Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Inca, is one of the most important archaeological sites in South America and the most visited tourist attraction in Peru. Despite being located close to the Inca capitol of Cusco the site was never discovered by the Spanish during their conquest, consequently it was not destroyed and remained relatively intact. Machu Picchu (meaning 'Old Peak' in the Quechua language) refers to the mountain that overlooks the city, its Inca name is not known.
Believed to have been built by Pachacuti, the ninth Sapa Inca (1438 - 1471 AD), the true purpose of Machu Picchu has never been conclusively determined although it is believed to have been a retreat for the Inca chief and his elite or a secret ceremonial city. Situated two thousand feet above the Urubamba River and invisible from below, the cloud shrouded city contains palaces, baths, temples, storage buildings and around 140 houses, all in a good state of preservation.
Spread over approximately 5 square miles, Machu Picchu housed a population of around 750 to 1200 people. It consists of a number of Sectors or Districts, which relate to the activities which were carried out there. These are Agricultural, which consists of terraces constructed by the Inca. These enabled crops to be grown but also provided stability to the mountain. The Industrial sector provided the facilities to produce and maintain the implements required by the population. The Urban sector provided the living accommodation for the people and the nobility. The Sacred District contains the religious buildings. The most famous buildings are the Intihuatana, also known as the "The Hitching Post of the Sun" as it was ceremonially used to tie the Sun to the earth each year. The Temple of the Sun, with its semicircular facade built to tie in with the natural rock which allows the sun to cast a shadow through its windows along a stone altar on the winter and summer solstice. Also in this sector are the Temple of the Three Windows and the Main Temple, which show structural damage from movement. A variety of other buildings and points of interest provide a beautiful and atmospheric place and one of the most enigmatic ancient sites in the world. Machu Picchu was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, describing it as "an absolute masterpiece of architecture and a unique testimony to the Inca civilization".
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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.
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Sacred Valley of the Inca
The Sacred Valley of the Incas or Urubamba Valley was formed by the Urubamba River and stretches from the
old Inca capital of Cusco to below the sacred city of Machu Picchu. Within the
valley are many historical and archaeological sites including Pisac, famous for
its market; Tambomachay, which is believed to
a site for ritual bathing for the nobility; Urubamba; Qenqo the carved rock
complex with its labyrinth of passages which are believed to have been connected
to fertility; and the Inca temples and fortress of Ollantaytambo situated at
the top of steep terracing which provided excellent defences. The fortress was
the only place to resist a Spanish attack. Following the Manco Inca’s defeat at
Sacsayhuaman after the unsuccessful siege of Cusco in 1536 the Inca retreated
to Ollantaytambo and held off Francisco Pizarro's younger brother Hernando,
eventually forcing him to retreat by flooding the plains below. The stone used
for these buildings was brought from a quarry on the opposite side of the Urubamba
River. The complex was still under construction at the time of the conquest and
was never completed.
Sacsayhuaman is a magnificent Inca fortress whose ramparts consist of three large parallel walls zigzagging for over 400m. It is believed to have originated around the time of Pachacuti the man who founded the Inca Empire and built Machu Picchu. The walls consist of blocks of up 8.5m high and weighing nearly 300 tonnes are fitted together with incredible accuracy. Following the rebellion by Manco Inca in 1536 the Inca held Sacsayhuaman as a base in the siege of Cusco until the Spanish broke out and captured the fortress killing all its’ defenders.
The Basilica Cathedral of Lima was
conceived, designed and built by the Spanish Conquistador Francisco Pizarro (1529-41). Pizarro founded Lima
after subduing the Inca and establishing it as the capital of Peru. Construction began in 1535 and was completed
in 1538, although this was a small adobe building. In 1541 the church was designated a cathedral
by Pope Paul III who created a new diocese. From 1542 the cathedral underwent a
number of improvements and extensions which contributed towards the second
cathedral, which was completed and inaugurated in 1551.
In 1572, work began on the third cathedral, but this was
short lived, due to the high costs involved. Work recommenced in 1598, when the
plans were modified to include 3 aisles and 2 chapels. The first part of the
third cathedral was inaugurated in 1604. In 1609 part of the cathedral, including
the vaults, was destroyed in an earthquake, although these were rebuilt in 1614
-1615 at a lower height and in a Gothic style. The third cathedral was
consecrated in 1625. This gave Lima an immense Baroque cathedral reflecting the
importance of the Catholic Church in Colonial times.
