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


Sacred Valley: Village of Pisac


One of my days in Cusco, we had an all-day excursion to the “Sacred Valley of the Incas.” This meant we spent a lot of time in the van, traveling, but we also saw a succession of picturesque towns, agricultural terraces and archaeological sites. One stop was the small village of Pisac, with typical tourist market. This included a stop at a jewelry maker and more lovely gold and silver items than I could wrap my head around.

According to Wikipedia: “According to the scholar Kim MacQuarrie, Pachacuti (one of the last Sapa or head Inca) erected a number of royal estates to memorialize victories over other ethnic groups. Among these royal estates are Písac (victory over the Cuyos), Ollantaytambo (victory over the Tambos), and Machu Picchu (conquest of the Vilcabamba Valley). Other historians suggest that Písac was established to protect Cusco from possible attacks of the Antis nations. It is unknown when Inca Písac was built. Since it does not appear to have been inhabited by any pre-Inca civilization, it was most likely built no earlier than 1440.

Francisco Pizarro and the Spanish conquerors destroyed Inca Písac in the early 1530s. The modern town of Písac was built in the valley by Viceroy Toledo during the 1570s.”


The Sacred Valley: Ollantaytambo


Excepting Machu Picchu, this was the Incan site that impressed me most: Ollantaytambo. The photos don’t do it justice and there was no good vantage point to photograph the agricultural terraces. You’ll just have to go there to really see it.

On the side of the mountain (center) you can see the face of Viracocha, the great creator deity in the pre-Inca and Inca mythology. (name and some spelling alternatives are Tunupa, Wiracocha, Apu Qun Tiqsi Wiraqutra, and Con-Tici, also spelled Kon-Tiki, the source of the name of Thor Heyerdahl’s raft). Viracocha was one of the most important deities in the Inca pantheon and seen as the creator of all things, or the substance from which all things are created, and intimately associated with the sea. Viracocha created the universe, sun, moon, and stars, time (by commanding the sun to move over the sky) and civilization itself. Viracocha was worshipped as god of the sun and of storms. He was represented as wearing the sun for a crown, with thunderbolts in his hands, and tears descending from his eyes as rain.
The archeological site, Ollantaytambo

Ollantaytambo (Quechua: Ullantaytampu) is both a small town in the Sacred Valley of Peru and an Inca archaeological site. It’s located in southern Peru 72 kilometres (45 mi) by road northwest of the city of Cusco. It is located at an altitude of 2,792 meters (9,160 ft) above sea. During the Inca Empire, Ollantaytambo was the royal estate of Emperor Pachacuti who conquered the region, built the town and a ceremonial center. At the time of the Spanish conquest of Peru in the 1530’s, it served as a stronghold for Manco Inca Yupanqui, leader of the Inca resistance.

Nowadays, Ollantaytambo is located in what is called the Sacred Valley of the Incas, it is an important tourist attraction on account of its Inca ruins. The village also has a train station. I (later that same week) began my trip to Machu Picchu from here.  It is also the most common starting points for the four-day, three-night hike known as the Inca Trail.

Around the mid-15th century, the Inca emperor Pachacuti conquered and razed Ollantaytambo; the town and the nearby region were incorporated into his personal estate. The emperor rebuilt the town with sumptuous constructions and undertook extensive works of terracing and irrigation in the Urubamba Valley; the town provided lodging for the Inca nobility while the terraces were farmed by yanakuna, retainers of the emperor. After Pachacuti’s death, the estate came under the administration of his panaqa, his family clan. After the Spanish conquest was complete, in 1540, the native population of Ollantaytambo was assigned to Hernando Pizarro.

To get to the entrance of the archeological site, you must run the gauntlet of souvenir shops.
In the background you begin to see mountains, which created a great defensive position for the city and the reason it was among the last Incan strongholds to be conquered.

The water in front of these small shacks is still carried through a system constructed by the Incas.

The Temple of Water
Inside the Temple of Water

This trapezoidal structure is common in Incan construction, similar to the arch in Roman construction, but much more stable for a seismically active area.

Water is a precious resource and the Incas knew how to work with mountain springs to keep clean, fresh water always available.

The back section of the site was almost empty of tourists.
In the center, left you can see a face. This natural formation was enhanced by carving to improve the image. Notice the “crown” of pillars on top of the head. Viracocha’s or Tunupa’s image in stone on the mountain Pinkuylluna overlooks Ollantaytambo. Viracocha was the creator god of pre-Incan and Incan mythology.
To the right is a food storage area. Though difficult to make out now, originally the face could be seen to be carrying a large bag on his shoulder. These storehouses are constructed in the area of the bag. The Incas built them of fieldstones. Their location at high altitudes, where there is more wind and lower temperatures, defended their contents against decay. To enhance this effect, the Ollantaytambo qullqas feature ventilation systems. It is believed that they were used to store the production of the agricultural terraces built around the site. Grain would be poured in the windows on the uphill side of each building, then emptied out through the downhill side window.
You can just see the face and storehouses in the background. The area still has rich farmland.

This is a typical site in all Incan strongholds–stone steps, terraces and good drainage systems. These folks must have had good knees and huge lungs.