Sacred Valley of the Incas: Qenqo

Located just 3 kilometers northeast of Cusco, Oenqo was one of the oddest Incan sites.

From Atlas Obscura: The Incan Empire was completely destroyed by Spanish forces in the 1530’s. Many of their massive temples, fortresses and cities were left standing, but without any clues as to their purpose. Qenqo Temple, fifteen minutes from Cusco is similarly mysterious and a dark account has formed in the historical vacuum.

In Quechua, Qenqo means labyrinth or zig-zag and the temple is named for the crooked canal cut out of its rock. Although it is clear the canal carried some sort of liquid, researchers have been forced to guess at its purpose, and at what liquid it transported. Hypotheses range from carrying holy water, chicha (corn beer), or blood. All three indicate that Qenqo was used for death rituals, possibly to embalm bodies or detect whether a person lived a good life by the course the liquid followed.

Qenqo is a unique temple in its construction as well, having been entirely carved out of a gigantic monolith. Stretched across a hillside, the temple is carved out of rock and marries the man-made tunnels with natural chambers. One of these chambers features 19 small niches and is set up as an amphitheater. Once again, the purpose of the theater has been lost over time, but most agree the area was used for some type of sacrifice to the sun, moon and star gods who were worshipped at the site.

From the information available, it appears Qenqo Temple was an extremely holy site for the Incas. Their dead were judged and possibly embalmed in Qenqo’s winding tunnels, and blood sacrifices were offered to the heavenly gods. Despite the probable grisly purpose of the temple, its carved tunnels and chambers are an amazing work of ancient architecture, and a trip to Qenqo is sure to turn the wheels of mystery inside every visitor.

Sacred Valley of the Incas: Saksaywaman

Saksaywaman is a citadel and a huge site, on the northern outskirts of the city of Cusco, Peru. Sections were first built by the Killke culture about 1100, though they had occupied the area since 900. The complex was expanded and added to by the Inca from the 13th century, mostly dry stone walls constructed of huge stones. The workers carefully cut the boulders to fit them together tightly without mortar. The site is at an altitude of 3,701 m (12,142 ft).

Since the language of the Incas was Quechuan, the spellings for Incan sites are varous: Saksaywaman, Saqsaywaman, Sasawaman, Saksawaman, Sacsahuayman, Sasaywaman or Saksaq Waman. In Quechua waman means falcon or hawk.

In 1983, Cusco and Saksaywaman together were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List for recognition and protection.

Today, Peruvians celebrate Inti Raymi, the annual Inca festival of the winter solstice and new year. It is held near Sacsayhuamán on 24 June. Another important festival is Warachikuy, held annually on the third Sunday of September. Some people from Cusco use the large field within the walls of the complex for jogging and other athletic activities.

From Wikipedia: “Because of its location high above Cusco and its immense terrace walls, this area of Saksaywaman is frequently referred to as a fortress. The importance of its military functions was highlighted in 1536 when Manco Inca lay siege to Cusco. Much of the fighting occurred in and around Saksaywaman, as it was critical to maintaining control over the city. Descriptions of the siege, as well as excavations at the site, had recorded towers on the summit of the site, as well as a series of other buildings. For example Pedro Sancho, who visited the complex before the siege, mentions the labyrinth-like quality of the complex and its many storage rooms filled with a wide variety of items. He also notes that there were buildings with large windows that looked over the city. These structures, like so much of the site, have long since been destroyed.

The large plaza area, capable of holding thousands of people, is well designed for ceremonial activities. Several of the large structures at the site may also have been used during rituals. A similar relationship to that between Cuzco and Saksaywaman was replicated by the Inca in their distant colony where Santiago, Chile has developed. The Inca fortress, known as Chena, predated the Spanish colonial city; it was a ceremonial ritual site of Huaca de Chena.

The best-known zone of Saksaywaman includes its great plaza and its adjacent three massive terrace walls. The stones used in the construction of these terraces are among the largest used in any building in pre-hispanic America. They display a precision of fitting that is unmatched in the Americas The stones are so closely spaced that a single piece of paper will not fit between many of the stones. This precision, combined with the rounded corners of the blocks, the variety of their interlocking shapes, and the way the walls lean inward, is thought to have helped the ruins survive devastating earthquakes in Cuzco. The longest of three walls is about 400 meters. They are about 6 meters tall. The estimated volume of stone is over 6,000 cubic meters. Estimates for the weight of the largest Andesite block vary from 128 tons to almost 200 tons.

Following the siege of Cusco, the Spaniards began to use Saksaywaman as a source of stones for building Spanish Cuzco; within a few years, they had taken apart and demolished much of the complex. The site was destroyed block-by-block to build the new Spanish governmental and religious buildings of the colonial city, as well as the houses of the wealthiest Spaniards. In the words of Garcilaso de la Vega: “to save themselves the expense, effort and delay with which the Indians worked the stone, they pulled down all the smooth masonry in the walls. There is indeed not a house in the city that has not been made of this stone, or at least the houses built by the Spaniards.” Today, only the stones that were too large to be easily moved remain at the site.”

