Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire from the 13th century until the Spanish arrived, although it was an Inca rebellion by Manco Inca in 1536 that led to its destruction and to its rebuilding by the Spanish. It contains some incredible stonework from the time of the Inca and architecture by the Spanish.
Cusco dates back to 1200 AD and is linked to the first Inca ruler Manco Capac. Its main period of expansion occurred in the 15th century under the rule of the Inca Pachacuti, who was responsible for the growth of the Inca Empire as far south as Chile and Argentina, and north to Ecuador and Columbia.
The empire came to an abrupt end on the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors, under Francisco Pizarro who executed the Inca Atahualpa and occupied Cusco in 1534. Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire from the 13th century until the Spanish arrived although it was an Inca rebellion by Manco Inca in 1536 that led to its destruction and to its rebuilding by the Spanish. This started a cultural mix that left its imprint on every aspect of Peruvian culture, something that is especially noticeable in Cusco.
One of the most noticeable things about the architecture of Cusco is the Inca walls constructed of enormous granite blocks which are shaped to fit together perfectly in a puzzle pattern and laid without the aid of mortar. The different types of walling are visible can be seen throughout the city.
The Inca architecture has survived numerous earthquakes which reduced much of the Spanish colonial architecture constructed on top of the Inca walls.
The church of Santa Domingo was built in the 17th century on the walls of the Qorikancha, the Temple of the Sun.
The Qorikancha means, “enclosed place that contains gold”, and it has some of the finest stonework which is still visible in the curved wall beneath the west end of the Church.
The bottom part is giant stones in an Incan style and the top part is colonial from the Spanish when they took Cusco and attempted to erase the whole Inca culture. In fact, most of the buildings in Cusco are built that way.
The church is entered from the side into a passage with its rich décor which leads to the cloister, and a number of rooms displaying artifacts.
The cloister of the Santo Domingo convent was built on top of the enclosure that is located around the fountain and the broad patio of the Qorikancha.
In Inca times the walls of the Qorikancha were lined with gold sheets. These were removed by the Spanish, but a sample is on display.
The main thing to see is the old Inca buildings, which have now been covered in to protect them. A number of the temples can still be seen with their exquisite stonework and niches along the walls for the mummies of the dead Inca rulers.
These temples are the Rainbow, Thunder, Stars, and the Sun temple. There are three things to note about these buildings - as in fact with all Inca architecture. Firstly, the lean of the buildings, which is at an angle of between 7 – 14 degrees, enables it to withstand earthquakes.
Secondly, is the interlocking, or bonded stones which spreads the load over the area of the ground and increases stability.
Thirdly, is the preciseness of the jointing of the blockwork, which is a feature of Inca architecture.
A good example of this is one of the most famous pieces of stonework in Cusco, due both to its size and incredible workmanship, and that is the 12-angle block to be found in the north wall of the palace of Inca Roca, the sixth Inca.
Going out onto the terrace, the lean of the wall of the Qorikancha is noticeable as is the water system in the grounds below.
Cusco Cathedral dominates the north-east side of the city’s main square, the Plaza de Armas, known as the “Square of the Warrior” in Inca times.
The cathedral was constructed using the foundations of the Inca Viracocha's palace in the shape of a Latin cross with stones taken from Sacsayhuaman. Construction began in 1560 and was completed in 1654. Erected in the Gothic-Renaissance style, which was common with the great Spanish cathedrals. The three-aisled nave is supported by fourteen massive pillars and has ten chapels surrounding it these contain a large selection of artworks.
The interior contains many beautiful paintings, and the High Altar is made of silver. Unfortunately, photography was not permitted inside. In 1959 the Cathedral was damaged by a severe earthquake.
To the left of the cathedral is the Church of the Society of Jesus. This was built between 1571 and 1668 in the Baroque style on the site of the palace of the Inca ruler Huayna Capac.
The city contains many other remains relating to the Inca and those which have been incorporated into Spanish and subsequent buildings.
In 1983 Cusco became a World Heritage Site.
To see more photographs and take a virtual tour of the site click on the photoshow below.