on August 9, 2006
In the days of the great Inca the heart of the Empire were two great squares divided by the Rio Saphi—Huacaypata, the Place of Tears, and Cusipata, the Place of Happiness. The riverway has now been filled in and the two halves of the square are now separate. Cusipata is the Plaza Recocijo. Huacaypata is Cusco's grand Plaza de Armas.As an impressive centrepiece to a town the Plaza does its job admirably. Save for the churches (the baroque Jesuit Compania and the Cathedral atop its little rise) the surrounding buildings are no more than two stories tall. This allows the tourist to see the Andean hills rising around on all sides. Sweet as the plastered and balconied buildings are, this is only fitting. Nothing could be more suitable as scenery than the mountains that the Incas called home.For this square was not only the physical, but also the spiritual heart of the empire. Whenever a new territory was conquered by the Inca, a portion of its soil was brought back and symbolically mixed with that of the Huacaypata. To all sides stood some of the most important complexes of their capital. Now all that can be seen of these edifices are the bottom thirds of the walls, the ingenious Inca stonework having been built on by their Spanish conquerors. The Palace of the Inca Wiracocha is now the site of the Cathedral. The Palace of the Serpents has the Compania atop it. The square has a fountain at its centre—as with every other Plaza de Armas in Peru, be it Lima or Arequipa. First take a look at the church on the southern side of the square. This is the Compania de la Jesus, the church of the Jesuits. Its facade is a riot of curlicues and carvings - local craftsmen taking the philosophy of the Baroque style and going absolutely mental with it. Compare it to the rather plain and austere walls of the Cathedral to your left. As a 16th century local I know where I'd prefer to visit for my mandatory conversion. Inside there is a magnificent gold altarpiece.An internal viewing of the Cathedral is more rewarding though. It is actually a complex of three chapels. You enter through the eighteenth-century Iglesia Jesus y Maria, pass through the Cathedral, and exit via El Triunfo, the first Christian church in Cusco. In the Cathedral look out for two early paintings in particular. Marcos Zapata's Last Supper aims to make the gospels understandable to a local audience. Here Jesus and the disciples are enjoying glasses of chicha and a roast guinea pig. El Senor De Los Temblores (Our Lord Of the Earthquakes)shows how a miraculous figure of the Christ saved the town from the fires that raged through the colony following the 1650 earthquake. This is the oldest surviving painting in Cusco.
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