Cusco: Breathtaking in More Ways than One Part 2

It is easy to see why Cusco is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a beautiful city in South America, with aesthetic and cultural appeal. It has a history of Incan legends that fascinate many.


Member Rating 0 out of 5 by lashr1999 on May 21, 2006

Saqsaywaman is pronounced as "sexy woman" for those of us who are non-natives. The site was used both as a site of worship and a military fortress.

The site of Saqsaywaman was completed in 1508. It took 50 to 60 years to complete. It is said that 20 to 30 thousand men were involved in constructing the site. In addition, several thousand lives were lost during the construction.

Our guide presented us with several theories of why Saqsaywaman was constructed the way it was. One states that Cusco was planned in the shape of a Puma, which symbolized life. The main city forms the body of the puma. The river Tullumayo forms the spine of the puma. The ruins of Saqsaywaman forms the head of the puma. In fact, the name Saqsaywaman can be translated from the Quenca language into "speckled head." There are three parallel huge limestone walls, built on different levels. These zigzag walls are thought to represent the teeth on the puma’s head. There is another interpretation of these same three walls. Some believe it can represent the three levels of the Andean religious world. These three levels are the Ukyu Bucha (underground stage), the Kay Pacha (surface stage) and the Hanan Pacha (sky stage). Still another interpretation states the zigzagging walls represent the thunderbolts and lightning of the god llapa.

Many people are in awe today as to how the structure was built using only primitive tools. The irregular stones are fitted together in a variety of interlocking shapes with great precision. They used no mortar and still a single piece of paper will not fit between the stones. In fact, the structure has withstood several earthquakes .

Saqsaywaman has an important history behind it. In 1533, the Spanish under Pizarro overtook Cusco. The Spanish lived there for 2 years without opposition. Then in 1536, Manco Inca started a rebellion using the strategic Saqsaywaman as a base. For several weeks, Manco Inca’s forces prevailed. However after several weeks of fighting, the Spanish overtook Saqsaywaman one night and put the Incan forces they found to death. What is weird is that on the day we were there a group of Peruvians were playing soccer on the same fields that these events happened.

You can take a four hour tour to visit this site and others from Cusco for around $10. You can get here on your own by cab or bus as well. Use your $20 tourist ticket to get into this site as well as 15 other historical sites. Definitely, get a guide or read about the site before you go otherwise you will see just a bunch of rocks.

The Cathedral

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The Cathedral was built on top of the foundation of Inca Wirachocha’s Palace. Stones from the Saqsaywaman site were used in its construction. The cathedral in Cusco is very impressive and ornate. It is surrounded by several chaples. In fact, you buy your ticket to enter at the Capilla de la Sagrada Familia. Then, you exit the Cathedral and pass through the Capilla del Triunfo which is the oldest church in Cusco. One thing to remember is the tourist ticket does not cover entry into the cathedral. You have to purchase a separate ticket to enter here.

The cathedral has various painting and other items covered in gold and silver leaf. The statues themselves have very ornate dress and have cloth clothing on most of them. At the center of the cathedral is a silver leafed altar and the famous Maria Angola bell that hangs in one of the towers. There is a choir made of cedar with intricately carved rows of saints, popes and bishops.

The Cathedral is full of contradiction and hidden meanings. The Cathedral was started in 1550 but not completed until 1669. The façade has a renaissance style, while the interior has a Baroque style because of this delay. The natives of the land tried to combine Christianity with their own culture and religion. This was very interesting for me to see. I looked for evidence of it as I walked through the church, while the guide pointed out the more plainly seen examples. This is most evident in the famous painting in the Cathedral by Marcos Zapata of the last supper. Here, the apostles sit around a table instead of sitting on one side of it. They are dining on Cuy (guinea pig) a staple for the Incas. They are drinking Chicha (a type of alcoholic corn drink which the Incas drank).

Another good example of this is the famous statue of "El Senor de los Temblones" or Lord of the Earthquakes. This has a figure of Jesus on a solid gold cross. The Christ on the Cross has Incan features, is darker in complexion and has profuse bleeding. There is a legend that states that in 1650 there was an earthquake. The townspeople were frightened so they started a procession and prayed with this statute. The tremors miraculously stopped after this.

Yet other example of this combination of religion and culture can be seen in the depiction of cherub and angel. The Peruvians thought that angels could not actually fly, they were just good climbers. When you look at painting in the cathedral of angels or cherubs they are seen hanging from curtains or clinging to beams.

Finally, there are wood carvings with hidden Incan symbols. Many carving have serpents and pumas. The Puma represents life to the Incans.

The cathedral is a must see. Try to do the Where’s Waldo thing and spot examples of the fusion of Christian and Incan influences in artwork the guide does not focus on.

The Koricancha-Convent of Santo Domingo

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The Koricancha and Convent of Santo Domingo has a rich history and story attached to it. Our guide told us part of the history of the site. The Koricancha was a temple built by the Incas to worship Inti, their Sun god. It has been said the walls were covered in gold and shows of wealth. There was a huge figure of a Sun god made in all gold. The god was said to have a rounded face with thunder and flames of fire. In addition, the temple housed special Incan mummies that were decorated in gold and gems and were taken out on special occasions for processions. The people considered these mummies to be like saints living with god. The people were controlled by the priest religion and these mummies. They were afraid that if they did something against the church, something would happen to their mummies. The entire temple complex was also used as a celestial observatory. Every summer solstice the sun's rays would shine directly into a niche. The rays would hit a tabernacle in which only the Inca nobility were permitted to sit.

