A fascinating insight into Inca building techniques

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by MichaelJM on October 11, 2010

The misnamed Fortress of Ollantaytambo is a fascinating place because it was never finished and this lack of completion gives us some excellent clues as to how the place was built. I should start off by explaining why I say Ollantaytambo is misnamed. The place was never designed to be a fortress and it’s more likely that it, like Machu Picchu was viewed as a sacred place and the site was intended to be developed as place of worship. However, when the Conquistadors invaded Peru it is believed that the Inca King was "holed up here". It was the Spanish who attached the title of fortress to Ollantaytambo because of the siege of the Inca King. Indeed it was in 1563 that Manco Inca successfully defended the site against the Spanish troops and inflicted a significant blow to their perceived superiority.

At the base of the Inca construction was the ever present market and of course we had to run a bit of a gauntlet to get from the car park to the entrance. Still we made it, as the Peruvian market traders do readily accept a polite "no thank-you".

It’s a long haul to the top of the complex, but our guide suggested that we would manage it if we took our time and paused at each of the levels. Indeed he said that we would need to make such a stop so that he could tell us about the key elements of the site. There were two stops before we reached the top and at the first level our attention was drawn to the narrow buildings built into the cliffs. These carefully constructed buildings were not dwellings but storage buildings and were constructed out of stones from the hills. Apparently their high altitudes location, increased wind and lower temperatures meant that the stored food decayed at a much slower rate. To capitalise on these conditions, the Incas built in additional ventilation systems and grains produced on the agricultural terraces was generally stored in them. Indeed here we once again see the classic agricultural terracing that the hills-men of the area built to make full use of the landscape.

Looking down on the old town of we can see its geometrical layout and our guide explains that there are four main streets crossed by seven parallel streets and at the very centre was a plaza. Whilst we’re looking down at the town our guide excitedly points to a hedge of flowers saying that he’d seen one of Peru’s largest Hummingbirds. We initially struggled to see this bird as it’s not colourful, but after some time of pointing I managed to see it through my binoculars. It almost blended into the background but it indeed was much larger than I realised hummingbirds were. Unfortunately trying to get a photograph from this distance proved impossible. We’d obviously rested sufficiently as now our guide indicated that we should make our way up to the next level.

We took a deep breath and started to climb the steep staircase. Well it’s not really a staircase rather a range of different depth steps, making the climb even more difficult. Soon we were all puffing and blowing as we combated the altitude and the rough steps. I had to rest a couple of times before I got to the next "stop" and was just about got my breathing back to normal when my wife and her friend arrived. Our guide complimented us all on our progress so far and then let us appreciate the view before he started to explain the mountain in front of us was important as a calendar for the Incas. It was here that they were able to chart the summer and winter solstices according to the position of the sun as it moved cross the hillside.

This feature almost was a confirmation of the sacredness of the site, but then our guide excitedly pointed out another amazing geological feature. He was so excited that it seemed as if it was the first time that he’d seen the cragged face seemingly carved into the mountain. On the mountainside opposite we see "a face" believed to be that of Viracocha the Inca God of creation - a clear message from the gods. Once we’d seen the figure, which we believe is naturally formed, we wondered why we didn’t see it when we were looking towards the grain store.

Next we make the final claim to the summit of Ollantaytambo and it’s here, when we breathlessly get there, that we see several rocks in various state of completion, on ramps ready to be levered in to place. Across the river we are pointed out the main quarry for Ollantaytambo at Kachiqhata. It’s a good 5 kilometres from the site and there must have been an elaborate network of ramps to enable the un-carved rocks to be dragged up to the summit. Not only is there a fantastic view from the top down to the valley below (apparently the temple "priests" could identify the months of the year from the way the sun reflected on the valley below – it was according to our guide a huge calendar .

Our walk back down was much easier and we reached it with no sign of breathlessness. We had time to check out the buildings and here were a couple of temples including one dedicated to the Sun God. Here the entrance looked unimpressive but there was an elaborate double doorway on the exit. I speculated that the builders had got this the wrong way round and our guide did not disagree with me.

Ollantaytambo gave a fascinating insight into Inca construction methods and the current town was full of original Inca features including, niches, doorways and stone walls. It all made for an incredibly interesting visit.
93 kilómetros al NE
Cusco, Peru


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