Peru – Cusco, The Center of the Andean World

The Cusco Plaza.

Magnificent view of the Cusco Plaza in Peru.


The city of Cusco, navel of the world, was the capital of the Inca´s Empire. The city is known as the archaeological center of the Americas. UNESCO declared Cusco a World Heritage Site in 1983 and its legacy dates back to the 15th century and is attributed to the Inca Pachacutec, who built the city’s most remarkable constructions.
There are 17 colonial churches around Cusco, all of them built above Inca ceremonial temples. This is part of the “religious fusion” currently found in the city. Have you heard about this… come, let us show you.
Located in the southern part of the Andes, Cusco is Peru´s main tourist destination and one of the most important in the Americas. Known by the Incas as the “home of gods” Cusco became the capital of one of the largest pre-Columbian empires: the Tahuantinsuyo.
The city served as a hub for a vast network of roads interconnecting the whole of South America, from the southern part of present–day Colombia to the northern part of what is now Argentina.
The architectural legacy of Cusco dates back to the 15th century including fine stone carving and perfect locking between stone blocks, and the trapezoidal design of entryways. These buildings include Sacsayhuaman, in the upper part of the city; the Korikancha (temple of the sun) on top of which the Spanish built the Santo Domingo convent; and on the street called Hatun Rumiyoc (two blocks from the main square)the wall that includes the famous 12-sided stone. Following the arrival of the Spaniards, Cusco became a mestizo and colonial city featuring splendid colonial constructions, built on top of Inca foundations, and which developed its own mestizo style of architecture and painting that can be seen in the Cathedral and the Compañia de Jesus church.
Furthermore, Cusco is also both a mestizo and colonial city, with splendid churches and manors built from foundations of elaborately carved stone. The local cuisine is also something for the traveler to look forward to, including superb combinations of typical Andean food, such as corn, potatoes and chili pepper, with pork and mutton introduced by the Spanish. With its vast landscapes, rich and fascinating geography, Cusco is, without a doubt, something all travelers long to experience.

