Ollantaytambo (Sacred Valley of the Incas), Peru

The 14th century Inca city of Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley of the Incas; note the stone granary built into the mountain, about 1:3 of the way up, center-right; Peru

The 14th century Inca city of Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley of the Incas; note the stone granary built into the mountain, about 1/3 of the way up, center-right; Peru

Quaint Ollantaytambo (known to locals and visitors alike as Ollanta), Peru, is the best surviving example of Inca city planning, with narrow cobblestone streets that have been continuously inhabited since the 13th century.   The town is in the Sacred Valley of the Incas at an altitude of 9,160 feet (2,792 meters) above sea level, near Cuzco in the Southern Sierra region of Peru.  This is where the Incas retreated after the Spanish took Cuzco in 1533.  Much of the town is laid out in the same way as it was in Inca times. 

“The Incas built several storehouses (Quechua: qollqa) out of fieldstones on the hills surrounding Ollantaytambo.  Their location at high altitudes, where there is more wind and lower temperatures, defended their contents against decay.  To enhance this effect, the Ollantaytambo qollqas feature ventilation systems.  It is believed that they were used to store the production of the agricultural terraces built around the site.  Grain would be poured in the windows on the uphill side of each building, then emptied out through the downhill side window.” — Wikipedia

A typical street and houses, virtually unchanged since the 15th century, Ollantaytambo (Sacred Valley of the Incas), Peru

A typical street and houses, virtually unchanged since the 15th century, Ollantaytambo (Sacred Valley of the Incas), Peru

Walking through the side streets of Ollantaytambo (away from the narrow main street which is full of trucks, buses and automobiles on the way between Cuzco and Machu Picchu), we had a sense of stepping back 550 years in time.  Our guide had made arrangements for us to visit a home built in the late 1400s and still occupied by Inca descendants with the interior arrangement unchanged over the centuries — a dirt floor, a cooking fire in the corner (the thatched roof blackened by years of smoke), guinea pigs being raised in a corner, a log bed at the other end of the room, and an altar with offerings and family photographs.  

Ollantaytambo Fortress and Templo del Sol (center, at the top of the foreground mountain, 15th century), Ollantaytambo (Sacred Valley of the Incas), Peru

Ollantaytambo Fortress and Templo del Sol (center, at the top of the foreground mountain, 15th century), Ollantaytambo (Sacred Valley of the Incas), Peru

“The part of the hill occupied by Ollantaytambo Fortress facing the town is occupied by the terraces of Pumatallis, framed on both flanks by rock outcrops. Due to the impressive character of these terraces, the Temple Hill is commonly known as the Fortress; however, this is a misnomer as the main functions of this site were religious. The main access to the ceremonial center is a series of stairways that climb to the top of the terrace complex. At this point, the site is divided into three main areas: the Middle sector, directly in front of the terraces; the Temple sector, to the south; and the Funerary sector, to the north. The Temple sector is built out of cut and fitted stones in contrast to the other two sectors of the Temple Hill which are made out of fieldstones. It is accessed via a stairway that ends on a terrace with a half finished gate and the Enclosure of the Ten Niches, a one room building. Behind them there is an open space which hosts the Platform of the Carved Seat and two unfinished monumental walls. The main structure of the whole sector is the Sun Temple, an uncompleted building which features the Wall of the Six Monoliths. The Middle and Funerary sectors have several rectangular buildings, some of them with two floors; there are also several fountains in the Middle sector…The unfinished structures at the Temple Hill and the numerous stone blocks that litter the site indicate that it was still undergoing construction at the time of its abandonment.” — Wikipedia

The huge, steep terraces that guard the ruins of the Inca’s Ollantaytambo Fortress mark one of the few places where the Spanish conquistadors lost a major battle.  The rebellious Manco Inca had retreated to this fortress after his defeat at Sacsaywamán (above Cuzco).  In 1536, Hernando Pizarro, Francisco’s younger half-brother, led a force of 70 cavalrymen to Ollantaytambo, supported by large numbers of indigenous and Spanish foot soldiers, in an attempt to capture Manco Inca.  The conquistadors, showered with arrows, spears and boulders from atop the steep terracing, were unable to climb to the fortress.  In a brilliant move, Manco Inca flooded the plain below the fortress through previously prepared channels.  With the Spaniards’ horses bogged down in the water, Pizarro ordered a hasty retreat, chased down by thousands of Manco Inca’s victorious soldiers.  Yet the Inca victory would be short lived.  Spanish forces soon returned with a quadrupled cavalry force and Manco fled to his jungle stronghold in Vilcabamba.  — based on LonelyPlanet.com

The pathway at Ollantaytambo Fortress leading to Templo del Sol (the Temple of the Sun), Ollantaytambo, Peru

The pathway at Ollantaytambo Fortress leading to Templo del Sol (the Temple of the Sun), Ollantaytambo, Peru

 

Our intrepid explorer at Ollantaytambo Fortress hiking up to Templo del Sol (Temple of the Sun), Ollantaytambo, Peru

Our intrepid explorer at Ollantaytambo Fortress hiking up to Templo del Sol (Temple of the Sun), Ollantaytambo, Peru

 

Mortarless stone walls of Ollantaytambo Fortress showing the custom fitting of individual stones, Ollantaytambo, Peru

Mortarless stone walls of Ollantaytambo Fortress showing the custom fitting of individual stones, Ollantaytambo, Peru

The Temple of the Sun was like a calendar for the Incas and had specific purpose especially on the 21st June, the winter solstice and the 21st December, the summer solstice (Southern Hemisphere dates).

Three of the stone panels of the Wall of the Six Monoliths of the Templo del Sol (Temple of the Sun), Ollantaytambo, Peru

Three of the stone panels of the Wall of the Six Monoliths of the Templo del Sol (Temple of the Sun), Ollantaytambo, Peru

 

6 thoughts on “Ollantaytambo (Sacred Valley of the Incas), Peru

  1. Fab photos, Rich, definitely in my wish list of places to go. The smart explorer in yellow looks like she’s enjoying every minute!!!

    Like

  2. Really enjoyed your post.

    Having been in Argentina and Bolivia, I’m planning a trip to Peru as well this year and Ollantaytambo is on the list. I’ve found a potential homestay there, but I’m wondering how long to stay. How many days would you give it?

    Like

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