April 21, 2012

Cuzco’s Treasures

After our final South American night bus from Arequipa, we landed in a city that we’ve been looking forward to for a long time…Cuzco! In the Inca language of Quechua, the word Cuzco means “naval”…the center and capital of the Inca Empire. Cuzco is a living museum and we have really enjoyed learning about the Incas and the history of this region.

All over town it’s easy to spot the old Inca walls. They’re a dead giveaway because they’re perfect.

The Incas didn’t use any mortar. Their stones are flawlessly fit together, and even after several earthquakes nearly destroyed Cuzco, the Incas' walls don’t even have hairline cracks.

Here are some of our favorite places we’ve visited in and around town…

Plaza de Armas is the bustling hub of the city surrounded by colonial arches, flanked by two massive churches, and full of flowers, street lamps and a fountain. Leaving Plaza de Armas in any direction leads to narrow and winding cobblestone streets chock full of restaurants, cafes, bars, shops, museums and parks. It really is a charming city.

Qorikancha was the Incas’ Temple of the Sun, and consequently, the most important temple of the Inca Empire.

The black wall that's visible from the outside formed the most important room of the temple, where everything was covered in sheets of gold. Apparently it was beyond fabulous.

When the Spanish colonists conquered the Incas, they demolished much of the temple and used its foundation to build the Church of Santo Domingo on top. The result is a very interesting mix of architectures...Spanish on the left, Inca on the right.

Throughout Qorikancha, perfectly laid Inca stone walls are juxtaposed against sloppy-looking Spanish masonry. It’s not that the Spanish walls were shoddy…it’s just that anybody’s work would look sloppy next to the Incas’.

The churches in Cuzco are beautiful…from the outside. We don’t know what they look like on the inside because you have to pay money to enter! We can understand having to pay for a tour or behind-the-scenes look, but paying to just walk inside a church and sit in a pew? Isn’t that sacrilegious? We refused to pay based on principle, and so we enjoyed the churches from the outside where it’s free.

Less than 4 miles from Cuzco are four different sets of Inca ruins. We spent a day walking from one to the next...

Tambomachay – a resort with ceremonial baths

Puka Pukara – a watchtower to protect Tambomachay

Q’enqo – a labyrinth used for rituals

Saqsaywaman – pronounced almost exactly like “sexy woman”, this was a fortress set on the hill overlooking Cuzco. Cuzco was the puma and Saqsaywaman’s zigzagged rocks were meant to be the teeth.

The stone work here is inconceivable. The stones are really big (up to 70 tons), and they are fit together with absolute precision. How in the world did they lift these things in the 1400's?

To our friends from Spain…close your eyes for this next part! It is hard to be in Cuzco and not be really unhappy with the Spanish for what they did here. Instead of conquering the Incas and converting the incredible buildings for their use, the Spanish just dismantled them. They used Saqsaywaman as a quarry and took the stones to build their churches and homes. So what is left of Saqsaywaman, Qorikancha, and so many others, is only a fraction of what used to be. Cuzco is an amazing place, but we can only imagine how impressive it must have been…

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