Places to visit
Legend and History
Although it was settled centuries before the Incas arrived, it was only during the period of Inca control (1438-1532AD) that the Huantanay River basin, upon which Cusco is built, reached its peak as an administrative , religious and military center. The origins of the city are shrouded in myth and legends which tell the tale of how the Inca empire came into being.
One of the most popular myths, from the chronicles kept by the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, is that mythical couple. Manco capac and Mama Ocllo, who emerged from the waters of Lake Titicaca to found the city of Cusco and taught its people how to cultivate the land. The city was divided into two sectors; an upper area, or Hannan, and a lower–lying area, or Hurin, references to both the geographic position of each area and the hierarchical position of their inhabitants. Moreover , it is also said that the outline of the first city had the shape of a puma with a falcon´s head.
When the Spaniards arrived in 1533, many pre-Hispanic structures were destroyed or used as foundations for new structures, which included churches, convents and mansions built in Baroque or Renaissance styles. Since then, Cusco has become one of the most representative expressions of mestizo culture anywhere in the Americas.
The Main Square
Known in Inca times as Huaycaypata, or “the warriors square”, this was the scene for many key events in Cusco´s history: it is here that the conquistador Francisco Pizarro declared Cusco under Spanish occupation; it was also here that Tupac Amaru I, leader of the indigenous resistance movement, was killed. The Main Square also hosted the spectacular Inti Raymi, or Festival of the Sun. With the arrival of the Spanish the plaza was fringed by beautiful stone arches which remain in place to this day.
The Cathedral
Built between 1560 and 1664 out of large slabs or red granite taken from the Inca fortress of Sacsayhuaman, the Cathedral is one of the most imposing structures in the city, built it in Renaissance style, it contrasts with the Baroque and silver of this lavish interior. It also houses one of the most important collections of gold and silver work of the colonial period, elaborately engraved wooden altars and a beautiful collection of oil on canvas paintings from the Escuela Cusqueña.
La Compañia Church
Considered one of the finest examples of colonial architecture in the Americas, the construction of this church was begun by the Jesuits in 1576 on what was the Amarucancha, or palace of Inca Huayna Capac. The spectacular façade made of carved stone and its great altar elaborately covered in cedar and gold leaf and built on top of an underground chapel, are among its most notable features. The church also houses a large collection of sculptures and paintings by the most renowned artists from the Escuela Cusqueña. The church is flanked by the Lourdes chapel and the ancient oratory of San Ignacio de Loyola.
La Merced Convent and Church
Built in the sixteenth century and rebuilt on numerous occasions as a result of earthquakes which have leveled the city, the convent possesses one of the most beautiful Baroque-Renaissance cloisters in all Peru, decorated with beautiful choir stalls built in the plateresque style, and numerous engravings. It also houses colonial paintings and a very distinctive piece: a tabernacle made of gold and precious stones measuring 1,3 m long and weighting 22 kg, studded with a giant mermaid-shaped pearl (the second largest pearl in the world.)
Koricancha and the Convent of Santo Domingo
The convent was built on the spectacular Koricancha (“site of gold”) the most important temple dedicated to the worship of the Sun aThe convent was built on the spectacular Koricancha (“site of gold”) the most important temple dedicated to the worship of the Sun and whose walls were plated with sheets of gold. The convent was built on a foundation of smoothened stone structures –the most finely crafted in Cusco– taken from the Inca sanctuary. The façade of the convent is an excellent example of Renaissance art and its distinctive spire, built in Baroque style, stands out over the thatched roofs of the Cusco skyline. nd whose walls were plated with sheets of gold. The convent was built on a foundation of smoothened stone structures –the most finely crafted in Cusco– taken from the Inca sanctuary. The façade of the convent is an excellent example of Renaissance art and its distinctive spire, built in Baroque style, stands out over the thatched roofs of the Cusco skyline.
San Blas Quarter
Also known as “the craftsmen´s district”, San Blas is one of the most picturesque parts of the city, with long, inclined narrow streets that zigzag across old estates, which were built with Inca stones, and tranquil squares. The church of San Blas, built in 1563, is the oldest parish church in Cusco and has an impressive pulpit, considered to be the colonial period´s most outstanding example of engraved wood. Furthermore this district, with one of the finest views of the city, is home to the workshops and stores of the most renowned craftsmen in Cusco.
An imposing example of Inca military architecture, the fortress of Sacsayhuaman was built using large slabs of granite to safeguard the city from attack by Antis, or invading forces from the East. Sacsayhuaman (“satisfied falcon” in Quechua”) is made up of 3 large terraces which overlap on a zig zag formation surrounded by enormous stone ramparts of up to 300 meters in length. Its elevation and proximity to Cusco, as well as the dimensions of the stones up to 5 meters high and weighting up to 350 tons made Sacsayhuaman a quarry for certain structures in colonial Cusco.
Also know as the “Baños del Inca” or the Inca baths, Tampumachay was apparently a site dedicated to the worship of water and a resting place for the Inca monarch. Among its most notable features are its system of aqueducts, canals and cascades carved in stone, designed to channel water flowing from a nearby spring. According to experts, Tampumachay was also a kind of royal garden, abounding in ornamental vegetation and fed by an intricate network of canals.
Kenko and Puca Pucara
Kenko is a ritual site built on a sole outcrop of limestone, with underground galleries and a semicircular amphitheater. Puca Pucara (in Quechua, “red fortress”) was a military installation made up of stairways, terraces and a large wall which once formed part of the capital´s defense system. Both structures are part of the archaeological circuit near the city of Cusco.
This picturesque set of terraces, long stairways and stone canals is located 20 km south of the city. Evidence suggests that Tipón was part of a royal hacienda belonging to Inca Yahuar Huaca, as well as a place of worship and agricultural research. An outstanding feature is the sense of harmony in the channeling of water via stone structures including aqueducts (some of which are underground), waterfalls and gullies, indicating the Inca’s knowledge of hydraulics.
Choquequirao Archeological Complex
Choquequirao (chuqui k’iraw or Cradle of Gold) could be one of the lost Inca citadels in the Vilcabamba Valley where the Incas took refuge from the Spanish in 1536. The complex consists of nine archeological stone groups. There are hundreds of agricultural terraces, rooms, and irrigation systems. The buildings are constructed around a central promenade or main square. Its located 123 km (77 miles) from Abancay (Department of Apurimac) with a 2-days hike, walking an average of 8 hours a day.

