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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Peru Vacation Day 3: Half-Day Tour Of Cusco Part 1

We were picked up in our hotel at about 2 PM for our half-day tour of Cusco. Our hotel was right around the corner from the first attraction on the tour, The Coricancha (variously spelled as Qorikancha, Corikancha, etc.). So, we just walked over there with a guide to join our tour group rather than being taken there in a vehicle.

Cusco orientation mapOrientation map of Cusco with the Taypikala hotel marked in blue. Note its location right next to the Coricancha, and a few blocks from the main square (the Plaza De Armas).

The Coricancha (also called Intiwasa, or Sun Temple) was built by the Incas, in what was then their capital city. Cusco, at the time of the Spanish conquest of South America, was the most important city in the Inca Empire, and its capital. As with most Inca monuments in Peru, the Spaniards destroyed most of what they could as part of their effort to subjugate the Incas, and convert the natives to Christianity. Thus, most Inca monuments in and around Cusco were partially or fully destroyed by the Spaniards.

In fact, Machu Picchu is famous only because it was never discovered and destroyed by the Spaniards. It is not famous because it was large (the population of Machu Picchu at its peak is estimated at under 1000 persons whereas Cusco had a population several dozen times that in the early 16th century before the conquistadors arrived).

So, most of the Inca structures you see in Peru today, including the Coricancha are but shells of their former self. The Spaniards destroyed most of the Coricancha and erected the Church of Santo Domingo on the site. Inca religion considered celestial bodies like the sun and moon as sacred. The Coricancha was built as a temple to one of their most important deities, the Sun God. In addition, the site also had temples to the moon God, and various other stars and planets.

The temple to the sun God was completely destroyed with the church being built on top of it. Remnants of the other temples exist in the courtyards of the church. The Coricancha is believed to have been extraordinary in its wealth, with the walls and floors covered in sheets of solid gold, and the courtyard being filled with golden statues.

the courtyard of the CoricanchaThe courtyard of the Coricancha. Arch construction was unknown to the Incas, so the arches were all built by the Spaniards as part of the construction of the church on the site of old sun temple.

Murals on walls of the CoricanchaMurals and paintings in the hallways of the Coricancha.

Santo Domingo church from the CoricanchaThe church of Santo Domingo as seen from the Coricancha.

The Coricancha is also a fine example of Incan earthquake-proof construction. The Incas used several techniques to protect their buildings against earthquakes. Their foundations were solid with several layers of rock. The buildings themselves were built with interlocking blocks of rock that were carved to fit against each other perfectly. No mortar was used in the construction of Inca buildings. The interlocking of the rocks was sufficient to hold up the buildings. Moreover, they also used trapezoidal openings for doors and windows instead of rectangular ones because such openings provided more protection to the buildings against earthquakes.

Trapezoidal openings in the CoricanchaNotice the trapezoidal openings for the doorways as well as the niches in the walls of the Coricancha. Incas did not use any grout in their construction. The interlocking of the perfectly cut stone blocks was the only way to keep the stones from moving!

Three windows in the CoricanchaThe three windows in the Coricancha. See how windows across three rooms in the Coricancha are lined up perfectly so that you can see all the way through all of them. Notice their trapezoidal shape also.

In fact, while the Santo Domingo church has been damaged and rebuilt several times because of the earthquakes that have hit Cusco from time to time, the underlying Incan walls and foundation have never required repair since the time they were built, according to our guide.

Santo Domingo church groundsThe grounds of the Santo Domingo church and convent. Most of the stone walls seen here were part of the original structure of the sun temple.

Our guided tour of the Coricancha was a little hurried, and the place was quite crowded. The cost of admission to The Coricancha was included in our tour. We were provided with a Tourist Ticket of Cusco that includes admission to many sites including the Coricancha. The cost of the ticket is 130 soles for adults, 70 soles for Peruvians or students, and 40 soles for Peruvian students. We were told to hold onto the ticket carefully since we would need it during our visits to other attractions both on this day and on the next day. The ticket is punched at each attraction so that you can visit each attraction only once with the ticket. We had to write our names on the tickets, ostensibly so that the tickets would be non-transferable, but we were never asked to produce ID's to match the names we wrote on them.

After that, we moved on to the Plaza de Armas or main square of Cusco, and the Cusco Cathedral. This cathedral was built on the site of the Inca Palace of Viracocha, the king of Cusco about a hundred years before the Spanish entered Cusco. Many of the stones used to construct the cathedral came from Saqsayhuaman, which is an ancient Inca fortification outside Cusco.

The cathedral contains three churches, and several chapels. The main altar in the cathedral is made of solid silver, and there are several intricate carvings out of cedar wood. One of the pulpits was carved out of one single cedar tree. The right tower of the cathedral contains South America's largest bell, the Maria Angola. No photographs or videography are allowed inside the cathedral. The Triumph Church, which is one of the three churches included in the cathedral, is the oldest Catholic church in South America, and dates back to 1536.

Cusco CathedralCusco CathedralA couple of views of the Cusco Cathedral from the main square (Plaza de Armas) of Cusco. The Cusco Cathedral is also called the Cathedral of Santo Domingo, but is different from the Santo Domingo Church and Convent (I know, it is somewhat confusing!).

Church of the Society of JesusIglesia de la Compania de JesusThese are views of the Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus (Church of the Society of Jesus), which is a Jesuit Church that also stands on the Plaza de Armas. We did not go inside this church as part of the tour. This church was also built on the site of the Inca palace of Huayna Cápac, said to be one of the most beautiful in Inca history.

Cusco Cathedral with fountainView of the Cusco Cathedral along with the fountain in the middle of the Plaza de Armas.

Cusco from Plaza de ArmasA view of some parts of Cusco from the Plaza de Armas.

After that, we were loaded onto a bus to be taken to the rest of the tour's sights, which are outside the city of Cusco proper. I will write about those sights in the next post.

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