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 Atahaulpa 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 which 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 are 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 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. This has some of the finest stone work which is still visible in the curved wall beneath the west end of the Church. In Inca times the walls of the Qorikancha were lined with gold sheets. A number of other temples can still be seen with their exquisite stonework and niches along the walls for the mummies of the dead Inca rulers. One of the most famous pieces of stonework, due to its size and incredible workmanship is the 12-angle block to be found in the north wall of the palace of Inca Roca, the sixth Inca.
The Cathedral which dominates the north-east side of the city’s main square was constructed on the foundations of the Inca Viracocha's palace. The Cathedral, constructed in the shape of a Latin cross, was begun in 1550 and completed nearly 100 years later. The three-aisled nave is supported by fourteen massive pillars and has ten chapels surrounding it these contain a large selection of artworks. In 1959 the Cathedral was damaged by a large earthquake and 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.