Cusco is the magnificent capital of the Inca Empire, founded in the 13th century. Perhaps the name comes from the Aymara language rather than from the Quechua spoken language of the Incas meaning “The navel and center of the world”. Cusco is located in the center of the Inca Empire (Tahuantinsuyo) at 3,400 meters above sea level. The Tahuantinsuyo included what today are Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and part of Chile, Argentina and Colombia.
The historic center of Cusco was proclaimed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1983. Located in the heart of the Andes, this city became under the government of the Inca Pachacutec in a complex urban center with differentiated religious and administrative functions. Its surrounding area was divided into clearly defined zones for agricultural, artisanal and manufacturing production. Unique testimony of the ancient Inca civilization, the city represents the sum of 3000 years of indigenous and autonomous cultural development in the Andes of southern Peru. By taking over the city in the sixteenth century, the Spanish conquerors retained their structure, but built churches and palaces on the ruins of the temples and monuments of the Inca city. It is a representative and exceptional example of the confluence of two different cultures; Inca and Hispanics, which over the centuries produced an exceptional cultural syncretism and configured a unique urban structure and architectural form.
Cusco city expands through the valley that forms the Huatanay River and the surrounding hills. Its climate is generally dry and temperate. It has two defined seasons: a dry one between April and October, with sunny days, cold nights with frosts and an average temperature of 13 ° C; and another rainy, from November to March, average temperature 12 ° C. On sunny days the temperature reaches 20 ° C, although the light wind of the mountain is usually cold.
Cusco valley is under the macro-climatic influence of large masses of air coming from the south-eastern jungle, as well as the Peruvian-Bolivian Altiplano winds that are rather cold and dry, as well as those coming from Patagonia, entering through the south-eastern zone and that generally involve climatic events of a larger scale. On the other hand, the local winds that are generated in its valleys and plains have the function of distributing heat and humidity throughout the day.
According to the legend collected by the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo migrated from Lake Titcaca on the advice of their father, the Sun God, arriving in the valley of Cusco, where they found the original capital of the Andean civilization By archaeological and anthropological data has been studied the true process of the occupation of Cusco. The consensus indicates that, due to the collapse of the Tiahuanaco culture, settled in the Peruvian – Bolivian altiplano, the population migrated. This group would have been gradually established in the valley of the Huatanay River, a process that would culminate in the founding of Cusco. The approximate date is not known, but thanks to vestiges it is agreed that the location where the city is located was already inhabited approximately 3000 years ago. However, considering only its location as the capital of the Inca Empire (mid-thirteenth century), Cusco appears as the oldest inhabited city in all of America.
It is attributed to the Pachacútec ruler that he made Cusco a spiritual and political center. Pachacútec came to power in 1438, and he and his son Tupac Yupanqui devoted five decades to the organization and conciliation of the different tribal groups under his rule, including the Lupacas and Collas. During the period of Pachacútec and Túpac Yupanqui, the domain of Cusco reached Quito, to the north, and up to the Maule River, to the south, culturally integrating the inhabitants of 4500 km of mountain ranges.
Cusco was the capital and seat of Government of the Inca civilization, becoming the most important city of the Andes and of South America.
After the arrival of the Spanish conquerors to Cusco in the year 1533, although officially in 1534, the city began to be built under Spanish architectural influence, mostly over the remainings of the Inca palaces and temples giving it a unique and special creation worldwide
The Inti Raymi or Fiesta del Sol, was the most important religious calendrical party in the time of the Incas. It was celebrated on the occasion of the winter solstice – the solar new year – for a town whose main object of worship was the god Inti (the sun), in the main square of Cusco.
The religious importance, festive ceremonial, social and political was such that the party spread throughout the Tahuantisuyo.
After the Spanish conquest, the ceremony was suppressed by the Catholic Church and the Andean society that celebrated the feast of the sun was dismembered.
In 1944 a group of intellectuals and artists from Cusco led by Humberto Vidal Unda, decided to recover the Inti Raymi of history and present it as a theatrical spectacle, reassessing the cultural heritage of the Cusco population. Since then, with very few exceptions, it has been represented every year on June 24, enriching and evolving by historical research.
The Inti Raymi in the time of the Incas was a religious ceremony, now it is a theater performance, evoking values and memories that are still relevant in our days, it also brings back to memory a time that lives in the heart of the people of Cusco.
When the Spaniards arrived in Cusco, they were surprised to learn that the children of the Sun brought out in procession the mummies of the Incas; then, brandishing the gospels, they decided to end the pagan festival forever. The solution of the missionaries who accompanied the conquerors was very simple: to replace the venerated remains with images of the virgin and the Catholic saints. Thus Corpus Christi was born in the ancient capital of Tawantinsuyo, a Catholic celebration that was impregnated with Andean nuances.
