After spending part of our morning on our own ambling around the city center of Cuzco, Hubby and I ate a vegetarian lunch at a small cafe near our hotel. We’d seen the Cathedral in the main plaza and now looked forward to a long, busy afternoon visiting the ruins surrounding the city, Puka Pukara, Tampu Machay and the renowned fortress and religious site of Sacsayhuamán.
My focus in this post is the Inca fortress of Sacsayhuamán (pronounced like “sexy woman” which also makes it is easier to remember). The imposing terraced fortress is more than one third of a mile long, and located on the perimeters of the hills overlooking Cuzco.
Experts believe that the city of Cuzco was set up in the form of a puma whose head was the hill of Sacsayhuaman. The origins are uncertain, but it’s generally attributed to the period of Inca Pachacuti (1438-71), the man who essentially founded the Inca empire, after he succeeded his father as emporer. (For fun information on Pachacuti and his people check out this article.) They conclude that it was completed by around 1508. Pizarro reached his first Inca land in 1526.
Some of the boulders are estimated to weigh more than 20 tons; the largest is 12 feet thick and 25 feet tall. Without a doubt the Incas were highly skilled stone cutters. Since the quarries that yielded the Yucay limestone used for the foundation are located about 20 miles from the city, it boggles the mind how they were able to move the massive boulders across rivers and down deep ravines, then up to the hilltop site of Sacsayhuamán.
Spanish conquistador and chronicler of Peru, Cieza de Leon, wrote in the 1550’s that some 20,000 men had been involved in its construction: 4000 men cutting blocks from the quarries; 6000 dragging them to the site on rollers; and another 10,000 working on fitting them together and finishing the work. Legend has it that 3,000 lives were lost when one huge stone being dragged uphill broke free.
However they cut the stones or managed to get them here, or how many men it took and lives were lost, they were so skilled they were able to fit the massive boulders together without mortar, so perfectly that a mechanic’s thickness gauging instrument cannot be inserted between the rocks of the walls as Ivanoff proudly points out.
Of course these mysteries continue to contribute to numerous fantasies that the structure wasn’t built by the Incas but rather by extraterrestrials who landed on earth thousands of years ago, or that only they could have come up with the technology which they used to teach the Inca how to do it.
In fact many Spanish priests and historians of the day attributed the fortress to demonic enchantment because they viewed the Inca people as inferior.
Some people claim they feel an incredible cosmic energy here and that, rather than a fortress or religious site, this site was built as an astronomic observatory. Ivanoff suggested we might want to get close to the wall to see if we could feel the energy ourselves.
Nope. Can’t say that I felt much, but the wall was warm from the sun, and there was a bit of the chill in the air. Neither can I say it didn’t feel peaceful there. Maybe that’s what they mean about cosmic energy.
If you remember the Cathedral paintings in my previous post about Quechua artists imprinting their religion into their paintings, it won’t surprise you at all to note the way the stone cutters and setters included religious symbols in the fortress walls. See if you can see the snake that represents the underworld in the Inca religion. Hint: Ivanof is pointing toward the head.
And of course the whole travel group is quick to notice, having been away from our home state for 12 days by the time we came upon this part of the wall, this boulder shaped like an inverted Utah (the cutout should be on the right side) right there in the wall.
Some of us liked to joke that once you’ve seen one ruin in Peru, you’ve pretty much seen them all. But upon reflection this many days after returning home, I say or have you? Looking more closely, each ruin has its own story to tell. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow put it like this:
Rise, too, ye shapes and shadows of the past
Rise from your long forgotten graves at last
Let us behold your faces, let us hear
The words you uttered in those days of fear.
Revisit your familiar haunts again
The scenes of triumph and the scenes of pain
And leave the footprints of your bleeding feet
Once more upon the pavement of the street