Cusco stands on layers of cultures: old Inca Empire built on Killke structures and the Spanish replacing indigenous temples with Catholic churches and palaces with mansions.
On 15 November 1533 Francisco Pizarro officially arrived in Cusco. “The capital of the Incas…astonished the Spaniards by the beauty of its edifices, the length and regularity of its streets.” The great square was surrounded by several palaces, since “each sovereign built a new palace for himself.” “The delicacy of the stone work excelled” that of the Spaniards’. The fortress had three parapets and was composed of “heavy masses of rock.” “Through the heart of the capital ran a river…faced with stone.” “The most sumptuous edifice in Cuzco…was undoubtedly the great temple dedicated to the Sun…studded with gold plates…surrounded by convents and dormitories for the priests.” “The palaces were numerous and the troops lost no time in plundering them of their contents, as well as despoiling the religious edifices,” including the royal mummies in the Coricancha.
The Inca Empire was unique in that it lacked many features associated with civilization in the Old World. In the words of one scholar, “The Incas lacked the use of wheeled vehicles. They lacked animals to ride and draft animals that could pull wagons and plows…[They] lacked the knowledge of iron and steel…Above all, they lacked a system of writing…Despite these supposed handicaps, the Incas were still able to construct one of the greatest imperial states in human history”.
Cusco, the ancient capital of the Incas was established around 1100 AD and remained the capital until the Spanish conquest in 1533 AD. Cusco means ‘navel of the earth’ and in Quechua is spelled “Qosqo.” In 1983 Cusco was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has become a major tourist destination.
The Spanish conquistadors adopted the local name, transliterating it into Spanish phonetics as Cuzco. Cuzco was the standard spelling on official documents and chronicles in colonial times, though Cusco was also used. As both Spanish and Quechuan pronunciation have evolved since then, the Spanish pronunciation of ‘z’ is no longer close to the Quechuan pronunciation of the consonant represented by ‘z’ in “Cuzco”.
In 1976, the city mayor signed an ordinance banning the traditional spelling and ordering the use of a new one, Cusco, in municipality publications. Nineteen years later, on 23 June 1990, the local authorities formalized a new spelling related more closely to Quechan: Qosqo.
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