Cusco, the ancient city of the Incas


Cuzco is a city in Peru, the capital of the ancient Inca Empire. Located in the Peruvian Andes and declared by UNESCO as a cultural treasure of all mankind, it is the first place tourists visit.

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General Information

According to legend, Inca forefathers emerged from the waters of Lake Titicaca and founded the city. Naturally, the modern Cuzco is strikingly different from the ancient capital of the Inca Empire, where the nobility, priests, and their servants lived, but traces of the Inca civilization are still visible today through the delicate carvings on the facades of the city churches, and all the Catholic angels in the paintings have sharp Indian features. The most interesting thing about Cusco is its architecture. The massive walls, built of artfully fitted stones, testify to the power of the civilization that ruled much of the South American continent five centuries ago. The Spaniards tried to completely destroy traces of the “pagan” culture, but it proved to be an impossible task for them. As a result, the conquistadors had to erect their buildings on Inca foundations, often using huge stones carved out of the rocks by the Indians. The cathedral in Cuzco is partly built from blocks brought here from the Indian fortress of Sacsayuman, which the Incas had spent more than a century building. Built by the Incas, the hydraulic system in the temple Tambochai works until now and gives crystal clear water. It is used to make the local beer, which is drunk by all residents of modern Cuzco.

The most beautiful buildings of the city are located in the central square of Plaza de Armas – the cathedral with the bell Maria Angola (the largest in South America), whose sound is heard throughout the area for 300 years, and the church of La Compañía with an altar, covered with gold foil. The cathedral was built in the Spanish Renaissance style and stands on an ancient stone foundation left by the Inca Veracocha. La Compañía, on the other hand, was built in the Baroque style and is distinguished by the refinement of the interiors and the beauty of the carved balconies. Not far from La Compañía is another temple, Santo Domingo, built on the site of the sacred Coricancha, the temple of the Sun, once the most majestic temple of Cuzco. The walls of the Coricancha were covered in gold, and the courtyard was filled with gold and silver sculptures depicting trees, guanacos, fruits, flowers, and even butterflies.

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People live here at an altitude of 3,500 meters. Everywhere but the equator, at such altitudes, there is snow, glaciers, and stunted grass. But in Cusco, the gardens are in bloom and three crops of potatoes, corn, barley and tomatoes are harvested per year. But there is as little oxygen in the air as anywhere else at such altitudes. Residents of Cusco, born here, cannot go lower without serious health consequences. The locals themselves say, “Our blood is thick, we can’t live below.”

Cusco’s Central Square

Cusco under the Incas

According to Inca legend, the city was founded by Manco Capac, the first Inca, and later it was greatly expanded by Pachacuti (Pachacutec), the man who transformed the Kingdom of Cuzco from a dormant city-state into a vast empire. However, archaeological evidence suggests a slower and more organic growth of the city before the Incas – for example, it is believed that the first settlement here was founded by the people of the Wari tribe. Pachacuti, on the other hand, built several palaces and fortresses and renovated the Temple of the Sun.

The city consisted of two sectors, later divided by walls into four districts: Chinchasuyu (NW), Antisuyu (NE), Kuntisuyu (SW) and Kollasuyu (SE). From each district a road led to the corresponding part of the empire.

The leader of each region of the empire had to build himself a house in the corresponding district of Cuzco and live part of the year in the capital.

After Pachacuti, when the Inca died, his title passed to one of his sons and his property to other relatives. Therefore, each bearer of the Inca title had to build a new house and, accordingly, acquire new lands for the empire.

Andean Indians still leave their homes and build new ones after marriage, even if no one remains in the old house.

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An elderly woman walking a llama.

Cuzco during the colonial period

The first Spaniards arrived in the city on November 15, 1533. The Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro, according to official tradition, re-founded Cuzco in 1534. Many of the buildings constructed after the Spanish conquest of Peru are in the Spanish tradition with an admixture of Inca architecture; mainly in the Santa Clara and San Blas districts. The Spanish adopted the structure of the old Inca city, replacing the Inca temples with churches and the palaces with housing for the conquerors. During the colonial period Cuzco was a prosperous city thanks to agriculture, mining, and trade with Spain. Many churches and monasteries were built, as well as a cathedral, university, and archdiocese. Often Spanish structures were located in the neighborhood and were even built directly on the massive stone walls built by the Incas.

