Inca Civilization

Trip Start Apr 09, 2006
Trip End Jun 09, 2007

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Flag of Peru  , Cusco,
Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The beautiful city of Cusco was once the foremost city of the Inca empire and has become the undisputed archaeological capital of the Americas since the rediscovery of Machu Picchu in 1911.  It is also the continent's oldest continuously inhabited city.  Massive Inca-built walls surround the city and form the foundations of many of the city's larger structures. 

The city is often referred to as the "navel of the Inca empire" or the "navel of the earth" because of the ancient legend of the city's founding.  Legend tells that, in the 12th century, the first Inca ruler, Manco Capac, was charged to find qosq'o, or the navel of the earth. When at last Manco found such a place, he founded the city.  The Quechua word qosq'o has morphed over time into the modern name of the city - Cusco.

Unfortunately for us today, the gold-thirsty conquistador Francisco Pizzaro and his Spaniards arrived in 1533.  Pizzaro used an Inca civil war to his advantage to eventually appoint a puppet Inca leader.  The Spaniards took everything of value, leaving minimal traces of the splendor that was once Cusco.  The sacred sites themselves were torn down and Catholic churches today stand on their foundations.  The splendid gold and silver artifacts melted down without even a mention or description of their beauty or function.

The condor, puma and snake were integral to Inca mythology and are prevalent at every turn.  Each of these animals were taken from constellations that the Inca revered.  The ancient city of Cusco itself was shaped like a puma....and countless theories exist that show other cities were planned to represent other constellations.  The location of such cities may even have been planned to coincide with the order of their zodiac.

Today, Cusco is a vibrant, if tourist-y city full of colonial architecture.  The city would rival Arequipa in charm if only one wasn't accosted by a tout on every street corner.  Machu Picchu?  Dinner?  City tour?  Massage??  There must be as many masseurs per capita in Cusco as Bangkok...and that's saying something.

Most come here to spend a few days acclimatizing to the altitude or getting a preliminary taste of some of the Inca ruins before beginning the Inca Trail or visiting Machu Picchu.  I was already adjusted to the elevation but did spend a bit of time seeing the sights in the Sacred Valley, only about 15km from Cusco.  Unfortunately, none of the ruins are covered in hieroglyphs like in Egypt and only theories exist about much of their culture, despite surviving until the 16th century.

I'm off to the famed Machu Picchu on Thursday and couldn't be more pumped.  I'll be taking to the air and moving through the rest of Perú fairly quickly after that...stay tuned.
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