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CUSCO CITY

THE CITY OF THE INCAS

Altitude

3,360-m/11,444 ft. above sea level.

The Department of Cusco is located in the southern-oriental region of the Andes, comprising part of the Sierra and the Jungle. At 3,360 m.a.s.l./11,023 ft, it borders with Arequipa, Puno, Apurimac, Junin, Ucayali and Madre de Dios. In the high regions the mornings are mild and the nights cool. There are two seasons, the rainy months are from November to March. Cusco has an extension of 76,329 km² and a population of over 1’000,000 people.

The capital is Cusco, known as the ‘Archeological Capital of America’.

A Brief History

There is little information on the Department of Cusco before the Spanish conquest. What is known has been transmitted through oral tradition from generation through generation. It is said that the city of Cusco was founded between the 11th and 12th centuries by the legendary figure of Inca Manco Capac who, according to the legend, emerged from Titicaca Lake.

Cusco, sacred city and capital of the Tahuantinsuyo, was the government center of the four big administrative regions of the Inca Empire. This fabulous empire extended to comprise a great part of what today are Equador, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Chile. The Inca Empire was a very well structured society. It stands out for having a great knowledge in architecture, hydraulic engineering, medicine and agriculture.

On March 23, 1534, Francisco Pizarro founded a Spanish city over the Inca City of Cusco. It then turned out to be an example of cultural blending, which has left us priceless architectural monuments and pieces of art. During Colonial times, several big insurrections against the Spanish power took place.

Since 1825 with the Republic, Cusco starts to show the wonders of its culture. With the discovery of Machu Picchu by Hiram Bingham in 1910, Peru is known all over the world.


Main Attractions in Cusco

Main Square
Known as Huacaypata, it means ‘cry’ or ‘moan’. Tradition says that its founder, Inca Manco Capac, designed it as the symbolic center of the empire.

Sacsayhuaman Fortress
At a walking distance from the center, it has big walls of monumental stones distributed in zigzag and in three platforms that have an average of 360-m./1,181 ft. There are stones of as much as 9 m/30 ft long and 5-m/16 ft wide.

Tambomachay
Known as the Inca Baths, it is said to have been a sanctuary for water worship. Clear running water flows through its stairways.

Puca Pucara Red Fortress
It is formed by terraces, stairways, turrets, urns, vaulted niches and platforms.

The Salt Mines of Maras
In the salt mines of Maras, its inhabitants still use the primitve way of extracting salt from a natural resource.

Kencco Amphitheater
Built in rock, it is said to have been an Inca worship site. There are passages, canals, and stairways with stone engravings representing the puma, a sacred animal.

San Blas Quarter
Is located a few blocks from Main Square. It is well known for housing the workshops of the most important Cusqueño artisans, such as, the Mendivil family, Olave and Merida. The local church has a famous 400 years old pulpit, beautifully carved in a single piece of wood.

Korikancha
Also called the Temple of the Sun, was built during the rule of Inca Pachacutec.

Machu Picchu
It is the most important attraction in the Department of Cusco. For many, it is the 8th Wonder of the World and shows the knowledge of a culture that was able to build a citadel with gigantic rocks perfectly fitted together and in a site of difficult access. Still today, the attention is drawn on how and from where could these people transport such enormous stones. There are no stone pits in the region nor had the Incas discovered the use of the wheel. It was known in the world after its discovery by Hiram Bingham in 1910.

Urubamba Valley
Also known as the Sacred Valley of the Incas, is bathed by the waters of the Urubamba and Vilcanota rivers and is home to several archaeological sites.

Pisac
The town of Pisac was founded during colonial times. In its main square, Indian barter their products and artisans from all over the area sell woven alpaca wool ponchos, antique reproductions, jewelry, etc. Located above the town of Pisac, are the Pisac ruins, including a stone fortress with an impressive view of the valley. On the colonial town of Pisac, which conserves its Inca foundations, rises the hill known as the Intiwatana, with one of the finest agricultural terraces (Andenes) in the region. On the summit, the Incas built an astronomyl tower with nice carved stones from which they could observe the course of the sun.

Ollantaytambo
Favorite residence of the Incas, with its terraces running up the steep slope to the top where a carved stone throne allowed the ruler a magnificent view of his holdings. You will also see the fabulous Inca ruins of Ollantaytambo.

Chinchero
All these villages display pre-Hispanic archeological vestiges, built by the different Incas to use them as fortresses or as retreat sites. They are ideal for handicraft shopping.

Piquillacta
Piquillacta, pre-Inca citadel from the Huari culture, keeps its strange architecture. It is located in the Cusco valley near the Huacarpay Lake.

Andahuaylillas
This small town is famous for its chapel constructed in 1580 and known as ‘The Peruvian Sistine Chapel’. The external simplicity of the building contrasts with the interior’s Colonial- Baroque style golden altars, murals, polychrome ceilings and paintings.

The Circular Terraces of Moray
Ancient Inca laboratories used to domesticate the cultivation of plants, which are now in use all over the world.

Tipon and Kaira
In the ancient times, the Incas made research and experiments in Tipon. Kaira, the University of Cusco’s Andean Plant Research Center, is were technicians are trying to recover the forms of agriculture used by the Incas.