Cusco - The Capital of the Incan Empire

Trip Start Feb 15, 2008
Trip End May 31, 2008

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire from about 1200 AD till 1532 AD when it was conquered by the Spanish. It is believed that the city was planned to be shaped like a puma. That day I took a short tour of Cusco which began with a look at Coricancha (The temple of the Sun). Sadly there isn't actually that much left of Coricancha, just the foundations. In fact all the streets in Cusco were laid out by the Incas. After conquering Cusco, the Spanish simply demolished the Incan buildings and put their own buildings on the same foundations. Interestingly, a major earthquake in 1950 badly destroyed many colonial buildings in Cusco, though the Incan foundations remained intact. The Incan engineers had devised an intricate method of key stoning the blocks of their important buildings without mortar. The exposed Incan stone walls can be seen all over Cusco and are certainly a unique feature of this ancient city.

Back to Coricancha; the Spanish destroyed the temple and built in its place The Dominican Priory and Church of Santo Domingo. The city's Incan architecture withstood the earthquake and many of the granite walls of the Coricancha were exposed, as well as a number of other Incan walls throughout the city. The exposed Incan walls which can be seen inside this establishment are amazing and one of the doorways features a double entrance which exhibits 14 different angles in the stonework, I can't imagine how they did it. Following the earthquake many wanted to restore these buildings to their colonial splendour though a contingent of Cusqueñas urged city officials to retain the exposed walls. Eventually they won out, so thankfully we are now able view the original Incan architecture.

We then took a trip up to a couple of sites on Cusco's hills; the most famous of these sites is Sacsayhuamán. Yes it is kind of funny and it's not a new joke, when you say this name in English it does sound like 'sexy woman'. Sacsayhuamán is a walled complex near the old city of Cusco, in Peru. It is believed that the walls were a form of fortification and it does look like a fortress. Like much Incan stonework how they were constructed remains a mystery. The structure is built in such a way that a single piece of paper will not fit between many of the stones. This precision, combined with the rounded corners of the limestone blocks, the variety of their interlocking shapes, and the way the walls lean inward, is thought to have helped the ruins survive devastating earthquakes in Cusco.

The Spanish harvested a large quantity of rock from the walls of the structure to build churches in Cusco, which is why the walls are in perfect condition up to a certain height, and missing above that point. Sacsayhuamán is also noted for its extensive system of underground passages known as chincanas which connect the fortress to other Inca ruins within Cusco.

At this location also stands the Christo Blanco which overlooks Cusco and is kind of like a mini rip off of the big one at Rio de Janeiro. That evening I met with my group for the Inca Trail trek for a briefing and to finalise a few last minute details.
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