Cuzco World Heritage Site

Brief Description

Situated in the Peruvian Andes, Cuzco developed, under the Inca ruler Pachacutec, into a complex urban centre with distinct religious and administrative functions. It was surrounded by clearly delineated areas for agricultural, artisan and industrial production. When the Spaniards conquered it in the 16th century, they preserved the basic structure but built Baroque churches and palaces over the ruins of the Inca city.


Long Description

Cuzco and the old villages still retain traces of land occupation from the Inca Empire to preserve, in a more global manner, an archaeological heritage, which has become susceptible to the effects of urbanization.


Situated at 3,400 m above sea level, in a fertile alluvial valley fed by several rivers in the Peruvian Andes, Cuzco was developed under the Inca ruler Pachacutec into a complex urban centre with distinct religious and administrative functions. It was surrounded by clearly delineated areas for agricultural, artisanal and industrial production.


In 1536, within the Spanish colonial domain from which it did not definitively emerge until after the proclamation of independence (1821) and the victory of Bolívar at Ayacucho. From its complex past, woven with significant events and beautiful legends, the city has retained a remarkable monumental ensemble and a coherence that recent changes have not compromised.


Inca mythology attributes the foundation of the city to the Inca Manco Cápac: according to tradition the golden sceptre that the Sun had given him was thrust into the fertile soil of Cuzco to designate the emplacement of the capital.


In actuality, Cuzco appears to have been a centre of only mediocre importance until the 15th century when the power of the Incas was affirmed following the battle against the Chancas invaders: its reconstruction, directed by two great Incas, Pachacutec (1438-71) and Tupac Yupanqui (1471-93) lasted 20 years and, supposedly, employed 50,000 men.


The first of these rulers (to whom is also attributed the construction of Machu Picchu) wished to create an ideal city that would respond to the multiple functions of a capital: after having canalized the two principal rivers (Saphi and Tullumayo), whose flooding periodically menaced the inhabitants of the old Cuzco, he laid down the foundations of an extremely hierarchical organization in which the urban centre united administrative and religious functions, whereas the outlying areas and especially the satellite-towns situated in a cultivated zone (Cayaucachi, Claquillchaca, Picchu, Quillipata, Carmenca, Huacapunco, etc.) were units of agricultural, artisanal and industrial production.


This tripartite division must have stirred the imagination of the conquistadores, as did the orthogonal layout of the streets of the Ciudad Nobiliaria, barely inflected to accommodate land erosion. The European invaders respected the plan of this rational city, so curiously close to the idea cities of the Renaissance. They limited themselves to the destruction of the principal edifices charged with political and religious symbolism, and constructed new monuments, aggressively Catholic and Spanish, on the admirable cyclopean masonry of the demolished walls of these buildings.


The Huaccapayta, centre of the Inca empire, bordered by the palaces of Pachacutec, Viracocha and Huayna Capac, is the present-day Plaza de Armas; the palace of Viracocha was demolished in order to build the cathedral begun in 1560; the Acclahuasi to construct the convent of Santa Catalina; the Coricaucha, partially destroyed in order to make space for the convent of Santo Domingo de Guzman, etc.


Cuzco is today an amazing amalgam of the Inca capital and the colonial city. Of the first, it preserves impressive vestiges, especially its plan: walls of meticulously cut granite or andesite, rectilinear streets running within the walls, ruins of the Sun Temple of which the Golden Garden, once covered with sculptures of precious metals, was pillaged by the Spanish soldiers to enrich the coffers of Charles V. Of the colonial city, there remain the freshly whitewashed squat houses, the palace and the marvellous Baroque churches which achieved the impossible fusion of the Plateresco, Mudejar or Churrigueresco styles with that of the Inca tradition.



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