Inca Ruins of Cusco & Ollantaytambo

I’d heard so much about Cusco even before I arrived. How the city was the capital of the Incan empire, how it was laid out in the shape of a panther, one of the three animals representing the upper world, the current world and the underworld (the others are the condor and the snake), how high up it was (3,300m altitude), how touristic the town was and how the ruins at Saqsaywauman were impressive beyond belief.

There is the pretty, gracious Plaza Mayor, known by the Incas as Hucaypata, or Warriors Square. Like all Spanish plazas, there is a church, and also a cathedral forming one side. It was within the confines of Plaza Mayor that the Spanish conquistador, Francisco Pizarro, claimed Cusco under the colonial crown. It was also here that Tupac Amaru, famed leader of the local resistance movement, was executed. On the 24th of June each year, Plaza Mayor plays host to the Festival of the Sun, the Inti Raymi.

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Cusco streets
Cusco streets and Inca walls

Cusco is filled with cobbled streets bordered by Inca walls, the exquisite stonework still visible and almost-perfect, after 500 years of wars, earthquakes and the ravage of time. There are lovely artesanial shops in Cusco selling handicrafts, jewelry, art, clothing and food – we pop into a coca shop for a hot mug of coca tea laced with ginger and honey. The shop also sells coca chocolate, a delicious combination.

Saqsaywuaman Cusco II
Stonework at Saqsaywauman

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Not far from the town are the ruins of Saqsaywauman, the remains of a walled fortress. Viewed from the air, the site is the head of Cusco’s puma shape. The fortress was strategically important during Manco Inca’s siege of Spanish-held Cusco. The stones are so closely fitted that not even a piece of paper will slide between. They are finished with rounded corners and form interlocking shapes, which has helped the site stand against earthquakes.

Saqsaywuaman Cusco I
Three tiered walls of Saqsaywauman

A little further on in the Sacred Valley is the town of Ollantaytambo, sitting in the shadow of some marvellous Inca ruins on the hill behind the town. The site was built by the Inca king Pachacuti, arguably the greatest Inca builder during the empire. Machu Picchu was also built during his reign. There are canals, water irrigation systems, water fountains that still, today, channel water into beautiful stone baths, an observatory, terraces, double lintels on temple doorways, pink granite foundations of ancient Sun Temples, defense fortifications and the remains of maize storehouses.

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We also stop in the town of Chinchero for a demonstration of weaving and how the local wool is dyed with natural colours. The wool from alpaca and llama is washed with plant extracts, then dyed using plants and minerals. The ladies of Chinchero also demonstrated their weaving techniques and the meaning of the symbology in their work.

Traditional weaving, ChincheroMaking yarn Chinchero
Weaving and making yarn, Chinchero

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