Cuzco—Ancient Capital of the Incas
By Awake! correspondent in Peru
WE CAUGHT our breath as our airplane made a wide banking turn and swooped down into the narrow valley. We were about to land at the historic city of Cuzco, Peru. Even though the city is situated at over 11,000 feet [3,400 m], rugged mountains loomed higher, making our approach to the runway seem very dangerous. Happily, we made a safe landing. It was going to be a pleasure to see this famous city of 275,000 inhabitants, which was at one time the capital of the immense Inca Empire.
The ancient Inca culture is still evident in Cuzco. Many of the city’s residents still speak Quechua. In fact, some eight million people in the Andes mountain range still speak this ancient tongue. Recently, the Quechua community persuaded the authorities to change the name of Cuzco to Qosqo, since the phonetic pronunciation of Qosqo is closer to the original name in Quechua.
An Ancient City
Historians say that this city had its beginning some 1,500 years before the birth of Christ. That was about the time that Moses led Israel out of Egypt. Then, about 600 years ago, Pachacuti, the ninth Inca emperor, picked up a handful of clay and shaped it into a model of a new, redesigned city of Cuzco. Pachacuti began ruling 89 years before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores in about 1527. Under his supervision the city was transformed into a well-laid-out metropolis with thousands of homes, the basis of modern Cuzco.
According to some natives, the city was divided into four sections, beginning at the center where the plaza, or city square, was located. This plaza was known in Quechua as the huacaypata, a place for celebrations, relaxation, and drinking. Some experts in the Quechua language claim that “Cuzco,” or “Qosqo,” means “the Navel of the World.” Thus, the center of Cuzco’s plaza became the chawpi, or “the center of the center of the Inca Empire.”
From Cuzco, the Inca emperor ruled over parts of present-day Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru—much of it rich and fertile land. The people succeeded in agriculture by building multilevel terraces at different altitudes. On these productive terraces, they domesticated some of the plants that still provide much of the world’s food, such as the white potato and the lima bean.
Travel through Inca territory would have been virtually impossible without the excellent system of roads that spanned the empire. In picturesque Cuzco one cannot help but imagine the ancient Incas arriving with their caravans of llamas, the Andean beast of burden. Their fine cargo included precious stones, copper, silver, and gold.
Gold was abundant, but it was not used as money by the Incas. Because of its metallic-yellow glitter, gold was associated with the god of the Incas, the sun. Often, their temples and palaces were adorned with gold plates. They even made a golden garden, with animals and plants sculptured in solid gold. Imagine the impressive sight of ancient Cuzco, its gold-plated buildings glittering in the sun! Understandably, such an abundance of gold attracted the greedy Spanish invaders, who conquered and looted it in 1533.
Cuzco’s Unique Architecture
The Incas bequeathed to modern Cuzco a beautiful and unique style of stone architecture. Many of the present-day structures are built on stone walls that have remained intact for hundreds of years. Some stones were cut to fit precisely into specific places in the walls. One wall, which has become a popular tourist attraction, has such a stone, with twelve different angles! Because of their multiple-angle cuts, these stones are like keys that fit only into their corresponding keyholes.
Inca stonemasons were master builders. Without the aid of modern technology, they were able to cut stones so accurately that once placed, not even a knife blade could be inserted between them! Some of these stones weigh several tons each. How these ancient people were able to acquire such skills remains a mystery.
Religion in Cuzco
Having accepted the Catholic religion, the Quechua natives in general are no longer considered sun worshipers. However, they retain pagan animistic beliefs that predate even the sun worship of the Incas. They still celebrate the harvest season with offerings to what they call Pacha-Mama, from a Quechua word that means “mother earth.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses are carrying out their program of Bible education in Peru with much success. For some time now, the Watch Tower Society has provided Bible literature in Quechua so that the Quechua-speaking population may receive the Kingdom message in their native tongue. There are six locations where Christian meetings are conducted in that language.
Cuzco is no longer thought of as the navel of the world, but tourists flock to visit this unique city. Maybe you too will someday visit fascinating Peru!
[Pictures on page 18, 19]
1. Aerial view of Cuzco with its city square
2. Incas cut stones so accurately that a knife blade will not fit between them
3. Typical Peruvian dress
4. Llamas are the Andean beast of burden