Checking out the Incas in Cuzco

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by MichaelJM on September 6, 2010

The second part of our City tour of Cuzco starts at Koricancha (golden courtyard), which was the Inca’s sumptuous Temple of Sun before the Spaniards came along. This sacred temple was built by the Incas at the very heart of the City of Cuzco, the centre of the Inca civilisation. Indeed it is the most sacred of all their temples and when the Spaniards invaded and exerted their rule over the Incas it would have been critical for them to destroy this centre of worship. So in 1534 the destroyed much of the temple and to confirm their superiority and assert the Christian Faith they started work on the construction of a Dominican monastery and the Church of Santa Domingo. I found it interesting that they left even a section of the Inca Temple and I could speculate that they found it hard going and decided to leave this insignificant part alone or perhaps they felt if a section was remaining the Incas would feel more comfortable in accepting the new "right religion".

Entering the church, which has an impressive position on a hillside entering Cuzco, the first impact is of the Spanish cloisters and central courtyard. However, the remaining section of the temple is still an impressive sight and even the gigantic religious paintings cannot distract from the temple. It truly is an impressive sight with the classic Inca stonework proving its superiority over the later Spanish construction. With the fine cuts and absence of mortar this building has withstood Cuzco’s earthquakes whilst others have succumbed to the ravages of nature.

It is believed that the temples never had roofs and that this sacred site was used for open air ceremonies where the God’s could look down favourably on the offerings from the priests. The three linked buildings have perfectly aligned windows to ensure that the sun casts its rays through this sacred place.

On the opposite side of the cloisters is another temple dedicated to the moon with our first indicator that the Incas were indeed true astronomers. Whereas we attach images to the stars the Incas interpreted the black spots in the night sky and identified a Puma, snake, condor and other important animals for their culture.

Outside at the front of the church the Spanish have incorporated an elaborate curved wall into the fabric of their Church.

When we visit to the cavernous Cathedral on the Plaza de Armas we will see how the Incas managed to weave their own culture into the church as they undertook some work for their new Spanish masters. The Cathedral was built between 1560 and 1664 out of slabs of red granite plundered from the Inca site of Sacsayhuma and although we found this ornate Catholic Church with its impressive altar piece interesting the real interest in this Roman Catholic Church is to be found in the paintings and carvings. The most obvious is a representation of the Last Supper in which the main course is Guinea Pig – the Peruvian delicacy. Judas is portrayed as the invading conquistador and he is the only member of the group who stares straight back out at you. Interesting Jesus on the cross (in the top left of the painting is conventionally attired in loin cloth. Perhaps placing Jesus in a skirt would have been a bridge to far for this artist!

Look elsewhere at the depiction of Christ and he’s always wearing a skirt and the "Black Christ" looks particularly stunning with his skirt on. It suggested that the Black Christ was blackened by years of adoration and the placing of candles around the figure. A nice story, but some recent attempts at minor restoration shows that the figure is made out of animal skin and its now thought that this figure was always dark in colouration.

In the choir stalls the unusual carvings of a bare breasted woman giving birth a a potato – that is mother earth producing Peru’s most prolific vegetable. Also of interest in the cathedral is the contemporary painting of the main square after the earthquake. It shows the Black Christ in the centre and evidence of processional worship, another sign, our guide informed us that the Incas managed to weave their traditions into the new and enforced religion of Catholiscism. Also check out the mighty silver chariot that traditionally paraded around the square on Corpus Christi. Originally this heavy and ornate piece was carried on the shoulders of the congregation but in recent years its been motorised and bizarrely there’s a fitted steering wheel. Must be quite a sight!

The cathedral forms part of the magnificent Plaza de Armas and although we entered this square many times I was always impressed, but I guess the most fascinating elements of this part of our tour was the way that the two civilisations and belief systems had merged together.
Cuzco City Tour
Plaza De Armas
Cusco, Peru

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