If you like history and ancient sites, than Cusco is the place for you. Cusco has a long and colorful history filled with the past imprint of civilizations living in the area long before the Incas even arrived. However, the thing that interests most people are the Inca Archaeological sites.
Let us turn back the clock to around the 12th Century, the first Inca King, Manco Capac, according to legend, Capac was ordered by the Sun God Inti to find the best place where he could plunge his golden rod into the ground until it disappeared. This is where he founded Cusco, the navel of the earth. The Inca empire’s main expansion was in the last one hundred years before the arrival of the Spanish. The ninth Inca Pachacutec was responsible for many of the Archaeological sites that you may visit today like Qorikancha and Ollantaytambo.
In Inca times, Qorikancha was the richest temple in the Inca Empire; the temple was covered with gold. The inside walls were covered with gold sheets and life sized gold and silver replicas of corn, altars, llamas and babies and a replica of the sun. It took the Spanish months to melt all of this down and send all the gold to Spain.
After the conquest, Francisco Pizzario gave the site to his brother, Juan who after he died left it to the Dominicans who built the church Santa Domingo. Today, visitors can see the Inca foundations with the Spanish Church built on top. The church is an impressive example of Spanish architecture and you should take the time to explore the impressive art collections.
In Hatunrumiyoc- an alley that runs alongside the Cathedral, you will find impressive Inca Walls that have Spanish colonial buildings that are built on the foundations. Nevertheless, one of the main points of interest is the twelve-sided stone. You will know that you are close to the site when you see the crowds gathered -this is the only stone of its kind known.
There are four ruins that are close to Cusco that you should visit. The first and closest to Cusco is Sacsaywaman. In 1536, the fort was the site of one of the bitterest battles of the Spanish conquest. More than two years after the Spanish entry into Cusco, Manco Inca recaptured the lightly guarded Sacsaywaman and used it as a base to lay siege to the conquistadors in Cusco. Sacsaywaman has both religious and military significance as it stood guard over Cusco, the name Sacsaywaman means in Satisfied Falcon in Quechua.
What you see today is only 20 percent of the original structure, soon after the Spanish arrived they tore down many of the walls to build their own houses, but luckily they left the larger more important stones for us to enjoy today.
Moving from Sacsaywaman is the fascinating ruin of Qénqo. Qenqo means zigzag and as such, the ruin is an interesting mix of niches, steps and extraordinary symbolic carvings, including the zigzagging channels that gave this site its names.
Next is Pukapukara- this location has a great view of Cusco. The name means Red Fort, although it is thought to have been a hunting lodge or a guard post. The site consists of residential chambers, storerooms and an esplanade with the best views.
Lastly, you have Tambomachay, which were Inca ceremonial stone baths that channeled spring water through fountains that are still operational today. There are some theories that suggest that the site was used as an Inca water cult.
South of the City of Cusco, there are even more fascinating ruins to discover. Around a 30 minute drive from the city is Tipon, an Inca site with some impressive terracing and an ingenious irrigation system.
The pre Inca ruin of Piquillacta is the only major pre Inca ruin in the area. Built by the Wari People around 1100 AD, it was used as a ceremonial center.
Not far from Piquillacta is Rumicolca, built on the foundations of a Wari temple.
Cusco is full of interesting ancient sites to visit, every day in the Plaza Regocijo there are free walking tours that will take you to all the wonderful sites in central Cusco. This service is offered in both English and Spanish and the guides are very informative.
You might decide to book a city tour with our dedicated specialists here at Let’s Go Peru. Cusco is like nothing you will experience anywhere else in the world so book your tour to this wonderful ancient Inca city today.