Peru - Cusco

Inca walls, colorful costumes, churches built on top of palaces, citadels lost in the Andean heights, legendary roads-all the beauty of a glorious past that enfolds the visitors who arrives in Cusco, the sacred city of the Incas and archaeological capital of the Americas. Ever since US archaeologist Hiram Bingham discovered the citadel of Machu Picchu for the world, Cusco has fired the imagination of millions of travelers from all over the world who venture down the Inca Trail every year, headed for the summit of one of the world’s most extraordinary monuments. The city of Cusco, however, features many other attractions which by themselves would be enough to attract visitors. The main square, which the Incas called Huacaypata, the artisans quarter of San Blas, the Convent of Santo Domingo, built on top of the Temple of the Sun or Korikancha and the palaces of the Inca and his court are part of a long list of archaeological wonders. There are also several circuitson the skirts of town, which usually include the imposing ruins of Sacsayhuaman or Tambomachay. Visitors can also take part in all kinds of adventure sports and participate in the most spectacular religious festivals on the continent. Celebrations include Qoyllur Rit’i held at 4,000 meters (13120 feet), the Corpus Christi procession, and the famous Inti Raymi spectacle. Cusco is also a magical city of dizzying excitement with its bustling nightlife. Its cultural scene makes the sacred city of the Incas the most spectacular destination in the Americas with its rich archaeological legacy found on practically every street corner.


The ancient Inca citadel of Machu Picchu is the star attraction of Cusco. The citadel is deemed one of the world’s finest examples of landscape architecture and was discovered in 1911 by US explorer Hiram Bingham. Machu Picchu (“old mountain” in Quechua, the ancient language of the Incas) nestles on top of a mountain saddle high above the Urubamba River in the middle of the cloud forest. It was both a center of worship and astronomic observatory as well as the private retreat of the family of Inca ruler Pachacutec. It is split into two major areas: the agriculture zone, made up of terracing and food storehouses; and the urban zone, featuring the sacred sector, with temples, squares and royal tombs which have been carved to an extraordinary degree of perfection. The stone staircases and canals are found throughout this unique archaeological site. Huayna Picchu (Young Mountain in Quechua) looms over the citadel and its steep stone pave trail can be climbed by any visitor. In 2007 Machu Picchu was elected one of the new seven wonders of the world along with the Chinese Great Wall, Rome's Coliseum and Taj Mahal.


Located in the department of Cusco, the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is Peru`s most popular trekking route and possibly one of the most spectacular walks in the Americas.It forms part of the more than 23,000 Km (14,260 miles) of roads built by the Incas across South America. Each year, some 25,000 hikers from all over the world walk the 43 km (27 miles) stone-paved trail, built by the Incas to get to the impregnable citadel of Machu Picchu, deep in the Cusco cloud forest. The trail sets out from Qorihuayrachina, at Kilometer 88 the Cusco-Quillabamba railway, and takes three to four days of tough hiking. The route runs through an impressive range of altitudes, where climates and eco-systems range from the high Andean plain down to the cloud forests. The trail climbs up through two highland passes (the higher of the two, Warmiwañuska, lies at 4,200 masl {13776 feet}) before reaching Machu Picchu through the Inti Punku or Gateway of the Sun. One of the attractions of the trail is the past carved granite Inca settlements (Wiñay Wayna, Phuyupatamarca), surrounded by breath-taking natural scenery. The forests abound in hundreds of species of orchids, brightly-colored birds and dream-like landscapes which are the ideal complement to this amazing hikers’ route.


Koricancha is a classic example of the fusion of Inca and Western cultures. It was one of the most important temples in the Tahuantinsuyu. Its finely polished stone walls were used as the foundations of the Convent of Santo Domingo. The temple, whose walls were said to have been sheathed in gold and silver, was dedicated to sun worship, as well as containing images of the gods of thunder and Wiracocha, deities brought from various regions and the mummified bodies of Inca rulers. Worship within the temple was reserved for the highest-ranking figures of the era, and for representatives of distant, non-Inca communities all over the empire who would render homage to the goods of the Thahuantinsuyu.


An imposing example of Inca military architecture, Sacsayhuaman is located 2 km (1.24 miles) from the city of Cusco. The fortress was hewn from vast granite blocks to protect the city from marauding eastern tribes of the jungle, the Antis region. Sacsayhuaman (“satisfied hawk” in Quechua, the Inca language) is divided into three vast zig-zagging terraces and flanked by massive stone walls, some up to 300 meters long (984 feet), some of which stand 5 meters high (16.4 feet) and weigh over 300 tons. The site was used as a quarry to provide stone for colonial buildings due to the fact that it lies close to Cusco.


Two areas near Cusco that feature some superlative religious architecture are the shrines of Qenqo and Tambomachay. Qenqo is a vast rocky hilltop carved into staircases, holes, and channels, probably built to store the chicha (fermented maize beer) used in Inca rituals. The site features, a semi-circular patio studded with several large niches surrounding a stone figure embedded within a chamber resembling an idol. Tambomachay is another fine example of Inca architecture still functioning today where it is made up of platforms, niches and fountains; water flows down through them from a spring higher up in the hills. In Inca times, this was a sacred site used for worship of the water deity, one of the shrines that made up the Cusco ceque, a system of imaginary grid lines that irradiated to sacred spots or indicated the time and place of the ceremonies.





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