Qorikancha (alternatively spelled Coricancha, Koricancha, Qoricancha from Quechua quri gold; kancha enclosure) is often called the House of the Sun. It was the most important temple in the Inca Empire. What remains of the original structure, probably built in the late 15th century, is now part of the Church of Santo Domingo. The Spanish colonists demolishing this important temple and used its foundations for the cathedral. Construction took most of a century. This is one of numerous sites where the Spanish incorporated Inca stonework into the structure of a colonial building, which saved part of the structure for posterity. Interestingly, major earthquakes severely damaged the church, but the Inca stone walls, built out of huge, tightly-interlocking blocks of stone, still stand due to their sophisticated stone masonry.
The day I visited, I have to say that I wasn’t in a position to truly appreciate what remains of the Qorikancha. I saw the sight as part of the worst tour I’ve ever been on in my life. The tour guy seemed like a nice enough guy, but he had two failings: 1) He didn’t know much history and he knew even less English. It was a recipe for a bad afternoon.
Originally named Intikancha or Intiwasi, the Qorikancha was dedicated to Inti– the ancient Incan sun god and probably the most important god in the empire. The structure is located at the old Inca capital of Cusco, now located in the historic old section of the modern city. Mostly destroyed after the 16th century war with the Spanish conquistadors much of its stonework forms the foundation of the Santo Domingo church and convent.
Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui rebuilt Cusco and the House of the Sun, enriching it with more oracles and edifices, and adding plates of fine gold. He provided vases of gold and silver for the Mama-cunas, nuns, to use in the veneration services. Finally, he took the bodies of the seven deceased Incas, and enriched them with masks, head-dresses, medals, bracelets, scepters of gold, placing them on a golden bench.
The walls were once covered in sheets of gold, and its adjacent courtyard was filled with golden statues. Spanish reports tell of its opulence that was “fabulous beyond belief”. When the Spanish required the Inca to raise a ransom in gold for the life of the leader Atahualpa, most of the gold was collected from Coricancha.
After a quick breakfast at the hotel, I went for a walk to find the center of the city. My first morning in Cusco and the weather was great. I was staying in the historic district, and was only 3 blocks from the Plaza de Armas, where the majority of these photos are taken. It’s a busy, touristy place, but still a bit thrilling. If you can only visit one city in Peru, skip Lima and come here. It’s not as large as Arequipa, but felt more metropolitan. And with so many things to see and so much history, you could easily do day trips from here for a week.
Cusco’s main square – Plaza de Armas – is a busy and vibrant space that marks the colonial center of the city. The plaza, which features wide stone pathways and well-kept colorful gardens, is home to two iconic buildings: the Cusco Cathedral and the Church La Compañía de Jesús.
Cusco’s Plaza de Armas covers part of the area that was once the Haukaypata – The Great Inca Square. Today however, Spanish colonial buildings and long stone arcades dominate the architecture of the plaza, but many of the precisely carved Inca walls remain as foundations.
The plaza is where many of the city’s most important gatherings, events and festivals take place, including Inti Raymi – the Inca Festival of the Sun and the religious festival of Corpus Christi.
The plaza is always bustling with activity whatever time of the day (or night), and is great place to soak up the laid back atmosphere of this Andean city.
The plaza also has a wide variety of restaurants and eateries, which offer everything from traditional Peruvian food like cuy (guinea pig), lomo saltado (a Chinese inspired stir fly) and aji de gallina (chicken in a creamy yellow pepper sauce) through to more well-known international cuisine like pasta, pizza and steak. Indeed the plaza is home to some of the city’s best restaurants like the up-market Limo or Gaston Acurio’s new gourmet burger restaurant Papachos.
Unlike many cities around the world Cusco is buzzing every night of the week, and if you are looking for nightlife you simply need to head to the plaza. Norton Rat’s Pub is a favourite of both locals and tourists alike, who harmoniously drink the night away whilst playing darts and pool. Paddy’s Irish Pub is also another great place to meet people from around the world, whist enjoying exceptional homemade food and drinking few local Cusqueña beers. If you want to dance there are also many cool clubs and lounge-bars dotted around the plaza; Mushrooms and the famous Mama Africa are to name a few.
When wandering the plaza expect to see local vendors (often children) selling everything from day trips to Machu Picchu to wooden carvings to paintings and alpaca clothing. If you are not interested simply say “no gracias.” Be warned, many vendors can be persistent, but simply ignore them or repeat “no gracias.” If you think it’s annoying, then think of the poor ex-pats that live in Cusco and are asked by the same people day in day out if they want to buy a finger puppet!
The “traveling” part of travel is often pretty dull, but in Peru it’s easy to get tour buses that make a stop every couple of hours to stretch your legs, grab a meal and see a few sights. And you can watch the scenery go by.
Here are a few photos from my bus ride through the district of Cusco, on the way to the city of Cusco. It was dark by the time we arrived to the city, so no photos. From the heights of Puno, we descend a bit into Cusco and it gets greener and warmer as the hours roll on.
Our first stop was just outside of Cusco to see a lovely church. I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside, but was given a CD. I’ve not looked at the CD yet since I don’t own a device that plays them at this time.
According to Wikipedia: “The Church of the Society of Jesus is a historic Jesuit church in Cusco, the ancient capital of the Inca Empire, in Peru. It is situated in the Plaza de Armas, the city center. It is built on the site of an Inca palace. It is an example of Andean Baroque architecture. Its construction began in 1576, but it was badly damaged in an earthquake in 1650. The rebuilt church was completed nearly two decades later. The Jesuit college in Cusco was dedicated the Transfiguration of Christ, and the high altar features a painting of the Transfiguration attributed to the Jesuit Diego de la Puente. The most notable piece of art in the church is a painting depicting the marriage of Martín García de Loyola, the nephew of Ignatius Loyola to Beatriz, the great-niece of the Inca ruler Tupac Amaru.”
