WELCOME TO CUSCO AND THE SACRED URUBAMBA VALLEY OF PERU! (INCLUDING SACSAYHUAMAN, PISAQ, and OLLANTAYTAMBO)
Cusco was the religious and administrative capital of the Inca Empire which flourished in ancient Peru between c. 1400 and 1534 CE. The Incas controlled a territory from Quito to Santiago making theirs the largest empire ever seen in the Americas. Cusco was dominated by fine buildings and palaces constructed by the Spanish after the conquest.
"The city proper had a population of around 40,000 with another 200,000 in the surrounding area at the time of the Spanish conquest. Cuzco was also an important component in the propaganda of Inca rule. It was encouraged to be venerated by Inca subjects as a sacred site. This policy also entailed tributes both in real value objects, such as gold and artworks, but also in people, either rulers and/or their family members kept as hostages, forcibly relocated artists and skilled craftsmen and women, and the provision of sacrificial victims. In addition, radiating out from Cuzco were 41 sacred sight lines (ceques) and well-paved roads which divided both space and time and reminded that Cuzco was the center of the world. Finally, small models of Cuzco have been discovered across the empire which must have spread the news of the capital's great size and wealth."credit: http://www.ancient.eu/Cuzco/
(PRONOUNCED, MORE OR LESS, LIKE 'SEXY WOMAN" IN ENGLISH!)
Following the collapse of the empire, most of the stones were re-used elsewhere and the ruins were covered in earth to prevent their use by rebel forces. Sacsayhuaman is usually described as a fortress because it is practically enclosed by three slopes. Current investigations, however, suggest that it might have been a temple devoted to the worship of Inti, the Inca Sun God. With the arrival of the Spaniards much of the carved stones were moved to build the colonial city of Cusco. Located less than one and one-half miles from Cusco, Sacsayhuaman is definitely worth a visit.
PISAC: THE TOWN
Pisac is the most convenient starting point for visiting the Sacred Valley. Located some 20 miles from Cusco by paved road Pisac sits at approximately 9,750 feet above sea level. Similarly to Ollantaytambo which is located further down the Urubamba Valley, Pisac encompasses both a historic town and a striking Inca archaeological site with a series of steep agricultural terraces and hilltop fortresses visible from the town’s plaza.
Visitors to Pisac can make the steep but scenic two and one-half mile hike to the terraces main entry point or hire a taxi. Trails lead over and through the terraces, tunnels, temples, tombs and ceremonial center all of which were engineered by the Incas for farming, worshiping, and bathing. The Sun Gate at the Pisac ruins perfectly frames the setting sun during bi-annual solstices. The splendid views down and across the Urubamba Valley rival those of Machu Picchu, and unlike the more well known site, visitors often have hushed ruins of Pisac almost entirely to themselves.
"It’s not hard to succumb to the charms of sunny Pisac, a bustling and fast-growing colonial village at the base of a spectacular Inca fortress perched on a mountain spur. Its pull is universal and recent years have seen an influx of expats and new age followers in search of an Andean Shangri-la. Indeed, it's a magnet for spiritual seekers. The local tourism industry has responded by offering everything from yoga retreats and cleanses to guided hallucinogenic trips. Yet it's also worthwhile for mainstream travelers, with ruins, a fabulous market and weaving villages that should not be missed."
Today the ruins of Pisac sit above a looming hilltop above the modern town and contain some of the best examples of Inca ruins in existence. Alongside the vast and impressive agricultural terraces surrounding the hillside, the platform built at the top contains the remains of a fortress and temple complex. Among the structures which can be seen here are the ruins of the Temple of the Sun,ceremonial baths, altars and fortified walls.
