Cusco: The Capital City of the Incas

Photo ©Jean Janssen. A view of Cusco from the Incan ruins at Sacsayhuamán, Peru

This is actually the part of our trip to Peru that Boris was most looking forward to, a visit to Cusco, the Capital City of the Incas. We will have a full day tour, saving a few sites to visit tomorrow. Tonight is our special farewell dinner. You’ll notice that I spell the name of the city as both Cuzco and Cusco in these blog posts. Since the Incas had no written language, the Spanish upon hearing the name wrote it as Cuzco. However, about 40 years ago the mayor of the city changed it to Cusco, believing it to be closer to the Quechua language which does not have a z sound. Cuzco is still used in Spain and other Latin American countries. Tour in Peru.

Photo © Jean Janssen Sacsayhuaman

After breakfast at the fabulous Monestario where they served excellent eggs Benedict, my breakfast favorite, we headed out in a twin vans to the Inca citadel Sacsayhuamán just outside the city. Harvey is trying to keep us ahead of the crowds and traffic. Sacsayhuamán sounds a like “sexy woman” in English and is a running joke between Harvey and Carlos, our local guide and tour director, that this is Carlos’ favorite site based on name along.

Photo © Jean Janssen Sacsayhuaman

The citadel ruins sit on a hillside with views of the city of Cusco. The Incan structures date from the 15th century, but artifacts show people had settled on the site since 900 CE. The most impressive aspect of the structures is that they were made of large stone so precisely cut that fit together without mortar. The Spanish invaders were so impressed that the wrote about the structure noted that even a pin could not be inserted between the stones. Even today, many earthquakes later, there is only one visible crack in the stone surfaces.

Photo © Jean Janssen The only crack in the 15th century Incan fortress Sacsayhuaman

While often overshadowed by Machu Picchu, “[t]he fortress of Sacsayhuaman was the biggest architectural work realized by the Incas.” Visitors should keep in mind that the construction was completed without the use of iron or steel to cut the stone. Our Adventure Journal Sitting at the northern access point to the capital city of Cusco, “Sacsayhuaman was the most important military fort of the Empire…[and has been] compared for its greatness with the Roman Colosseum.”

Photo © Jean Janssen Sacsayhuaman

In addition to welcoming daily visitors, today Sacsayhuamán is the site of several annual Incan festivals including the celebration of the winter solstice. To reach Sacsayhuaman from the city center, it is a 30 minute strenuous walk or you can take a taxi or tour. We had our first encournter there with woman in traditional dress with baby alpacas on a leash. You are discouraged from paying to take pictures, as it is the practice to take the baby animals from their mothers too early.

Photo © Jean Janssen Sacsayhuaman In the upper left of the photo is the Christo Blanco statue, about a 10-15 minute walk from the Incan ruins..

After Sacsayhuamán, we went to a nearby textile shop where were shown how to test for authentic baby alpaca wool products. “Baby Alpaca” refers to juvenile, nat necessarily infant, animals. It was no surprise that our visit started with a local alcoholic beverage. The clothing was quite beautiful and offered at a good value, particularly when compared to the prices we would have to pay at home.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Outside the market in Cusco, Peru

Next we headed back into town for a trip to the city’s most famous market. Carlos gave us a project and a little test of our Spanish. He gave us each 20 soles and took us to purchase something we could make for dinner. We all knew tonight was our special farewell dinner and that the details were being kept secret. Our group bought everything from breads, fruits, and vegetables, to chocolates. Boris and I selected some chorizo (sausage).

Photo ©Jean Janssen. A local craftswoman and vendor who went shared our market purchases with in Cusco, Peru.

When we completed the test, Carlos announced that we were now going to meet some of the locals who worked near the market and donate the food to them. It was an inspired and inspiring task. Some of the vendors worked long hours and supported large multigenerational families. Our chorizo went to a mother with 5 children who she supported by crafting and selling handmade dolls outside the market. In all, we shared our purchases with about 12 local families.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Near the market in Cusco, Peru

Our last stop before a very late lunch was the most important temple in the Incan Empire, Coricancha, the golden temple dedicated to the Incan sun god, Inti, right in the heart of the city. It is believed that much of the temple was covered in gold and in silver. Highlighted in the temple of the sun was the the trapezoidal shape common in Incan design. It is also suggested that the design mimicked the rays of the sun.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Walls of, Coricancha temple at the Convent of Santo Domingo in Cusco, Peru.
Note the trapezoidal shaped windows common in Incan design.
Photo ©Jean Janssen Convent of Santo Domingo, Cusco, Peru.

“The Spanish colonists built the Convent of Santo Domingo on the site, demolishing the temple and using its foundations for the cathedral. They also used parts of the building for other churches and residences. Construction took most of a century. This is one of numerous sites where the Spanish incorporated Inca stonework into the structure of a colonial building. Major earthquakes severely damaged the church, but the Inca stone walls, built out of huge, tightly interlocking blocks of stone, still stand due to their sophisticated stone masonry.” Wikipedia.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The last flowers of summer as winter begins at theConvent of Santo Domingo, Cusco, Peru
Photo ©Jean Janssen. View of Cuzco from the Balcony of Convent Santo Domingo at Coricancha

The Temple had a fabulous setting. I snuck out to the balcony for a wonderful view of Cusco. As we excited to the square, there were lots of vendors, so visitors beware. There were also more of the women with baby alpacas on a leash. It made me so sad for these animals who are taken from their mothers too soon. Be sure not to encourage the practice by paying them.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Door within a door at the Convent of Santo Domingo at Coricancha, Cusco, Peru

Leaving the temple, we returned by vans to our hotel. There was a Pisco tasting and then lunch at the art museum just across the Plaza. We had the afternoon free to wander the streets, shop, or nap. Boris chose option 3. In the evening we re-boarded our vans for dinner at another monastery. We all recognized our caterer from our picnic in Ollantaytambo. It was another fabulous meal in a gorgeous setting. It truly was a red carpet evening.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Our farewell dinner setting in a monastery in Cusco, Peru
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Our farewell dinner setting in a monastery in Cusco, Peru
Photo ©Jean Janssen. The staircase ceiling in the monastery which was the setting of our farewell dinner setting in Cusco, Peru

After dinner it was back to the hotel for our final night at the Monasterio Hotel. Tomorrow we check out, do some additional touring in Cusco, and flight back to Lima. We’ll have a couple of hours in the airport hotel in Lima before boarding our flight back to Houston.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Our farewell dinner setting in a monastery in Cusco, Peru
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Our farewell dinner setting in a monastery in Cusco, Peru

About travelbynatasha

I am a retired attorney who loves to travel. Several years ago I began working on a Century Club membership achieved by traveling to 100 "foreign" countries. Today, at 49 years of age the count is at 82. Many were visited on land based trips. Some were cruise ports. Some were dive sites. Most have been fascinating.
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