Cusco is known for being the most sought after destination in Peru and possibly even in the entirety of Latin America. It attracts millions of visitors every year, a number which is constantly growing, as the word about the place gets out.
Situated high in the Andes, in what is known as the Altiplano, the high fertile plane that stretches between Peru and Bolivia, this fascinating place is extremely rich in history, due primarily to its status as the capital of the Inca empire. For history buffs, there is no better place to be, as the city is full of important sites and small but fascinating details in the narrow streets and squares which comprise the city centre.
At first glance, the city has the look of a Spanish colonial settlement, with magnificent Cathedrals and Churches, a multitude of beautiful squares with their fountains and stone arches, wooden balconies and terracotta tiled roofs. But visitors are soon amazed to discover among the winding streets and cobbled lanes, impressive remains of the Inca civilization which existed prior to the arrival of the Spanish. In fact, the more one looks, the one sees. It becomes clear that the Spanish in fact must have completely rebuilt or reorganised the place, using the existing structures built by the Inca, or earlier.
There can be no mistaking Inca or pre-Inca architecture with that of the Spanish, as the stone work and building techniques were entirely different. While many will be familiar with the Spanish or Mediterranean style architecture on which the city is based, these other elements are something most will never have seen, making for a totally unique experience.
For instance, in one case one can enter a colonial era church (Santo Domingo) and inside find the remains of the original temple of the sun used by the Inca, known as Coricancha. The chambers and walls that remain call to mind some of the exacting work seen in ancient Egypt, stones cut and fitted together with such precision that no cement was needed.
Indeed, that entire sector of the city centre boasts a network of narrow streets with the remains of architecture of a similar standard, all with Spanish colonial buildings constructed on top. It’s a pattern you’ll see everywhere, once you know what to look for.
Another stunning example, and perhaps the most impressive in the whole city, is La Piedra de Los 12 Angulos (12 Angle Stone), a wall composed of perfectly jointed, in some cases very large stones, cut in what appear to be an almost random pattern. It’s origin is mysterious, although most historians have dated it to Inca times. But regardless of its age and origin, it is one of the most stunning pieces or architecture in the world and is sure to spark debate and intrigue among groups seeing it for the first time. Amazingly, it looks like it could have been built last week, but again, the Spanish colonial architecture built on top, in this case the palace of the Archbishop, shows it to be at least that age.
You’ll soon see that the presence of the Inca is still deeply felt in Cusco, despite the brutal upheaval that occurred upon the arrival of the Europeans. The Quechua language is still widely spoken and the locals are deeply proud of their heritage and history, something made very evident through the countless festivals and events that have been practiced for centuries. The traditional costumes and artesan products that characterize this fascinating culture can be seen all around and you will have an abundance of opportunities to pick up a few up for yourself. The most popular choice is usually Andean knitwear, which is now famous all over the world.