OLLANTAYTAMBO: THE TOWN
Ollantaytambo is a town with a nearby Inca archaeological site in southern Peru about 37 miles northwest of the city of Cusco. During the Inca Empire, Ollantaytambo was the royal estate of King Pachacuti who conquered the region, built the town, and a ceremonial center. Today Ollantaytambo is an important tourist attraction on account of its Inca buildings and as one of the most common starting points for the four-day, three-night hike known as the Inca Trail. Local trains stop in Ollantaytambo, a tranquil and less visited Andean town en route to Machu Picchu which is 26 miles away.
The cobble stoned town streets are set in a grid and are the product of Inca city planning dating back to the 1200's. Babbling waterways, branching from the nearby rivers, feed the still-flowing irrigation system that the Incas designed, their handiwork admired to this day. The town which is busy during the day with tourists catching trains to and from Aguas Calientes is quiet at night with locals peddling three-wheel motorcycle rickshaw taxis (aka tuks tuks) transporting tired visitors the few blocks to their destination.
The current town of Ollantaytambo has many houses built on the bases of the old Inca town where local people maintaining their ancestral customs.
Visiting the pueblos and ruins in the Urubamba Valley can be thirsty work, but definitely worth it!
Once a country retreat for Inca royalty and nobility, Ollantaytambo is also where the Incas fought some of their last battles resisting Spanish conquest from the still intact fortress and platform terraces rising up around the town. Climbing to the top of the village’s ceremonial center where Incas would worship their gods still yields panoramic views of the Sacred Urubamba Valley. Ollantaytambo is the only Inca town that remains almost intact and houses still serve as homes where their Inca descendants live.
The drainage system created by the Inca is still in use as seen in Ollantaytambo. Do you see the steep Andes mountains in the background of this photograph?
A bird's eye view of Ollantaytambo is very much the same as what the Inca saw, but without modern day cars.
The ruins of this ancient fortification are located at 9,200 feet above sea-level atop a high hill and still have the original stepped walls as well as the remains of a royal chamber, the Temple of the Sun, and a structure known as the “Princess' Baths."
THE STOREHOUSES OF OLLANTAYTAMBO
The Incas built several storehouses out of field stones on the hills surrounding Ollantaytambo. Their location at high altitudes, where there is more wind and lower temperatures, helped their contents resist decay. To enhance this effect the Ollantaytambo storehouses also had ventilation systems. It is believed that they were used to store the production of the agricultural terraces built around the site. Grain would be poured in the windows on the uphill side of each building and then emptied out through the downhill side window. How creative and practical!
THE TERRACES OF OLLANTAYTAMBO
The mountain slopes surrounding Ollantaytambo are covered by an extensive set of agricultural terraces which start at the bottom of the valleys and climb up the surrounding hills. The terraces permitted farming on otherwise unusable terrain; they also allowed the Incas to take advantage of the different ecological zones created by variations in altitude. The terraces at Ollantaytambo were built to a higher standard than common Inca agricultural terraces with higher walls made of cut stones instead of rough field stones.
The huge, steep terraces that shield Ollantaytambo’s spectacular Inca ruins mark one of the few places where the Spanish conquistadors were defeated in battle. While the Incas abandoned the village and its fortress soon after this 1536 battle, tourists have revisited it and for good reason.
Some closing photographs to say thank you, Peru, for the wonderful experience!
Masks from the wonderful Gold Museum of Peru in Lima
For your next trip to Peru, the hardy trekker might want to check out the following:
The Incan city of Choquequirao is similar to Machu Picchu in terms of style and size, but due to its remote location in the country’s south, it has far fewer tourists. And this is no bad thing. Its ‘off the beaten track’ vibe makes this a true hidden gem among Peru’s tourist attractions. Built in the late 15th century, Choquequirao supposedly served as an administrative hub for the region, as well as providing a local military centre. It was used as a refuge for Inca forces fleeing the siege of Cuzco and in various other battles. Today, the ruins of Choquequirao still contain a number of impressive sites. Be warned though, getting there involves a two day hike from the nearest village.
Until next time please enjoy my photograph album of more of the beauty of PERU at the following link:
|PERU: MORE OF THE WORLD OF THE INCAS|