Thus, the Corpus Christi festival is celebrated throughout Peru since colonial times, reaching its peak in Cusco. Fifteen saints and virgins from various districts are charged in a lavish procession to the Cathedral, where the images “receive” the body of Christ embodied in the Sacred Host. At the sunrise the procession is established around the Plaza Mayor, having the images of five virgins dressed in richly embroidered robes, in addition to the images of four saints: San Sebastian, San Blas, San José and the Apostle Santiago, the latter mounted on a beautiful white horse. Finally, the delegations return to their respective churches amid hymns and prayers. All the towns and Cusco participate. It is the maximum religious celebration, where the processions, the adornment and embellishment of the streets and the fervor of the people, are an indescribable spectacle.
Qoyllur rit’i Festivity
The pilgrimage to the sanctuary of Lord of Qoyllur rit’i takes place every year in May or June, the date is not exact due to the Andean calendar.
The inhabitants of the district of Ocongate (province of Quispicanchis), in the department of Cusco, perform a ritual whose external symbol is the image of Christ, but its underlying object is the integration of man with nature, the people of this place are devotees of the Taytacha Qoyllur Rit’i (The Lord of the Snow). This is an ancient religious custom only practiced by the inhabitants of the Andes. Every year, a few days before the celebration of Corpus Christi, each village or clan sends a delegation of colorful dancers and “Ukukus” (mythological character that represents the Andean bear as messenger of the Apus (holy mountains) to the Chapel of the Lord of Qoyllur rit’i.
The ritual, associated with the fertility of the land and the worship of the Apus, is part of one of the most important festivities for Native nations in South America. The main ceremony takes place at the base of the snow-capped Ausangate, the ritual consists of a pilgrimage of shepherds, merchants and pilgrims who meet at the sanctuary of Sinakara in the village of Mawayany, at 4,600 meters above sea level.
Main tourist attractions
When you walk the streets of Cusco you will meet the mix of Inca palaces and temples and colonial churches and estates. Although the Spaniards destroyed many Inca buildings, many still remain, mainly in the San Blas and Santa Clara neighborhoods. There are plenty of beautiful Inca buildings among the cobble-stoned streets of Cusco like the temple-area Koricancha and the palace of Inca Roca. There are also Baroque structures from the colonial period like the Cathedral on the Main Square and the Church of Jesuit Company. San Blas is a picturesque neighborhood with many artisan workshops.
In the surroundings of Cusco you will admire fascinating archeological places such as the Sacsayhuaman Fortress, built by the Incas, as well as the archeological Inca sites of Qenko, Pukapukara and Tambomachay,
The Sacred Valley of the Incas, in the Peruvian Andes, is composed of numerous rivers that descend by gorges and small valleys; it has beautiful archaeological monuments and indigenous populations.
This valley was very appreciated by the Incas due to its special geographical and climatic qualities. It was one of the main production points for the wealth of its lands and place where the best corn of Peru is produced and considered one of the best in the world.
In the Sacred Valley of the Incas beautiful colonial towns that show their miscegenation in architecture, art and living culture are disseminated. On the route are the villages of Chinchero and its weavers, Písac and its artisan fair, Urubamba and its cosmopolitanism, Ollantaytambo, with its strength and its urban design that still respects the Inca parameters and Maras Moray with its Salt Mines. In the territories of the Sacred Valley, diverse communities have created community-based tourism products that delight both locals and strangers with their demonstration of a living culture preserved through time. Each of them is a world in itself, and together, they make up an unprecedented way to get to know the most traditional region of the South American Andes.
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Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu (“Old Mountain”) is the contemporary name given to this Inca llaqta (ancient Andean town) built before the fifteenth century on the rocky promontory that links the Machu Picchu, Putucusi and Huayna Picchu mountains on the eastern slope of the Cordillera Central, south of Peru and 2450 m.a.s.l., altitude of its main square.
Machu Picchu is considered at the same time a masterpiece of architecture and engineering, its peculiar architectural and landscape features, and the veil of mystery that has woven around much of the literature published on the site, have turned it into one of the most important tourist destinations on the planet.
Mountaineering in Cusco
The Andes Mountain Range is, after the Himalayas, the highest on the planet. In the department of Cusco three mountain ranges are located, with numerous snowy peaks, which constitute a beautiful natural scenery, and offer you possibilities to share its beautiful landscapes with ideal places for the practice of trekking. The Cordilleras of Vilcabamba, Vilcanota and Urubamba, have imposing snow peaks, among which the Ausangate (6,336 m.a.s.l.), the Salkantay (6,271 m.a.s.l) and the Veronica (5,750 m.a.s.l). Peru Nature Photography gives you the best programs to enjoy that locations enjoying of personalized trekking, birding and photographic tours.