Sunday, 18 November 2012

The Streets of Cusco

At 11,200 ft, Cusco was the highest point on our tour - oxygen was pumped into our hotel rooms to alleviate altitude sickness, not that we needed it.  The only symptoms we had was the shortness of breath when we climbed a small incline to the Inca Museum.  Old town Cusco was charming and very walkable with its cobbled streets and Incan stone walls.  The shots below will give you a good idea of the ambiance of the ancient city.

Most of the traffic cops are female - but notice the holster

Not understanding the words on the sign, we thought  these two  were protesting something on the main street, that's why they were wearing masks.  Of course, when I looked up the Spanish, it was anti-climactical - all it says: "Respect the pedestrian crossing"!   So these were crossing guards????

And these girls need to be reminded to stay on the sidewalk!

Businesses housed in original Inca buildings

The Jesuit Iglesia de la Compania on one side of the Plaza de Armas
The Cathedral at the centre of the Plaza - no photos allowed inside.  There were some interesting nougats, like the silver altar that sits permanently on a chassis so that the it no longer had to be carried on people's shoulders.  Having seen the excruciating way this was done in Lima, I can see why this must be a great relief for the faithful.

Colonial arcades in the Plaza de Armas

The leafy Plaza Regocijo near our hotel

Houses built all the way up the hillside - there are some very steep streets 

Interesting-looking facades as you leave the city centre - this is the neighbourhood where our guide took us to visit the silver shop outlet.  There could be a courtyard and another house behind the facade.

Impressive Incan walls lined many of the streets in the old town 

View from the Plaza de Armas up the hill during the day

and the same view at night

Night view of the Plaza and the houses in the surrounding suburbs - and fireworks!

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Cusco - the Koricancha Temple

This doesn't look like a temple, does it?  It's really a Catholic Church built atop an Inca temple - the Koricancha Temple, originally called the Inti Cancha, Temple of the Sun in Cusco.  Cusco used to be the ancient capital of the Inca Empire and this temple was the centre where the sun was worshipped.  The Temple of the Sun in Machu Picchu is said to be based on this one in the capital.

According to the Spanish, the walls and floors were covered with gold and the gold was used to pay the ransom when the Spanish captured an Incan leader.  The Spanish demolished the temple and built the Church of Santo Domingo on top of the Incan foundation.  The colonial structure was damaged by earthquakes but the Incan foundation remained in tact because of the quality of the stone work.  You can see examples of the first class mortarless masonry in the photos below.

On the outside of the complex, you can see the curved wall with its astounding fit beneath the chapel.  It remains undamaged through repeated earthquakes.

The cloisters of the colonial church

The ceremonial chambers remained intact from Inca times

Three openings in the walls of the adjoining chambers align perfectly

Typical Inca walls slanting inwards
the first class stone masonry - here you can see how one huge piece of stone went around a corner
the contrast between the smooth and the rough

The signature trapezoidal portal of the ceremonial chamber

Stunning portal with double jambs

Colonial portal built over Inca wall
Colonial cloisters over Inca wall

Monday, 5 November 2012

Road to Cusco - Stunning Saqsaywaman

Cusco was only 72 km from Machu Picchu but we saw so much on the way it felt like it was much farther.  After the explosion of colour and sensations that we encountered at the farmers' market, we moved up the mountains and approached Cusco  from the top.   You will see below panoramic views of the Sacred Valley and of Cusco with its red roofs - quite a pretty sight.  On the outskirts of Cusco, we stopped by the stunning Saqsaywaman (that's right, sound it the way you see it!) - a fortress like structure with a presence that reminded us of Stonehenge, only more powerful and awe-inspiring. 

The stone work at Saqsaywaman, a UNESCO heritage site, is one of the most impressive in Peru, indeed in South America.  The precision of the Incan stone work, the snugness of the fit, together with how the walls were constructed leaning inwards were said to be the reason why they survived the many devastating earthquakes in the area through the centuries.  The Spaniards had stripped stones from here to build their houses.  What remained were the largest stones that were too huge to move.   You can see how huge they are below.

View of the Sacred Valley from the road

Panoramic view of Cusco

Our guide showing us the drainage holes built into the structure

A closer look at the interlocking stone work and the drainage

The huge boulders sat on stone foundations, built at angles 


This is supposedly the largest boulder in the complex

There are three walls in the complex, this is the outside wall.   The longest wall reached 400 metres and the average height is about 6 metres

Look at how one piece of stone was used to round a corner


At the end of our tour, this herd of llamas and alpacas brought us back to a more human scale, even from afar, across the plain of Saqsaywaman...