NOTE: Much of this information is from Wikipedia

The views of Cusco in the valley are spectacular.

Sacred Valley of the Incas: Puka Pukara

This was a small, but interesting Incan site, just up the mountain from Cusco. Puka Pukara is a site of military ruins in Peru situated in the Cusco Region, Cusco Province, Cusco District, near Cusco. This fort is made of large walls, terraces, and staircases and was part of defense of Cusco in particular and the Inca Empire in general.

Quechua was the language of the Incas, and is still spoken in Peru. The name of the site comes from the Quechua words meaning “red fortress”, hispanicized spellings Pucapucara, Puca Pucara, Puca Pucará. The name probably comes from the red color of the rocks at dusk. Puka Pukara is an example of military architecture that also functioned as an administrative center.

Puka Pukara is located in mid-southern Peru, roughly 4–5 miles (7 kilometers) from Cusco on the road to Pisac and near the Antisuyo, the jungle portion of the former Incan empire. The fort is located on high ground overlooking the Cusco valley and Tambo Machay, creating a beautiful – and useful – view. When it was built, it was probably placed so that these areas were visible to give the military extra vision over important parts of the empire.

Although there is not as much known about Puka Pukara as a lot of other Incan ruins, there is a theory that this site was probably constructed during the reign of Pachacutec. Since he was the ninth ruler of the empire, it can be said that Puka Pukara was one of the later constructions. The stones used to build most of the walls are very irregularly shaped, stacked together in kind of a here-and-there manner to create walls that are functional, but lacking very much beauty as far as architecture goes (this is in contrast to a lot of other sites in the area). Because of this, it is possible that the buildings and walls were built in somewhat of a rush because the military headquarters that Puka Pukara became was thought to be needed very quickly. When it was first built, the differently sized and shaped stones that now appear grey may have actually been a red color (hence its name, red fortress) due to all the iron in the limestone used in the walls.

There is a small amount of argument over what Puka Pukara’s real function was when the Incan empire was still thriving. As stated above, it was at least partially a military base and, since it was on such a major road and overlooking so many important spots, it was a very good place to spot people causing trouble. Officials could have used it as a checkpoint on the road, stopping those who looked suspicious from travelling any further into the empire where they could potentially wreak havoc. It could have served as a stop for military groups travelling nearby, too. Another theory is that it was a place of rest for hunters and weary travelers, as well as Incan nobles, due to all of its luxurious baths, canals, plazas, fountains, and separate rooms.

NOTE: Much of this information is from Wikipedia

To visit any Incan site, you run the gauntlet of sellers.

Sacred Valley of the Incas: Tambomachay

Tambomachay is an archaeological site of the Inca Empire, located near Cusco, Peru. An alternate Spanish name is El Baño del Inca (“the bath of the Inca”).

This is a small site, consisting of a series of aqueducts, canals and waterfalls that run through the terraced rocks. In addition to a ceremonial site, it may have served as a military outpost guarding the approaches to Cusco. Personally, I like the idea that it was a spa resort for the Incan political elite.

The name, Taybomachaym, possibly comes from the Quechua word meaning guest house.

When I left my hotel to go on the tour that includes this site, the weather was sunny and warm. Less than 2 hours later, clouds had moved in and skies had opened up to pour heavy, cold rain in Cusco. This site was in the mountain and saw much worse. Here the ground had hail.

NOTE: Much of this information is from Wikipedia

You can see the rain draining from the walkway. There was quite the storm. We missed worst by minutes.
See the small white “flowers” on the grass? That’s hail.

The hail was pea sized, but plentiful.

Sacred Valley of the Incas: Pisac

My last post was photos of the village of Pisac. Today we look at the nearby, and spectacular archeological site, 33 km (20 miles) from Cusco.

A vital Inca road once snaked its way up the canyon that enters the Urubamba Valley at Pisac. The citadel, at the entrance to this gorge, now in ruins, controlled a route which connected the Inca Empire with the eastern jungles. Pisac is high above the valley floor, patch-worked by patterned fields and vast terraces. The panoramas at Pisac’s Inca citadel are magnificent. Terraces, water ducts and steps have been cut out of solid rock, and in the upper sector of the ruins, the main Sun Temple is equal of anything at Machu Picchu. Above the temple lie still more ruins, mostly unexcavated, and among the higher crevices and rocky overhangs several ancient burial sites are hidden.

Here there are many different buildings, plazas, temples, pools and other structures at this site. Most were built between the 10th and 11th centuries AD—before the Incas were in power, though consolidated and improved by them. The architecture continues to stun admirers with the technique used to build the enormous walls, palaces and turrets with stone blocks, much done without any type of cement or adhesive.

The Intihuatana solar observatory receives the greatest admiration. Fine quality stone carved into the shape of many hands forming a semi-circle.

To manage their water supply, the Incas—and the pre-Incan civilization before–carried out engineering works creating many channels that travel the length of the terraces.

Pisac is one of the few archaeological zones with two open tunnels cut into the hills.

NOTE: Much of this information is from Wikipedia