on April 6, 2010
Straying a little from the centre of Cusco, the ruins of Sacsayhuaman lie to the north of the city, around two miles' walk from the Plaza de Armas. Buses and taxis will take you up into the hills for a modest fee, dropping you outside the entrance, but we chose to walk up around the back of San Blas (5-10 minutes north-east of the main square), following the stairs and narrow streets cut into the hillside to the top. Going a little off-track does remind you of the vast number of people living in considerable poverty, even in a fantastic place such as this - a fact that one can lose sight of when surrounded by such lush and delightful scenery. Taking this route also runs you past the Cristo Blanco as you wind your way west along the crest of the hill towards the ruins, which is worth a look, although is sadly fenced off. The impressive statue, strongly reminiscent of Rio's Christ the Redeemer, overlooks the city and can be seen still dazzling brightly when all else is dark at night. Sacsayhuaman itself is a must if you have any time in Cusco - the stone defences are superbly preserved, the remnants of the fortress overlooking a great, flat plain below. When we were there in 2004, there was more archaeological work being done behind the main tiers of the ruins, so there may be even more to see in future. There is a tourist card available from a variety of places around Cusco which grants access to many sites, including museums, the Cathedral and Sacsayhuaman (around £6 for ten days, which represents fair value if you get decent use from it). However, we coped without one; wandering into the fortress unaware of any payment being required - one bonus of going there by foot, I guess – and ignorance really is occasionally bliss.The fortress, despite suffering at the hands of time and conquistadores, remains an imposing, impressive spectacle today. Constructed with the mind-boggling skill shown in Incan stonework elsewhere in Cusco, three tiers of enormous stones (some weighing over 100 tonnes) form an interlocking series of walls rising up from the levelled-off grass plain. These walls, the foundations of the fortress, are constructed in a serrated, zigzag pattern with the appearance of rows of teeth facing outwards from above. Built without the use of mortar, it almost defies logic that the site’s creators were able to manipulate such enormous stones into such a perfectly-fitting, impenetrable pattern that has aged incredibly well.Sacsayhuaman was a key part of the conflict between the Incas and the Conquistadores, and following the Spaniards’ eventual triumph was partially demolished, much of the stonework used in the rebuilding of Cusco to the newcomers’ likings – many of the imposing cathedrals that surround the Plaza de Armas and occupy the centre of the city are constructed from the site’s stones.In truth, there’s not that much to see at Sacsayhuaman today except the skill of the stonemasons; rather the attraction is the ability of the remaining stonework to help you imagine the site’s past glories – additionally, the views over Cusco and the walks to and from the city are well worth the trip. Once a year, the festival of the winter solstice, Inti Raymi ("Sun Festival") is held here, drawing enormous crowds to watch the celebrations. Needless to say, the altitude, as in Cusco (with Sacsayhuaman at 3500 metres above sea level) can be taxing – take your time in the climb (or let four wheels take the strain) and enjoy the views.
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