The repair crew on the back street worked like a team of museum curators or fine art restorers. They hand-cut stone blocks to fix the ancient eroded curbstones. It had been done this way in Ollantaybambo, Peru, since the time of the Incas.
The Inca Empire emerged around the year 1200 and grew to fruition around 1450 just as the Spanish Conquistadors arrived to destroy their accomplishments. In the brief two centuries the Incas achieved an amazing level of civilization, and much of it is evident in the architectural remains. Cusco and the Sacred Valley were the centers of the Empire; not surprisingly most of their greatest constructions are in this area. Here are ten of the greatest Inca sites.
10. Inca Terraces of the Sacred Valley were the basis of an agricultural system called Andenerias. They are an agriculture and engineering marvel that still functions today. Graceful and aesthetically satisfying the terraces can be seen all over Peru, especially throughout the Sacred Valley, where Andenerias are still used to raise crops. Some of the best examples are seen above Pisac and Ollantaytambo.
9. Koricancha is the Temple of the Sun in the city of Cusco, once the center of the Inca world. Though the temple was overbuilt by colonial buildings, the huge trapezoid shaped Inca stones that define its foundations are spectacular.
8. Sacsayhuaman, the fortress that guards the city of Cusco is built on a hilltop overlooking the valley. The giant stone blocks are classic examples of Inca building techniques. The scale of construction is awe inspiring.
7. Qanchisracay – the fortress complex sits four kilometers from the floor of the Sacred Valley, above the town of Pisac. It has been cut out of the mountain’s solid bedrock. Over the fort the Temple of the Sun seems to connect to the sky.
6. Moray - These terraced pits resemble a giant amphitheatre but it was an agricultural research and production facility for the Incas, where various strains of plants were developed. It is an ancient biological laboratory and seed factory for the Empire.
5. Salineras is a vast network of interconnected terraces spanning down a hilltop. This is a salt mine where the natural deposits are refined by solar evaporation. The mines still provide a livelihood for the same local families who have worked these deposits for centuries.
4. Ollantaytambo, Fortress Complex rises on a hillside overlooking the town. Massive rocks terrace towards the peak. It includes temples and guard posts. It is almost as spectacular a construction as Machu Picchu.
3. Ollantaytambo, Old Town is the best preserved continuously occupied Inca town. It is among the earliest of the Inca planned cities. The homes, streets and buildings have not been significantly altered. Walking these stone alleys with their ancient waterworks is like a trip through time.
2. Island del Sol (The Island of the Sun) is in the southern end of Lake Titicaca, on the Bolivian side. Its significance is more to Inca history than architectural magnificence. The Chinkana is a labyrinth of stone chambers built on the island’s rocky shores. Chinkana along with other island structures are sacred sites that the Incas revered as the place where the first Inca came out of the Sacred Rock, called the Titikala.
1. Machu Picchu is one of the Seven New Wonders of the World. Built on top of a mountain, its location and design are the peak of Inca urban perfection; an ideal mingling of architecture with the surrounding landscape. Hailed as the lost city of the Incas, Machu Picchu’s true nature is still being debated. It was likely a retreat for elite Inca scientist-priests working to develop agriculture, astronomy and technology.
Born in The Hague, Andrew Kolasinski arrived in Canada as a small child riding in the luggage rack of a DC-7. Since then he has felt at home anywhere. As the publisher and editor of Island Angler, Andrew spends half the year fishing for salmon and trout, and in the off-season he travels the world looking for a story. Check out Tucan Travel, providers of adventure tours to Peru and all over South America if you like this read chances are you will like getting to these inca sites for real.
By Andrew Kolasinski