Cuzco, Pride of the Inca Empire
This morning, we said farewell to Ollantaytambo and the Sacred Valley to return to Cuzco for our final full day in Peru. As I said in a previous blog post, Cuzco really is a beautiful city, clean and historically rich. Unfortunately, we knew that with only one day in the city, we wouldn’t be able to see all of its many fantastic sites, so we decided to concentrate on the most important couple.
We began our day (actually, it was mid-afternoon – Ollantaytambo is not particularly close to Cuzco) by visiting the city’s most famous ruins, the fortress of Sacsayhuaman (our readers may have heard of this site referred to by its common mnemonic “Sexy Woman”). Sacsayhuaman is famous for being the sites of one of the bloodiest battles between the Incas and the conquistadors: 20,000 Inca warriors were killed in the fighting, and Manco Inca was forced to retreat to his final fortress at Ollantaytambo (recall our blog post from yesterday). Of course, only one Spaniard was actually killed in the fighting – Juan Pizarro, one of Francisco Pizzaro’s brothers.
Very little remains of Sacsayhuaman now – it is thought that the site boasts only 20 percent of the original fortress. 30 percent was probably buried in earthquakes, and the other 50 percent was either destroyed by the Spanish or by various looters over the passing centuries. Here are some photos of the ruins of Sacsayhuaman:
The zig-zag pattern is intentional and is part of a representation of a puma’s head. In the days of the Inca Empire, Cuzco’s city boundaries formed the outline of a puma, with Sacsayhuaman as the head. Now, the city has overgrown its original boundaries, but the foundations of the giant fortress still exist.
The stones are massive, over 10 meters high, and this is with 20-30% of the wall still buried underground.
The view of Cuzco from the mountaintop containing the fortress.
Our visit to Sacsayhuaman done, the three of us returned to Cuzco proper to visit its famous Mercado Central for some more shopping. Then we took a taxi to Cuzco’s most famous site of all: Qoricancha, the Temple of the Sun.
The cobblestones of Mercado Central.
Like most other sacred Inca sites, Qoricancha is in ruins now, stripped of most of its beauty to provide the fabulous ransom than the Inca Empire Atahualpa offered to Francisco Pizarro in exchange for his freedom (for more on Atahualpa and Pizarro, see our blog post Happy Father’s Day from Peru!). But even partially destroyed and converted into a Catholic Church, Qoricancha remains a place of majesty. Again, pictures will serve better than words:
The inside courtyard of Qoricancha.
All the white stone walls used to have brightly colored and intricate murals painted on them – reminds me of the white marble statues from Ancient Greece, whose color and vivacity have also been lost to the sands of time!
The last of the gold in Qoricancha – guess it was too heavy to carry off as part of the ransom payment.
There were a number of art exhibits in Qoricancha, and this magnificent masterpiece depicting the layout of religious sanctuaries and shrines surrounding Cuzco (Qoricancha is the center, and all other sacred places radiate outwards from this sun) is a stellar example of modern Latin American painting.
Unfortunately, by the time we had finished at Qoricancha, all we had time for was a quick walk through Cuzco’s Plaza de Armas (a square which really deserves more time). At the end of the day, we returned to our hotel to pack our things for tomorrow, and our return to Lima (and eventually, the United States). It’s hard to believe that three weeks have gone by so quickly!
The Plaza de Armas.