Architecturally Yours, Cusco

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.

The heart of Cusco is the Plaza de Armas. Church towers dot the Cusco skyline and 4 churches face the Plaza de Armas. The large church behind me is the Jesuit’s La Compañía de Jesús.

Cusco’s Cathedral. Cusco was the center for the Spanish colonization and spread of Christianity in the Andean world.

Colonial arcades line the Plaza de Armas.

The carved wooden balconies are of Moorish design that was prevalent in 15th-century Spain.

We stayed at the Hostal Suecia in an old colonial whose courtyard once was open to the sky.

Another picturesque colonial courtyard.

The guidebook said not to miss walking through the luxury hotels to see the most beautifully restored colonial villas.

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.

I’m so glad that some Incan stonework remains in Cusco. Too bad all the gold is missing!

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”.

The Incas were master stoneworkers. Their technique is still a mystery!

Korikancha was the most important temple in the Incan empire. Much of its stonework forms the foundation of the Santo Domingo church and convent.

The walls were once covered in sheets of gold and its adjacent courtyard was filled with golden statues. Spanish reports tell of its opulence that was “fabulous beyond belief” and it took 3 months for the Spanish to melt all the gold.

The Church of Santo Domingo is one of numerous sites where the Spanish incorporated Inca stonework into the structure of a colonial building. Major earthquakes severely damaged the church, but the Inca stone walls, built out of huge, tightly-interlocking blocks of stone, still stand due to their sophisticated stone masonry.

The Spanish Convent of Santo Domingo.

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.

I’ll Meet You in the Morning to show you more of this amazing place!

3 responses to “Architecturally Yours, Cusco

  1. Kim and I are really enjoying your pictures, observations and historical content. Thank you for sharing your adventures with all of us! Continued safe travels to you and Steve! -edH


    • So happy to hear from you and know someone actually reads my posts! Thanks! We’re been having a great time, but are ready to head home! (I must be getting old – that’s a first for me!)


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