On the streets of Cuzco the Andean identity of the Peruvian people and the legacy of Spanish colonialism are written in stone.
The ancient Spanish streets blend magnificently with the Inca walls made of stones cut to fit perfectly without mortar. The Inca structures have survived for centuries and withstood earthquakes, although they are often at the mercy of theft by uncontrolled tourists. The Spanish conquistadors preserved the Inca walls and built colonial palaces, convents, and Catholic churches on top of them. Visitors can see these buildings on every street corner. For example: the current Inca Museum is housed in the Admiral’s House, a colonial palace built on pre-Columbian foundations that belongs to the San Antonio Abad Public University of Cuzco; several Catholic churches built on the ruins of Inca palaces.
The Spanish mud-brick buildings, with carved doors and balconies, as well as temples, pulpits, effigies, and Catholic religious jewellery leave visitors overwhelmed with wonder, and show a strong influence of native artists. This is particularly evident in the paintings of the Cusqueña School, where the authors left small, almost hidden traces revealing their identity.
Cuzco is considered Peru’s cultural capital, UNESCO declared it a “Cultural Heritage of Humanity” in 1983.
Until the late 18th century Cuzco was Peru’s most populous city, though many Spanish abandoned it after the indigenous uprising against the Spanish domination headed by José Gabriel Condorcanqui, known as Tupac Amaru II. The rebellion failed, and he, his relatives, and others were brutally executed in the city square now called Plaza Mayor.
Located on the peaks of the south-eastern range of the Andes, at almost 3,400 meters above sea level, Qusqu or Qosqo, the old Indian name of the Inca Empire capital, is believed to have been founded around the 12th or 13th century. Excavations indicate that it was inhabited as far back as 3,000 years ago – it is considered the oldest city in America.
According to some studies, the first settlers in Cuzco were hundreds of emigrants from Tiahuanaco, a site in the Andean highland, now in Bolivia, who left the place before the Tiahuanaco Empire collapsed. This would explain the similar stone constructions of the Tiahuanacos and Incas.
As for pronunciation, the Spanish, who re-founded the city in 1534, called it “Cuzco”, even if the Quechua language doesn’t have a “z”. In 1971, the mayor approved and officialised the name “Cuzco,” and the government ratified it the following decade.
Tourism has increased in recent decades to the point that the city has become the country’s main destination. Important tourist attractions can also be found on the city outskirts – the Sacsayhuaman wall complex, located high above Cuzco to the north, dominating the city. The area is frequently referred to as a fortress.
Nearby is the Sacred Valley of the Incas, a beautiful setting with dozens of hotels for the many tourists. These can also visit the towns of Pisac, Ollantaytambo, and other sites where the ruins of Inca buildings can be found.
At 112 km from Cuzco, is the ancient city of Machu Picchu, that is reached by a winding train. The Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu, built in typical Inca style with dry-stone walls, lies on the eastern slopes of the Andes, facing the upper Amazon basin. The site is among South America’s greatest tourist attractions.
Cuzco, with more than half a million inhabitants, has become a cosmopolitan city thanks to the many tourists. Not few, captivated by this amazing place, have decided to move there. Nightlife is intense, with entertainment for the many young people, enchanted by the magic of the land, history, and culture of the Andes. (M.R.S.)