In 1687 the vaults were once again destroyed and it took ten
years for the reconstruction to take place. The destruction of parts of the
cathedral was to occur again in 1746 and in 1940. The present Cathedral
is based on the design and original plans of the building which was destroyed
in 1746. The architecture of the building reflects different styles, from and including
Gothic, Baroque and Neoclassicism and consists of a central nave with two side
aisles and 13 chapels.
front of the cathedral consists of two bell towers flanking a central block in Renaissance
style with three large porticos carved in stone. Around the main portal,
are the figures of angels, and statues of the Apostles, and in the top recess,
a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
interior has a beautiful vaulted ceiling, and at the end of the nave is the
main altar made of wood and covered with 22-carat gold leaf. The tabernacle is
made of silver. Above the altar is the
figure of Our Lady of the Assumption, and on top, overseeing the altar, is an eagle representing Saint John the
Evangelist to whom the cathedral is dedicated.
carved wooden choir stalls with detailed carved arms and back representing the Virgin,
Saints and the Apostles were crafted by the Spanish
architect and sculptor Pedro de Noguera, and represent one of the most
distinctive examples of Spanish colonial art in the Americas.
off from the two side aisles are 13 chapels devoted to religious figures,
including a chapel dedicated to Santa Rosa de Lima - the first person born in
the Western Hemisphere to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church - and three
other Peruvian saints. At the beginning of the right aisle, is the chapel
holding the remains of Francisco Pizarro.
mural in the Tomb of Francisco Pizarro depicts the episode when Pizarro drew a
line in the sand, saying: "There lies Peru with its riches; here, Panama
and its poverty. Choose, each man, what
best becomes a brave Castilian." Thirteen men stayed with Pizarro and
became known as The Famous Thirteen.
Following his murder in 1541, Pizarro's remains were briefly
interred in the cathedral courtyard. Later
his head and body were separated and buried in separate boxes underneath the
floor of the cathedral. In 1892, a body believed to be that of Pizarro was exhumed and put on display
in a glass coffin. However, in 1977 while working on the cathedral's
foundation, workmen discovered a lead box in a sealed
niche, which bore the inscription "Here is the head of Don Francisco
Pizarro Demarkes, Don Francisco Pizarro who discovered Peru and presented it to
the crown of Castile." Forensic investigation of the two bodies,
determined that the body which was originally thought to have been Pizarro was
not him and that the second remains most probably were. The lead box which
contained the head is displayed in the chapel as is the catalogued poster depicting
the bones that were found.
The historic centre of Lima, which includes the Cathedral,
was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1991.
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Huaca Pucllana is located amongst
the residential buildings of the Miraflores district of Lima and dates back to
500 AD where it served as the ceremonial and administrative centre
for the Lima Culture, a society which habited the Central Coastal
area of Peru
between 200 and 700 AD.
and conservation work started in the middle of the 20th century when the top of
the pyramid was exposed, but it wasn’t until 1981 that permanent work on the
archaeological complex revealed the importance of Huaca Pucllana and led to it
becoming a Historic
The work on the site discovered textiles, decorated ceramics, bones, stone
tools and remains of alpacas, guinea pigs, ducks, fish and other molluscs;
corn, pumpkins, beans and fruits, all of
which provided information about the lives of the inhabitants. The houses were
built near plantations or close to irrigation channels and were constructed of
reed and adobe, the typical materials for this time.
simple burial sites and absence of weapons among the burial objects
indicated that the population lived a very basic and peaceful live. Their
textiles were simple and made of wool from alpaca or vicuña. The pottery found
included ceremonial jars decorated with snakes and fish, coloured in red, black
700 AD the arrival of the Wari people overthrew the other cultures in the area
and along the coast of Peru.
