Cusco was considered the navel of the Earth and served as the political centre of the Inca state known as Tahuantinsuyo. Today, Cusco is famous for attracting visitors from all over the world for its history and the air of mystery that are still retained by the city.
Cusco is situated in the valley formed by the Huatanay and Tullumayu rivers, between the central and eastern mountain ranges that form the Vilcanota Mountain Range, between the high plains of Puno and the tropical ranges that overlook the Amazon basin (Quillabamba to the North and Paucartambo to the South). Cusco is located at an elevation of 3,399 meters (11,152 ft) above sea level.
Visitors like myself admire the colonial structures, which were built over the foundations of magnificent Inca edifices. This has made Cusco the most cosmopolitan city in Peru.
What I like about being in Cusco is that many locals (mostly ladies) are still dressed in their traditional clothing. I really appreciate and love seeing them roaming around the streets, going about in their everyday living in their colourful dress! This makes Cusco so unique, charming and full of character! Each region has their own traditional dress and hats – how amazing!
Plaza de Armas
Plaza de Armas means main square. This is the main public space in the city of Cusco established during the Inca period as a venue for major gatherings, ceremonies and celebrations. Originally, the plaza was divided into two areas, which were divided by the channeled course of the Saphy River. The main Inca plaza – today’s Plaza de Armas – was known as Haucaypata (“place of tears”), while the smaller area was known as Cusipata – today’s Plaza Regocijo – (“joyous plaza”).
This spatial organisation respected the classic Andean subdivision into hanan (upper) and hurin (lower), concepts that formed the basis for the relations founded on reciprocity and redistribution that defined politics and economics of the empire. Haucaypata was entirely covered in sand from the ocean, as a perennial homage to water and fertility.
The Cathedral and the Jesuit Church
Facing the main square there stand two religious buildings: the cathedral and the Jesuit church. The former was erected over the ancient palace of Inca Wiracocha and the Sunturhuasi (a kind of Inca arsenal), and it remains the emblematic structure of Cusco’s Plaza de Armas.
Construction began in 1560 and was completed a hundred years later. The cathedral is composed of three main naves arranged to form a Latin cross, a rib vault ceiling and ten side chapels. Stone taken from Sacsayhuaman was used in its construction. Since 1928, the cathedral has enjoyed the status of Minor Basilica, as well as being the seat of the diocese of Cusco.
The cathedral and the Jesuit Church form an unusual pairing in the context of Spanish colonial cities, where two churches would not normally be seen in the main square. This was the result of a concession granted by the city council on the recommendation of the viceroy Toledo, allowing the Jesuit order to take possession of the site once occupied by the Inca palace known as the Amarukancha. The church was completed in 1668.
Santo Domingo Monastery – Qorikancha
Santo Domingo monastery was built upon the foundations of the ancient temple known as the Qorikancha. This Inca structure was a religious complex arranged in the classic kancha style, with chambers set around a central courtyard. Here the priests of Cusco venerated the sun, moon, thunder, stars, rainbow and other deities from the extensive Andean pantheon.
The Qorikancha was remarkable for its sheer size and the wealth of its decoration. It contained the image of Viracocha, the mummies of deceased Incas, and statues of the minor deities of the peoples conquered by the Incas. Some researchers have therefore described it as an Inca pantheon, rather than a temple dedicated to the sun god.
During the reign of Pachacutec, this temple was rebuilt and enlarged, while its name was changed from Intikancha to the name it bears today, which means golden enclosure, a reference to its ornate decoration. The arrival of the Spanish brought a radical change in the role of the sanctuary, which was consecrated as a place of Christian worship.
To this day it is possible to make out the old white stucco that served as a background to the first murals painted onto these Inca walls. The church, composed of three naves, is partially encircled by the great curved Inca wall that stands above the ancient terraces of the Qorikancha (facing Avenida El Sol).
Have you been to Peru? I’d love to hear your experiences! Leave your comments below. If you haven’t, I hope this post would encourage you to explore this beautiful country.
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Camera: Nikon D800 with Tamron 24-70mm F/2.8 .
Post-processing: Adobe Lightroom Classic CC.