Life for the Incas changed when Pizarro entered Cusco with Spanish troops. Soon after the city was plundered of all its gold and wealth. The decorated mummies and idols were taken by the Spanish as spoils of war and they melted down many of the pieces for the gold and silver content. The coming of the Spanish brought a new god and the religion of Christianity to this region as well. Many of the images of Incan gods were destroyed because of this.

In 1534, the site of Koricancha was given to the Dominican order. They kept the foundation of Koricancha and used some of the rocks from Koricancha to make the convent of Santo Domingo. Inside the grounds you can still see the strong construction of the old Inca walls and portals. Walking through the convent you can see the remains of an altar from the Inca temple.

The convent of Santo Domingo was completed in 1633. Inside the convent you will see several chapels with some sculptures and paintings. There are sculptures of Saint Dominic and painting of the Virgin of the Rosaries. The outside courtyard is very beautiful and impressive. In the middle of it is a stone rectangular tank coming from an Incan temple. The walls of the convent surrounding the main yard have paintings about the life of Saint Dominic. The people in the paintings have Spanish styled clothing.

One final interesting fact is that the earthquake of 1650 affected the convent of Santo Domingo while leaving the foundations and the remaining Incan walls intact. The rebuilding of Santo Domingo took about 30 years. This showcases the tremendous building skills of the Incan.

Various tours of Cusco stop at this site. It is also a short hike from Cusco’s center if you want to go on your own. The tourist ticket does not cover this site and you have to pay 5-6 sols to get in.

Koricancha-Temple of the Sun, Cathedral of Santo Domingo (Cusco Cathedral)
Plaza De Armas
Cusco, Peru

Puka Pukara

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by lashr1999 on May 21, 2006

Puka Pukara is a historical Peruvian site that is found 4-5 miles away from Cusco on the road to Pisac. At first the site seems like a bunch of serpentine stucco walls encircling an overgrown garden of grass. However, you understand the significance of the site when a guide or a book you read explains the history.

Puka Pukara had many functions in its time. It used to contain fountains, canals, baths, various rooms, and towers. Due to this, it was though that Puka Pukara was used as a sort of hunting lodge or resting place for travelers. Here, weary travelers could stop off to rest, eat, or drink.

Another function of Puka Pukara is that it may have been used as a fortress. In fact, the name Puka Pukara comes from two Quecha words meaning red fort. In its day the fort may have been an impressive red color since the limestone contained iron. If you’ve ever been to Sedona, Arizona imagine the red rocks there used to construct a large fort. That’s what the fort may have looked like here back in the day. The location of the fort is strategic, it overlooks the Cusco valley and it looks down at Tambo Machay. Tambo Machay was a very important site in Incan times. A bonus of the strategic location on an overhang in the mountains is that you are treated to some impressive views from here.

As you enter and when you leave the site Peruvian people have set up tables to sell their wares or ask to take picture with them for a few sols.

You can take a 4 hour tour to visit this site and others from Cusco for around $10. You can get here on your own by cab or bus as well. Use your $20 tourist ticket to get into this site as well as 15 other historical sites.

Abandoned at the Chicharia

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by lashr1999 on May 22, 2006

Coming back from Ollantaytambo and heading back to Cusco we decided to ask our guide if he could take us to a Chicharia. The guide said he knew of one and would take us there since we were a good group.

What is a Chicharia, you may ask. It is a place that sells chicha which is traditional corn liquor that people in Peru drink. Chicha sort of tastes like the liquid in a can of corn with liquor in it. It is cloudy, tart, has a big foamy head, and gets its color from the corn being used to make it. Our guide said to find a traditional Chicharia look for a broomstick with red ribbons, flowers, and corn attached to it. Newer ones have signs to tell you chicha is served there.

When we first entered the yard area of the Chicharia we were each given a coin. We were told that Peruvians play a game to pass time. We were supposed to throw our coin into the mouth of a pig statue from far away. None of the people in our group got it in.

When walking around the yard area we saw an area which housed guinea pigs. We were told that on special occasions cuy (guinea pig) was served with the chicha. When I saw what a guinea pig looked like at this place, I no longer had a desire to eat one. They looked kind of like a fuzzy tribble or mouse. I would forever equate eating cuy with eating a poor Peruvians family pet, after that.

Next, we went into a room with a few wooden benches and tables. There were a few older ladies holding pitchers of chicha. Our guide told us that the recipe for chicha is passed on by oral tradition from mother to daughter. We were each given a glass and pitchers of chicha were handed around. Before we drank, we were told we had to give thanks to the earth god for giving us the chicha to drink. This is done by spilling a little chicha in four corners in the form of a square. I drank a cup or two after that. We encouraged our guide to chug a pitcher of Chicha. He did so after we cheered him on.

After drinking it was time to head back. I decided to go to the bathroom here before heading on the bus. It was only a short time. When I headed back for the bus, I saw it was half way down the road. I started running after it, scared I would have to spend the night here until another tour group passed by. The bus was a long way off but I still could see it. One of the men from the house called out for me to wait. It seems he had the cell phone number for the tour guide. He called the guide and the bus headed back. So much for this being an impromptu stop, I guess the tour usually takes people here! Back on the bus I got ribbed for missing the bus. However, I was not the tour guide who had just drunk a picture of chicha and had forgotten a passenger.

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