Our first Inca ruins

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August 22nd 2019
Published: August 23rd 2019
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Today we visited the major Inca sites around Cusco, learning about the complex religious and social structures that existed before the Spanish invasion in 1532. We began at Saqsayhuman (pronounced 'sexy woman'), an Inca city built in the shape of a puma - which must have taken extraordinary geometry and engineering skills, as well as abstract thinking because the puma is only visible from the air - as if the Incas were creating it to be seen by the gods. The city was a major centre for governing the massive Inca empire. Even for me, who is not particularly interested in engineering, it was fascinating to learn about how they moved the massive stones and even set them on round rolling stones as foundations so they would move during earthquakes. Some of this was only learned recently when a Japanese group got permission to excavate the foundations and are now using the techniques for contemporary earthquake-resistant architecture.

Our second stop was Qenqo, an Inca huaca (holy place) which included a massive monolith that casts the shadow of a puma at a certain time of the year. We particularly enjoyed wandering through the cave which was used as a medical centre by the Inca and where we saw fresh coca leaves still brought by locals to venerate the site.

We also visited the water temple Tambomachay, the end of a complex plumbing system which delivered the purest water to the Inca royals. Plebs had to make do with ordinary water. A festival of thanksgiving was held there at the end of the rainy season. The holy water is now bought up by manufacturers of Cusqueña beer (which Danny tried in the interests of research and reports is very good).

The most important temple to the Inca was Qorikancha, the Cusco Temple of the Sun where the Inca king worshipped Inti, the sun god who was the Inca's most important deity. It was once clothed in gold, including a heavy gold ledge at the top of the walls, a huge statue of Inti holding a giant gold corn cob, and solid gold llamas, which the king “milked” at festival time. The building was designed so that it was flooded with sun at key times, and the effect of all that sparkling gold would have been very powerful. But the gold panels and ritual objects were taken by the Spanish and melted down. We figure we saw them when we visited the treasuries of Spanish churches! Qorikancha was turned into the Church of Santo Domingo with a Spanish courtyard and wall and ceiling murals. A few rooms remain, impressive in their heavy, dry stone construction and 14-degree sloped walls for earthquake resistance but the Spanish arches and gold framed paintings of the Church dominate. It's hard to enjoy the Spanish architecture knowing how fully it was built by destroying another culture. Not that the Incas were saints their empire too was built on the subjugation of other peoples, not to mentioned forced labour and human sacrifice. But there is a proud rediscovery of Inca heritage evident, and our lovely guide Claudio obviously has a real pride in it. Every time he mentions the Inca he prefaces it with "my ancestors".

We also visited a textile centre where we got to pat llamas and alpacas and learned a little about their wool and the traditional dyes used and where I bought a lovely baby alpaca wool cardigan. And speaking of clothing our luggage has arrived, so we are now fully relaxed!

After a rest, I went wandering late this afternoon and came across some great examples of Cusco daily life: a dance class for pre-schoolers, a protest by municipal workers over pay, and best of all, a group of dancing, costumed locals parading through the streets.

In the evening we went to the Centro Qusco de Arte Nativo where we saw a great display of traditional dances performed in a very colourful and diverse range of costumes. Unfortunately, the announcer was incomprehensible in both Spanish and English, so we didn't learn much about them, but we enjoyed the colour, movement and enthusiasm of the locals for their culture. The music was often lilting, though occasionally shrill, and sometimes sounded almost Celtic: lots of strings, wooden flutes and a native harp.


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