Saturday, May 09, 2009

Incan Cusco . . .

We traveled from Puno to Cusco by Inka Express, a ten hour bus ride punctuated by stops at 6 different sites, each one adding to our understanding of Incan culture and Peru. We passed through snow-covered Andes mountains to the lush green fields and trees, sycamores, eucalyptus and cypress, a welcome change from the very dry desert of the south. We entered the Sacred Valley and stopped at Raqchi, our first Incan temple.

We only had 30 minutes to explore the temple grounds near a small lake, and into the temple complex with outer walls, a series of linked courtyards, connected by a perfectly symmetrical alley (perfectly aligned with the summer solstice and the rising sun), round stone storage graineries, and housing for about 1,000 priests and nobles, and the main temple walls still standing. Our guide said about 6,000-7,000 commoners lived outside in humble houses.

Along the hills surrounding Raqchi, the Incan ruler, Wirococha caused a 10 foot high defensive wall to be built, similar to the Great Wall of China in design, but not as expansive.

I am used to the monumental Mayan and Aztec pyramids and temples. This 15th Century temple at Raqchi was entirely different. Its walls stretch up nearly 90 feet and 300 feet long, a mix of Incan block stone of volcanic rock at the base, and adobe bricks made of mud, straw, wood, and cactus juice (a natural waterproof gum). The roof was supported by this monumental wall in the middle with two rows of columns on either side (you can see their remains in the foreground). The temple faces south, which I found interesting, as earlier burial towers we had seen at Sillhustani had faced east, the rising sun, the source of life.

Wirococha's temple at Raqchi (source Wikipedia)

And so we came to Cusco and yesterday visited Qorikancha (also Coricancha or "golden enclosure"), fabled temple complex located in the Incan capital of Cusco, the center or navel of the world. This complex is actually several connected room-sized temples to the rainbow, the moon, the thunder and lightning, the stars and moon, and one long entry to the Temple of the Sun. When the Spaniards arrived in 1532, they were awed by the gold-plated walls and floors, the life-sized sacred statues of animals, plants (including corn), and people made of gold. Apparently a magnificent solid gold Sun Disk was used in religious rituals. The Spaniards razed the temple, looted it, melted the gold, and used Incan stones to build a church and convent to Santo Domingo over the Temple of the Sun.

In 1650 and 1950, terrible earthquakes hit Cusco. The colonial buildings tumbled; Incan temples stood unshaken. You can read about the history of Qorikancha in Brian S. Bauer's Ancient Cuzco: Heartland of the Inca, available online through Google book; a wonderful series of photos and drawings traces the discovery and first impressions of this temple.

Qorikancha and Santo Domingo Church (source Wikipedia)

Note about photos: Ordinarily I post my own photos, but since my laptop is no longer with me, I can't download or upload my pics. So until June, I'm using Wikipedia and Webshots (with credit), and will update my photos on Webshots then.

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