Cusco, Peru is a fascinating city. It is among the oldest cities in the Americas, tucked away in a valley, high in the Andes mountain range sitting at 3400m above sea level. Once the capital of the Inca Empire, Cusco is now the gateway to Machu Picchu and usually a multiple-day stopover to acclimate to the altitude of the region before conquering the Inca Trail. With its combination of Inca and Spanish colonial architecture, it’s an eclectic blend of the two cultures. Cusco is a wonderful city to wander and explore.
Plaza de Armas
The modern-day Plaza de Armas was once The Great Inca Square. Twice the size of the current day plaza, it was home to meditation ceremonies performed by Inca royalty. The original name of the square was Huacaypata which means “place of crying” in Quechua, the indigenous language of the region and the Inca. Now the plaza is a gathering place for locals and visitors alike. Music fills the area as people stroll about taking in the stunning churches, wooden carved balconies and Inca stonework that encircle the square.
San Pedro Market
Frequently referred to as the “Central Market”, San Pedro was one of the earliest markets to open in Cusco. It has been operating since the beginning of the eighteenth century. Open seven days a week, the market building itself is one block long and three blocks wide. There are vendors packed into every bit of space inside and all around the building. The vendors sell everything from foods and medicinal items to textiles and souvenirs.
San Blas is a short but steep walk from the Plaza De Armas and offers breathtaking panoramic vistas of the Cusco. It’s a fantastic area to wander as the streets are primarily pedestrian-only with some of the best bars and restaurants in the city. Known for its bohemian ambience, there are numerous artisans’ workshops and artists’ studios to explore while in the neighbourhood.
Coricancha, Temple of the Sun
In the heart of Cusco sits Coricancha, the Inca Empire’s principal temple. Coricancha, translates to “Golden Temple” in Quechua. The founder of the Inca civilization, Manco Inca began the construction of the Temple of the Sun around the year 1200. In the 15th century, Inca Pachacuti restructured the temple and plated the walls with gold sheets. The Spanish conquistadors pillaged the gold of Coricancha during their conquest. Sadly, most of the temple was destroyed to build the church Church of Santo Domingo which stands in its ruins today. Tours of Coricancha are available multiple times a day.
Carbon-14 dating of Sacsayhuaman has established that the Killke culture constructed the fortress about 1100 CE. The Inca later controlled and expanded the complex in the 13th century. The Sacsayhuamán complex includes a great plaza and three colossal terrace walls. The stones used in the building of these terraces are among the largest used in any pre-Hispanic American building. They demonstrate an accuracy of cutting and fitting stone that is unmatched. The stones are so closely spaced that a solitary piece of paper will not fit between many of them. The terrace walls are 6 meters high and the longest of the three walls is about 400 meters. The temple consists of 11 rooms assumed to have held idols and mummies. Located just on the outskirts of the City of Cusco it can be easily visited.
With a mix of captivating cultures, one-of-a-kind architecture and fascinating history, Cusco is more than just a stopover on the way to Machu Picchu. It’s a city worth exploring in depth. When wandering about the streets of Cusco you can’t help but absorb its long history and appreciate why it was such a special place to the Inca civilization.
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