Saqsaywaman was begun some time after 1438. It is often referred to as a fortress, but it began as the House of the Sun, sitting on the spot where the head of the puma formed by the Cusco valley, lay. It was a place of sacrifice and ritual. Extremely holy. It would have been built by the people of the Inca, probably as payment of taxes since the Inca didn`t use money. The largest of the limestone blocks used to build the foundations of the triple-walled bulwark protecting the labyrinthine temple complex is 28` high and weighs some 140 metric tonnes. At the entrance you are greeted by women in Incan clothing and their alpacas. A photo-op that provides them with some income and tourists with picturesque shots.
Oddly, the rest of my pictures at Saqsaywaman are slightly over-exposed. It does make me think of how rarified the air and light quality can become at altitude. What`s interesting in these is the rainbow effect that has appeared. I often wonder what touched my camera that afternoon.
What happened to the magnificent black andesite walls of Saqsaywaman is a story typical of conquest. The Spanish began using them in the 1500s to build houses. Then, in 1559, the andesite was dedicated to building the Cathedral Santo Domingo on the Plaza de Armes not far away.
Beside it rests the smaller but no less impressive Iglesia de la Compañía de Jésus. The Jesuits built this church around 1571, only to have to rebuild it after the earthquake of 1650. Similarly to the Cathedral and Convent Santo Domingo, it was constructed on an important Incan site, the palace of the last Emperor to rule over a complete empire, Huayna Cápac.
Viewed from the steps of the Cathedral, knowing that it is on the site of a major Incan temple and that the Iglesia to the left is on the site of a major Incan palace, it`s easy to imagine people moving about the square in those times as one watches the people of today gathering there.
Korikancha was the Incan Temple of the sun. Its walls were lined with gold and it was filled with gold statues and artifacts, most of which were used to pay ransoms to the Spanish. Its exquisite perfect walls were used to create, in part, the foundations of the Convent of Santo Domingo and when restoration was being done after an earthquake in 1953, part of the Cloisters was removed to reveal part of the Temple.
When you get to the bottom of it, Cusco is an incredible melding of Incan and Spanish. The paintings in the Cathedral were done in Peru by locals, so you see imagery in them that does not exist in other Catholic churches. The churches are constructed of stone from other holy sites in the area, so other than having a slightly more garish (in comparison) style they probably resemble the monoliths from which they came.
I don`t imagine that it was a pretty time in the history of the Inca people; the conquered rarely come out of things well and the healing can take centuries. Around the same time as the Spanish conquest of Peru was happening, England and France were battling over the New World. To this day, Canada lives with the results of those wars – both with the First Nations peoples and between the English and French. One thing I fervently wish is that the First Nations peoples had left a physical history such that the Inca peoples did. We might have a better understanding of our own history.