Roofs of houses in Cusco

In 1950 there was an earthquake that severely damaged the Dominican monastery and the Church of St. Dominic, which was built on the base of the Coricanchi (Temple of the Sun). In contrast, Incan architecture successfully survived the earthquake. At first it was thought that many of the old Inca walls had been lost, but it turned out that the granite walls of Coricanchi had survived, as had many walls throughout the city. Some wanted to rebuild the colonial period structures, but some Cusco residents demanded that the walls that were in plain sight be abandoned. This gave tourists from all over the world the opportunity to see ancient structures in the heart of the great city. The earthquake of 1950 was the second to destroy the Dominican monastery, the first one being in 1650.

City of Cuzco

The Inca state, Peru, has always attracted attention with its rich cultural heritage and abundance of ancient artifacts and separately the province and city of Cuzco.

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According to legend the city was founded by Manco Capac, the first of the Inca family. He was looking for a long time for a place to build the city, until in the vicinity of Lake Titicaca his golden staff went into the ground. Excavations confirm that this city is one of the oldest in the land of Peru, in fact, the capital of the Inca Empire.

In the streets of this city history unfolds before you in all its glory: ancient buildings of the Quechua culture, the so-called Andean Baroque, houses in the Spanish colonial style of the pre-Columbian period, all of which are now listed as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.

Ruins of the old city

Everything is mixed up in the city of Quechua, also called the “melting pot”.

Its name is translated from the Inca language as “the Center of the World,” and it was the center of an empire.

In 1533, the Spanish conquistadors invaded Peru, so another period of history and architecture began.

The old Inca walls are still in use at the base of the buildings

There is a custom associated with the architecture of the city: the Incas are obliged, after marriage, to move to a new home, leaving the old one. Such a strange custom promoted urban planning.

During the Spanish conquest, the conquistador Francisco Pizarro ordered the rebuilding of the city. Thus, century after century, the city grew wide, forming four distinctive districts, with the surrounding mountains offering wonderful Peruvian scenery.

Coricancha Temple

But what else, besides its scenery, is the city of Cuzco alluring? First of all, its temples: the Coricancha Temple, the churches in Plaza de Arma and La Merced, and the Santa Domingo Cathedral. The oldest are the Church of La Merced, built in 1536, and the Cathedral of Santa Domingo, built in 1539. Frequent earthquakes have not spared them, but the inhabitants have rebuilt their heritage.

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The cathedral is famous for the painting of the so-called “school of Cuzco”, a special technique. Very beautiful architecturally is the Church of the Society of Jesus, a Jesuit temple reminiscent of the Prague churches with double spires.

Santa Domingo Cathedral

Being in Cuzco, must visit the street Jatun Rumiyuk, which translates from the Incan language as “street of stones”, this “stone 12 angels,” the miracle of the ancient stone carvers.

The Plaza de Arma has a wonderful view, especially at night when the lights are on.

Plaza de Armas

Another rather interesting street is the Barrio de San Blas. It’s home to numerous artisanal workshops and craft stores that make world-famous Peruvian textiles and souvenirs.

The main thing is comfortable shoes for walking on the cobblestone sidewalks.

There are many museums in Cusco: the Museum of Pre-Columbian Art, the Machu Picchu Cultural Museum, the Inca Museum, the Museum of Traditional Peruvian Textiles, and the Museum of Chocolate and Cocoa.

Tecsecocha Street, City Center

Cusco is also the place to try the original South Peruvian cuisine. People come here to try the traditional fish ceviche (spicy raw fish), braised guinea pigs, corn fried with cheese, pork stew with corn beer, potato casserole casserole casserole and much more. If some dishes seem rather exotic and you do not dare to try guinea pigs, we recommend you to pay attention to any of the vegetable dishes. In Peru, as well as in Russia, potatoes are considered the main dish on the daily table.

Festival of the Sun

And the main thing about Cusco: this city is the location of traditional festivals, such as the Festival of the Sun with inexpressible Peruvian flavor.Whenever you visit Cusco, you can always catch a celebration: many Christian processions, the full moon festival, beer festival in June, Andean new year in August, the Varachicui festival and many others. Night City

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The Sun Festival and the carnival dedicated to the day are held on a grand scale. For a week, the streets are filled with dancing and music, and people in colorful traditional costumes perform Incan rituals and historical plays. Tens of thousands of tourists come especially here in June to see this large-scale celebration.

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