Within the Sacred Valley of the Incas are many historical and archaeological sites which played a significant part in the Inca civilisation and in the downfall of the Inca Empire at the hands of the Spanish. The sites stretch along the length of the valley and portray the history and lives of the Incas and the skills of their builders.
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; 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.
Sacsayhuaman, which is located just outside of Cusco, is a magnificent Inca fortress whose ramparts consist of three large parallel walls zigzagging for over 400m.
Its name is translated as 'speckled falcon' or 'speckled head' as Cusco was set out in the form of a puma whose head was the hill of Sacsayhuaman. 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 up to 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 its’ defenders.
The fortress is constructed on three Terraces in a 3-tiered zig-zag manner and took 77 years to construct, the stones, some of which were brought from over 35km away, are placed with razor-sharp precision. It is thought that the bottom terrace represents the snake world, the second terrace represents the puma and the third represents the condor world, but it is not known for sure.
Sacsayhuaman played an important part in the final defeat of the Inca Empire by the Spanish. Following that defeat, it took the Spaniards 24 years to dismantle it with the stones being used to build temples and houses, while many were also used in the construction of the Cusco Cathedral.
Ollantaytambo is situated at the top of steep terracing, which provided excellent defences.
After Manco Inca was defeated by the Spanish at Sacsayhuaman he retreated to Ollantaytambo and held off Francisco Pizarro's younger brother Hernando. The complex was still under construction at the time of the conquest and was never completed, something that can be seen by the lugs still on some of the stone and the positioning of some of the blocks.
Hernando led a force of 70 cavalry, 30 foot soldiers, and a large contingent of natives to capture Manco Inca. The Inca's forces, joined by neighbouring jungle tribes, rained down showers of arrows, spears, and rocks upon the Spanish troops. The Incas also flooded the plains below their stronghold making it difficult for the horses to manoeuvre and eventually forcing him to retreat. Ollantaytambo became the only place ever to have resisted attacks from the Spanish. However, their victory was short-lived as the Spanish returned with a force four times the size of their previous force. Resulting in Manco Inca retreating to his jungle stronghold and Ollantaytambo falling into the hands of the Spanish.
At the top of steep terracing, there are a number of buildings with precision block work for the prestigious buildings but for more humble ones the stonework is not so precise, although still good. For everyday buildings and walls, common drywalling was used. For the temples, a better standard of work was used.
Q’Enqo is the large rocky outcrops that the Incas believed possessed a spiritual force it is an example of a rock being carved to show complex patterns which included steps, seats, and religious symbolic elements of the snake, puma, and the condor. The word Q’Enqo means labyrinth and the site has a number of subterranean labyrinths which are believed to have been connected to fertility. Inside the rock are large niches and what is believed to be an altar.
Pisac a small town about 35 km from Cuzco which is spread out on the mountains above the town. The ruins date from about the same time as Machu Picchu. Pisac is famous for the dyeing of wool and its weaving. It is also famous for its Market which sells not only foods and essential items but also souvenirs for tourists.
Tambomachay is commonly referred to as the Inca baths and was a site for ritual bathing. The excellent quality of the stonework suggests that it was used only by the nobility on ceremonial occasions. The ruins consist of 3 tired platforms. The top one holds four trapezoidal niches that were possibly used as seats. On the next level, an underground spring emerges directly from a hole at the base of the stonework and from there cascades down to the bottom platform, creating a cold shower just high enough for a person to stand under. From that platform the water divides into two channels, pouring to ground level.
At the end of the Valley, as far as most tourists are concerned, is Machu Picchu, and this is looked at in a separate article.
To see more photographs and take a virtual tour of the site click on the photoshow below.
All Photographs were taken by and are copyright of Ron Gatepain