The small towns we drove through seemed to specialize. The one above made a type of local bread. Another had cheese. But they were mostly just wide spots in the road and getting a decent photo was tough. Saylla appeared to be the pork skin capital of the world. All the restaurants seem to feature chicharron.
I was sorry we didn’t make a stop here to try some, but it’s an easy dish to find at Peruvian restaurants.
Finally, we got to Cusco.
According to Wikipedia: “Cusco (Spanish: Cuzco, [ˈkusko]; Quechua: Qusqu or Qosqo, IPA: [ˈqɔsqɔ]), often spelled Cuzco (/ˈkuːskoʊ/), is a city in southeastern Peru, near the Urubamba Valley of the Andes mountain range. It is the capital of the Cusco Region as well as the Cusco Province. In 2013, the city had a population of 435,114. Located on the eastern end of the Knot of Cuzco, its elevation is around 3,400 m (11,200 ft).
Most of my trip between cities was by bus. I can particularly recommend the bus line Cruz del Sur (Cruise of the South) as a good way to get from one place to the next, especially overnight. This company has service between many major cities in Peru and even a few outside the country. They don’t make stops between cities, but there are other advantages. The buses have a bathroom, serve a light meal and the seats recline so you can actually sleep. At night they provide blankets and pillows. If your Spanish is good, they also have movies and books on screen and some buses also allow you to charge your electronics and have wifi onboard. One advantage of taking an overnight bus is that you don’t have to pay for a hotel room for one night. I used this service three times, and used other companies for the rest of the travel. I only took one flight during my 15 day, Grand Tour, to Lima. Buses are probably only a good idea, however, if you can speak at least functional Spanish, as these places won’t have English speakers.
Raqch’i (Quechua) is an Inca archaeological site in Peru located in the Cusco Region, near a city of the same name. It is 3480 meters above sea level and 110 kilometers from the city of Cuzco. It is best known for the Temple of Wiracocha. The site has experienced a recent increase in tourism in recent years.
The Inka site at Raqch’i was a primary control point on a road system that originated in Cusco and expanded as the Inka empire grew. It is located in a valley known for sacred sites. Most of the Inka structures are enclosed by a 4 km-long perimeter wall, but just outside it, on the Inka road that entered from Cusco, an enclosure with eight rectangular buildings around a large courtyard was probably a tampu (a lodging house for travelers). The complex of Raqch’i consists of several different areas each designated with a specific function—religious, administrative, defensive and for storage of food. Nearby are the ruins of many circular buildings, likely used as storehouses, called qullqas. On the nearby hillsides are irrigated terraces which were likely used to keep the qullqas full for those traveling through. When I was visiting, there were work crews actively rebuilding these round stone storehouses. Raqch’i also houses a nearby spring and a pool or bath in proximity to the Temple of Wiracocha which could have been used for rituals.
To the eastern side of the temple are 152 round qullqas in parallel lines, each measuring some 10 meters (33ft) in diameter. These storehouses were used to hold grains, such as corn and quinoa, that would have been used for ceremonial purposes as well as pottery, woven cloth and military equipment. The storehouses are also unique as unlike other structures throughout the empire they are not square cornered. The reason for this is unknown.
These storehouses are also called colca–similar to Colca Canyon–a rich farming area. The Incas understood how precarious weather and natural disasters like earthquakes could be, so stored food was extremely important.
There is some evidence that there was a village on the same site before the Inka conquest, but that it was the Inka who built the defensive changes to the city. Raqch’i is located on a prominent ridge overlooking the surrounding valley which provides a natural defensive position.
Temple of Wiracocha
The most prominent structure is the Temple of Wiracocha, an enormous rectangular two-story roofed structure that measures 92 metres (302 ft) by 25.5 metres (84 ft). This structure consists of a central adobe wall some 18 to 20 meters in height with an andesite base. Windows and doors allow passage. It is flanked on each side by a row of eleven columns. The foundations measure 4 metres (13 ft) for both the wall and the columns are classic high Inca stonework with the remaining height built of adobe.
Prior to its destruction by the Spaniards, the temple had what is believed to be the largest single roof in the Incan Empire, having its peak at the central wall, then stretching over the columns and some 25 meters (82ft) beyond on each side. The huge proportions of the temple, and its prominence on the site explain why the whole complex is also sometimes referred to as the Temple of Wiracocha.
The Temple is the only Inka building for which we have an account of how people should walk through it. In processing through the temple, the devotees would have wound their way towards the statue of Viracocha, the volcano and the spring.
According to Inca mythology, Wiracocha came to the region the Inka called Kacha but the local people there did not recognize him and tried to attack him. When he them, he made fire fall from the sky and burn the hills around the people. The Kacha went to Wiracocha pleading forgiveness and he put the fires out and explained to them who he was. They built a wak’a (shrine) where Wiracocha had stood and gave him many offerings. When the Inka Huayna Capac passed by the province of Kacha he saw the wak’a shrine of Viracocha in the midst of the plain and he asked why it was there. The people of the province told him of the miracle that Viracocha had performed. He decided that the remembrance of this event should be greater and ordered the erection of the temple.
This will just be photographs. I spent a lot of time on buses during this “Grand Tour” of Peru, but it’s a great way to see the countryside. The drive between the cities of Puno and Cusco is roundly 390km (240 miles), but the road is good and the bus was comfortable. We even had hot drinks and a bathroom on board. Unfortunately, there were no cold drinks, as I found out when I asked for a soda. Room temperature is considered “cold” in these parts. No ice.