Festival Calendar

Entrega de Varas (Cusco and surrounding areas)
A ceremony in each village dating back to the pre-Hispanic era to commemorate the assumption of power by the highest authority, or Varayoc, who receives a scepter from his predecessor symbolizing power. The scepters, made of native wood species measure approximately 1 meter in length and have silver and gold inlays.
A war game, or pucllay, in which the peace loving members of the community do battle enhance the fertility of the soil. Those who occupy the largest area of land and force the enemy to retreat, win. The war game takes place on the Chiraje plains (4,700 masl / 15,416 feet) in Canas province, which is accessible by road.
Easter Monday Señor de los Temblores (Cusco)
Worship of the effigy of Taitach Temblores (lord of Earthquakes). This ceremony is an expression of Andean –Christian syncretism. The effigy is taken out in a procession from the Cathedral of Cusco, which was built on top of the temple of the god Wiracocha, and is paraded around the streets of the city as the faithful throw ñucchu flowers# -in ancient times used as an offering to the Inca gods-#symbolizing the blood of Christ.
Fiesta de las Cruces (Cusco and surrounding areas)
A ceremony in which community decorates the cross of its church and prepares it for its procession to churches in neighboring communities. This celebration, held in gratitude to pre-Hispanic gods for bountiful harvests, also serves as a setting for folklore shows.
Qoyllur Rití pilgrimage (Ocongate, Quispicanchis)
The largest native Indian festival in the Americas. Its the mass pilgrimage to the sanctuary of Sinakara, on the day of the Holy Trinity, a group of villagers climbs snow-capped Mount Ausangate (6,362 masl / 20,867 feet) in search of the Estrella de Nieve (Snow Star) resting in large blocks of ice, that will then be taken by the villagers, on their backs, to their communities, to irrigate their land.
Inti Raymi (Cusco)
On the 24th is organized an Inca festival dedicated to the Sun god, Inti Raymi and is held at the beginning of the Winter Solstice. It is one of the Andean events par excellence and is held on the esplanade of the fortress of Sacsayhuaman, where over 500 participants re-act the ritual Sun worship. The celebration begins with the arrival of the Inca at Sacsayhuaman who, after having been carried in a throne from Koricancha, in Cusco, presides in his regal glory until sunset.
The Corpus Christi (Cusco)
A Catholic feast of the Eucharist dating back to the colonial period, that follows the custom of parading then mummified remains of past Inca rulers. The pilgrimage is made 60 days after Easter Sunday, when the images of 15 saints and virgins from the various districts of Cusco arrive in procession at the Cathedral to “greet” the body of Christ, which is kept in a spectacular gold tabernacle weighting 26 kilograms and measuring 1.2 meters tall.
Virgen del Carmen (Paucartambo)
Festival Mamacha Carmen, patron saint of the mestizos. The effigy of the Virgin is carried in a procession to bless those in attendance, who sing in Quechua, and guard off demons. Those in attendance, while wearing traditional Inca and colonial garb, perform gymnastics and daring maneuvers on the rooftops of houses. At the end of the procession, a war is waged against the demons, from which the faithful emerge triumphant.
Virgen del Rosario
In the districts of Urcos (province of Quispichanchis), as well as Combate and Checaupe (province of Canchis), homage is paid to the patron saint of the town with processions, fairs, bullfights and hearty pachamancas, meals prepared in shallow holes in the ground and cooked over hot stones.
Santuranticuy (The Sale of Saints)
A festival dating back to the colonial period, is now ranked as one of the largest handicraft fairs in Peru. It is held every year in Cusco´s Main Square, where the painters of religious images and artisans offer wide range of Christmas figurines to go with the Nativity scenes found in homes and chapels across Cusco.