It was then that Huaca Pucllana lost its importance and was abandoned, although
it was used by the Wari as a burial place for their nobility. This resulted in the destruction of
many of the Lima
buildings. The burials consisted of individual graves and those containing a
number of bodies, including sacrificial child victims. A number of tombs have
been found intact providing significant insight into the Wari culture. By the
time that the Incas arrived, Huaca Pucllana was considered to be a sacred
Huaca Pucllana was an important
religious centre of the Lima
culture and was dedicated to a female deity linked to the sea. The site covers
an area of more than 16 acres with the important buildings being located in the
centre covering 6 acres. The site consists
of two sectors; the administrative sector and urban zone which contained areas
for public meetings and a number of small buildings and huts made of adobe
(some of the walls of which are still standing). These function to enclose and
act as the courtyards and patios. It also included ramps and storage rooms. The
buildings were finely finished and plastered with mud; some of which have been
found to have been finished with yellow paint.
The second sector was the ceremonial sector which
contained a number of buildings including a temple,amongst the ruins of which were
found vessels containing beans, corn and cotton mats, which were believed to
have been offerings. This sector also contained the Great Pyramid. This was
500 metres long by more than 100 metres wide and reached a height of 22 metres.
The construction is of adobe and filled with boulders, sand and materials
obtained from previous demolished buildings. The Great Pyramid consists of
seven levels and a number of smaller pyramids and buildings. Linking the Great
Pyramid with the Northeast Complex is a large zigzag-shaped ramp with buildings
located around it. The structure is surrounded by a plaza, or central square,
and by a large wall dividing it into two separate sections. In this section there
were benches and evidence of deep pits where offerings of fish and other marine
life took place in order to seek the favour of the gods.
On the site is a museum which contains a collection of ceramics,
textiles, tools, artefacts and remains of plants and animals that were found at
Huaca Pucllana. It also depicts the way that it would have looked and have been
Although the site may appear to many as a collection of adobe
ruins and does not present the magnificent buildings to be found at some of the
other archaeological site of the later civilisations, it does represent an
important stage in the development of civilisation in the area. The positioning
of a number of effigies dressed as the Lima
would have dressed are scattered around the site and this enhances the visit.
The archaeological site at El Brujo (which means witch doctor) derived its name from the fact that the site was used to perform Shamanic rituals. It is situated on the coast of Peru near Trujillo and consists of two pyramids, Huaca El Brujo (or Huaca Cortada) and Huaca Cao Viejo (or Huaca Blanca), constructed of adobe (mud bricks) by the Moche (also known as the Mochia). The Moche were hunter-gathers who inhabited the region of Northern Peru from the 1st to the 8th century and were one of the most important cultures in ancient Peru.
The site is situated on a natural terrace 17 meters above sea level with an area of 247 acres close to the seashore, and contains evidence of human settlements dating back to 3000 BC. Near the complex is the ancient settlement of Huaca Prieta whilst the pyramids indicate a ritual aspect of the Moche society.
The Huaca Cao Viejo consists of a platform mound approximately 100 feet tall with six levels. Its walls are decorated with brightly coloured relieves depicting geometric designs, supernatural creatures, sailing images, collections of animals and images of sacrifice. It also includes a series of carved figures known as the ‘Warrior Narratives’ as they depict warriors in marching formation and leading prisoners to be sacrificed. At the bottom of the pyramid is a large plaza used for ceremonial purposes including the practice of human sacrifice,
The site is most famous for the remains of a mummified woman known as the Lady of Cao who was found there in 2006. She is thought to be a woman aged between 25 or 30 years old at the time of her death, which is believed to have occurred between 300 to 400 AD during the process of childbirth. The lady was found buried in a grave 3 metres deep in a richly painted room in the Huaca Cao Viejo. Also buried with her were a number of other people including a teenage girl who had been sacrificed, which indicates her status as being a member of Moche nobility. Wrapped in several layers of textiles, which maintained her body in a remarkable state of preservation, including her internal organs and skin – the tattoos on her skin are clearly visible. Buried with her were a number of dresses, jewellery, pottery, weapons and other objects. All items, including the mummy, are now displayed in a museum which opened at the site in 2009, although photographs are not allowed inside.
Being built of adobe the site has suffered considerable erosion over the years and work is now being undertaken not only to preserve and protect it but also to determine if it the site still has any secrets to give up.
The archaeological site of Chan Chan is located near the Pacific coast, close to the city of Trujillo in Northern Peru. Covering an area of 36 square miles, the city was the centre of government for the Chimú kingdom. The Chimú, which developed from the Moche, were to become the prominent civilisation in the region from around 850 to 1470 AD until they were subdued by the Inca.
