navel of the world, the umbilical life-giver, and the puma, the stealthy predator. The Incan Empire, much like the Roman, consolidated its domain through a network of roads. This immense, 3000 mile network emanated from Cuzco. The city was laid out in a grid, the outline of which was thought to resemble a puma. The head of the puma was the important temple site Sacsayhuaman, a short one hour hike from Cuzco. This site was a fortress with enormous stone walls on a plateau at the edge of Cuzco. Only 20% of the original structure remains, most of it having been carted off to build Spanish Cuzco. That which remains is mostly the stones that the Spanish couldn't haul away -- the huge boulders expertly fitted together. Gazing at these walls, you get a sense of the resolute strength that speaks to the walls function as the bastion of defense for the mighty empire's capital.

The three other ruins near Cuzco include Qenko, a ceremonial stone and cave with altars carved into it, Tambo Machay, popularly known as the Incan baths and an important ceremonial site, and Puca Pucara, the "red fort," a minor ruin not often visited but perhaps worthy of a sidetrip if you want to spend some solitary time in an Incan ruin.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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