For many of us from homes outside of South America, Cuzco, Peru is almost synonymous with the Andes Mountains and is known as the “gateway” to Machu Picchu (where one boards the train for the ride to Machu Picchu). For contemporary tourists, that is certainly true, but the significance of the city is much deeper.
Cuzco (“Cusco” in English) is Peru’s historical “Capital City” and was given recognition by UNESCO as “Humanity’s Cultural Patrimony” in 1983. While the city was already in existence before the Inca Empire (1400s to the mid-1500s when the Spanish conquerors defeated the Incas), for the Incas it was not only the capital of the Empire, but also the Andean world’s most important sacred city. The Inca (“King”, in English) Pachakuteq, gave the city the shape of a puma (mountain lion or cougar) and was responsible for the construction of numerous temples and public buildings, in addition to the city wall.
After the Spanish conquered the Incas, they destroyed many of the Inca buildings and temples, using their foundations as the foundation of new Spanish churches and public buildings and “recycled” many of the cut granite stones and smaller natural stones for use as building materials.
The Cathedral was constructed from March 11, 1560 and took 94 years to complete (concluding in July 1654), Many of the stones used in its construction came from the Incan temple above Cuzco, Sacsaywama, and the Incan palace, Kiswaekancha, upon whose foundations the Cathedral was built.
The Spanish did save a small section of the Quorikancha, or “Temple of the Sun”, when they built the Church and Convent of Santo Domingo on top of the Incan temple’s foundations. That church is the oldest in South America. The Quorikancha was the most important temple in the Inca Empire, dedicated primarily to Inti, the Sun God. It was one of the most revered temples of the capital city of Cuzco.
While it is hard to tell from the photograph above, the Incan stone walls were built by fitting the stones tightly together (all carved by hand, many with mortise and tenon joints). Archaeologists have come up with very plausible explanations of how the Incas quarried, moved, carved and erected the stones to create their stunning temples and royal buildings. It should be noted that the more common buildings were constructed out of natural (undressed), smaller stones (not always granite), giving the religious and royal buildings the elevated status they warranted.