The Chimú’s economy was based on agriculture, which, due to the dry region, required a sophisticated network of irrigation canals and wells. They developed and constructed systems for irrigation that were not known in Europe until the late 19th century.
The Empire of the Chimú stretched 600 miles from just south of Ecuador down to central Peru. Their main city, Chan Chan, which means "Sun Sun" it is the largest pre-Colombian city in South America. Constructed of adobe (mud bricks) it is the largest adobe city in the world with some 10,000 structures and is believed to have housed over 60,000 people.
There are a number of areas in Chan Chan, but the main one and only one open to visitors is the Tschudi Citadel , which is believed to be one of the later citadels built in the city. Named after the archaeologist who studied the complex, it is possible that it housed up to 1000 people connected to the leader’s household and administrative requirements.
The city’s structure shows the social and political status of its occupants, with the nobility and elite living in the centre, whilst the common people would have had their homes and work place outside; probably not even being able to enter the city. Composed of ten citadels, each of which is surrounded by walls as high as 30 feet, each citadel belonged to a specific ruler. When the ruler died, he was buried in the palace and a new royal compound was built by his successor. Each ruler would be buried with gold and silver and many people to attend to him in the afterlife. Although only ten citadels have been found due to the fact that each would have their own citadel and the length of time that they habited Chan Chan, it is quite possible that a number of other citadels have still to be uncovered.
Also to be seen in the city are living quarters, ramps (there are no stairs in the city), plazas, gardens, streets and alleyways, workshops, warehouses, a large reservoir, and temples decorated with elaborate friezes - many of which show geometric figures, birds, fish, and mythological creatures and can stretch for hundreds of feet - all of which are surrounded by thick defensive walls.
Excavation work at the site began in the mid-1960s and Chan Chan became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986; although it is still vulnerable to rains, flooding and earthquakes, which emphasises the urgency of the work that is being carried out in order to preserve and renovate it. Due to the deterioration of the adobe most of the site is in poor condition and many of the buildings have been reconstructed with the carved wall reliefs being reconstructed in fibre glass and plastic.
Located near the city of Trujillo at the mouth of the Moche River in Northern Peru, the Huaca de la Luna (Temple of the Moon) together with the Huaca del Sol (Temple of the Sun) formed part of the ancient city of Huacas de Moche which was the capital city of the Moche people. The remnants of Huacas de Moche can still be seen between the two structures indicating a densely packed community consisting of residential, administration, workshops, cemeteries and religious buildings. The buildings contained finely finished floors and walls plastered with mud and then painted. Many of the buildings contained storage areas and the remains of hearths, grinding stones, pottery and food. Many of the remains have also been found to have dated to the 1st century BC which preceded the Moche and also to those of the Chimú and Inca which followed them.
Positioned to the west of Huacas de Moche is the Huaca de la Luna, which served as the principal temple for the Moche. It measures 290 metres by 210 metres and rises to over 30 metres in height. Although the Huaca de la Luna is smaller than the Huaca del Sol it is the one which is open to visitors and has provided the most information about the Moche, for whereas the Huaca del Sol was looted and severely damaged by the Spanish in the 17th century the Huaca de la Luna remained relatively untouched.
The Huaca de la Luna consists of three main platforms, each with its own specific function. The northern platform, has suffered extensive damage but the central and southern platforms managed to escape this and have been the focus of excavations. In the central platform archaeologists found a number of graves of people buried with fine ceramics, which suggests that it was used for the burial of the Moche elite. Many of the rooms still show brightly painted murals indicating that it was used for ceremonial and religious purposes.
The eastern platform was the site for ritual human sacrifices which are depicted in a number of painted ceramics found at the site. 42 skeletons of adolescent and adult males have been found at the foot of the platform with many indicating that the cause of death was a severe blow to the head.
The structure incorporated patios and enclosures many with brightly painted murals and friezes. These patios and enclosures where connected by a series of ramps and corridors with the whole structure being developed over 600 years and consisted of six principal construction phases.
The structures at this site are built of adobe, with many of the bricks bearing the mark of the manufacturer. Like in Chan Chan (see above), these structures have not weathered well over the years but the excavation and renovation being carried out does make it an excellent place to visit.