quechua artists leave lasting impressions in cuzco cathedral

You may remember the post about our encounter with the protesters in Aguas Caliente and how we were delayed several hours leaving for Ollantaytambo by train after our visit to Machu Picchu. Because of that delay our bus to Cuzco was delayed as well, and resulted in still another delay as our bus driver maneuvered a typical traffic jam caused by a packed parking lot full of tourist buses and cars all trying to leave at once. Needless to say, we arrived very late to our hotel that night, too late for dinner in fact. Luckily we’d had sandwiches on the train which sufficed, and were all just very happy to be there at last.

The next morning we found that Cuzco had protesters too. It altered a few of our touring plans for the morning, but we’d seen many ruins already by that time and decided we could easily forgo a few in exchange for a few hours on our own to explore the city itself. Here we are in the main plaza, within walking distance of our hotel, in the middle of the city where the protest we encountered the day before was continuing. In fact we’d later learn there were demonstrations all over Peru. When we saw a member of this peaceful demonstration throw a supposedly symbolic stone, we decided to take the steps leading to less crowded areas of the plaza.


These Quechua women walking around the plaza are far too typical of modern life in Cuzco as they lead their pet llama around the plaza for touristas like Hubby and me to pet and admire. They’re just trying to eke out a meager living from the visiting tourists. Under the same circumstances, I’m sure I would be doing the same thing if it was necessary to feed my children. What is impressive about the people in Peru, in my experience, is that there are very few beggars. Most, like the street kid and other artists who are everywhere, are offering a commodity in exchange, i.e., their images for photos to show friends and family back home, or colorful paintings of Peruvian scenery and people to decorate our homes and remind us of our visits.


Sometimes, you can get even more interesting snapshots just by surreptitiously clicking the camera at random for more candid photos of city life, like these, when no one knows or cares that you have a camera in hand.





For me, after living in a perpetually new city like Las Vegas for nearly nine years, a city known for destroying historical buildings every year in order to make room for new ones, it’s always refreshing to find a city that finds value in both the old and the new.

Below is a wide-angle shot of the main square of Cuzco as it looks today. The Spanish Church of Santo Domingo is on the left, and the impressive Church of La Compañia built by the Jesuits on the right. Many visitors claim it surpasses its neighbor to the left as the most beautiful church in the city. Of course the plaza didn’t look like this when Pizzaro arrived looking for gold in 1533. From accounts of the original Inca Temple of the Sun as described by the first Spaniards to enter the city we can only imagine how magnificent they must have been.


They told of lavish ceremonies taking place here day and night by the 4000 serving priests. Decor was described as fabulous beyond belief with carved granite walls covered in more than 700 sheets of pure gold, and a spacious courtyard filled with life-size statues of animals made of pure gold standing in the midst of a field of corn. The temple was aptly called coricancha which means corridor of gold. Naturally, anyone whose original purpose in exploring Peru was to find gold, the first order of business would be to loot the palaces of their treasures, melt down the gold from the temple. Afterwards, they would build their own church and begin to convert the native Peruvians from their ancestor- and nature-worship to Catholicism.

Major earthquakes have severely damaged the church, but the Inca stone walls, built out of huge, tightly-interlocking blocks of stone, still stand as a testimony to the superb architectural skills and sophisticated stone masonry of the Inca. In fact, when it became apparent that the stone supports were too difficult to completely destroy, the new church  was built directly over the original Sun temple foundation.

Of course the church is again filled with impressive artwork, as well as gold altars and statues of the saints, including Jesus, gilded but no less impressive. In fact, art was another way to change the Inca culture. Spanish painters from the Cuzco School were brought in to teach Peruvians to paint pictures from Christian biblical history.

Ivanoff, our guide, told us about one such artist, a Quechua painter from Cuzco named Marcos Zapata (1710-1773), and one of the last members of that school, who is famous for adding elements of his own culture into his 1753 rendition of The Last Supper.

800px-Marcos_Zapata (2)It shows Jesus and his disciples gathered around a table set with roasted rodent of some sort–a viscacha or perhaps cuy–as well as an assortment of fruit and vegetables of the Andean diet then and now rather than the bread and wine of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting.There are also glasses of Chicha, a fermented drink usually made from corn, featured in mug-like glasses.

Other artists included aspects of the ancient culture in their paintings as well. One that I hadn’t noticed before Ivanoff pointed it out is an interesting difference and one I believe worth noting here. In Renaissance paintings of the Christ figure, European painters show Jesus with his head tilted slightly to the left looking upward–presumably towards his father, God in Heaven, while those by Peruvians show him with his face tilted to the right and looking downward–towards Mother Earth, Pachamama, perhaps?

I’ve only touched the surface of the wonders of the talent and abilities of the ancient Chechua civilization, but our brief exposure to the lasting impressions of the culture left by the artist Zapata and other Peruvian artists have taught me to look at religious art in a whole new way. My next post about Peru will feature the religious site of Sacsayhuaman, famous for its cosmic energy.

4 thoughts on “quechua artists leave lasting impressions in cuzco cathedral

  1. Maybe it is time to visit Rome……or India where the religious art is vital. They have good samples of that in San Francisco.

    Seriously, thank you so much for this……I’m really enjoying your trip so much.

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Ruthe! It’s funny what impressions are longer lasting when you’ve been back awhile.
      At the moment, we’re entertaining the thought of a China trip early next spring. It’s 9 nights, all inclusive except the local taxes; there would be 4 days on the Yangtze River.

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