Cusco was the capital city of the Inca people. Meaning navel of the world, Cusco was the political, economic and cultural center of the Americas. With an empire stretching from as far as South as Argentina and up to Colombia in the North the Inca people were by far the greatest civilisation to appear in South America and they built a capital to live up to their name.
Cusco is the home to some of the finest Inca architecture ever built; even today following the destruction of the city during the Spanish conquest people are amazed by the beauty and the engineering acumen that went in to the construction of the city.
Wherever you walk in Cusco you come across reminders of Cusco's past, from the remains of the Inca palaces that are now home to museums and restaurants to the engraved and cut rocks that dot the area, it is impossible to not be impressed by the legacy the Inca left behind.
Cusco's history is not just Inca history though; for 500 years the Spanish have also left their mark on the city and today you can see an interesting and eclectic mix of both Inca and Colonial architecture and culture sat side by side. The most notable example of the blending of the cultures is the Monastery of Saint Dominic (Santo Domingo). This was originally the site of the Inca temple of the Sun and a large part of the foundations and lower walls of the temple still remain intact with the upper half of the building being Colonial.
Population: Aprox. 500,000 (2016).
Average altitude: 3,350 meters (10,000 feet).
Distances: 1 hour fly to Lima (20 hours by bus).
Cusco's Cathedral is quite a sight to behold. Built in the 1550's on the foundations of the palace of the Inca Wiracocha it took over a century before it was completed. The Cathedral includes many interesting features from it's impressive main altar bedecked in gold to the variety of paintings found there. The paintings are of particular interest because they demonstrate the rebellion still formenting just below the surface, the most obvious example is a painting of the Last Supper where Jesus can be seen eating a guinea pig (a traditional Incan delicacy).
Santo Domingo Monastery / Qoricancha
Qoricancha (The Golden Quarter) is one of Cusco's most interesting sites. Combining a Dominican monastery and the remains of the old Incan Temple of the Sun it is a fascinating place to look around. It is said that when the Spanish first arrived to Cusco Qoricancha was the first thing they saw; completely covered in gold it stood out above all else. Unfortunately the Spanish didn't leave anything intact and all the gold was stripped down and melted to be sent to Europe. The most well known artifact from the Temple of The Sun is the great disc of the sun. The last known record of the disc was it being gambled in a card game but beyond that no record exists. Many people believe the disc was smuggled away by the Inca priests and is still being kept safe somewhere in Peru.
Sacsayhuaman is by far one of the most impressive works of the Incas. Constructed from vast blocks of stone some of which weigh well over 100 tonnes each it must have been one of the crowning glories of the Inca empire. The site unfortunately has not remained intact; during the first Inca rebellion led by Manco Capac Sacsayhuaman was occupied by the Incas and used to dominate the area around Cusco. Once the rebellion was put down and Manco Capac driven far out in to the jungle the Spanish tore the site down so that it could never be used as a fortress again. Despite the damage inflicted the site still manages to impress and is one of the most popular destinations in the city for locals and tourists alike.
Close by to Sacsayhuaman is the Inca site of Qenko meaning the labyrinth. The exact purpose of the site is unknown although it is believed it was used for ceremonial purposes. It's name comes from a zig-zagging channel cut through the rock that was used for offerings such as chicha (corn beer). Some people believe that animal sacrifices could have been carried out here and the channel was for blood but their is no evidence to support this.
Meaning the red fortress Puca Pucara was a checkpoint on the main road leading to the jungle. The structure was built in the rustic style of the Incas that they reserved for the more common and practical buildings that dotted their empire. The only buildings that were built in the well-known, fine style of the Incas were those for ceremonial purposes.
Tambomachay was a water temple built around a natural spring. Water was regarded as sacred by the Incas and they put great effort in to chanelling water to where it was most needed. Tambomachay was obviously a site of importance to the Inca as they built it using the fine stonework which was exclusive for their ceremonial sites. The stream that leaves Tambomachay is also home to a variety of other Inca sites which also gives evidence to its importance.
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