Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Cusco and the Sacred Valley

A long and uncomfortable (too hot, too cold, manic driver) overnight bus journey brought us to Cusco at 7am. We were now at an elevation of 3300m and our breathing was laboured. We checked into our hostel on the main square. The room felt damp and unpleasant. We set about familiarising ourselves with the town. Due to the effects of the altitude we didn't walk too far.

In the old town the thickset walls and foundation stonework were immediately apparent. Much of the neater, rounded blockwork was part of the original Inca capital that was destroyed and rebuilt by the Spanish in the 15th century.

Cusco and the other archaeological sites of the Urubamba Valley (Ollantautaybo, Runcuracay, Sayacmarca, Phuyupamarca, HuiƱay Huayna, Intipucu etc) bear unique testimony to the Inca civilisation.

A few days later we took a taxi through the Urubamba (Scared) Valley, stopping at the town of Pisac, about 35km north east of Cusco. We visited the Inca citadel, which towered above this sleepy village along cliff-hanging footpaths. It was built built between the 10th and 11th centuries. We admired this Inca architecture due to the technique used to build its enormous walls, palaces and turrets with stone blocks, all done without any type of cement or adhesive.

Water is still channelled through the fully functional irrigation systems. Furthermore, the terraces that encircle the mountain were very impressive. When following a hanging footpath we went through a tunnel cut into the hill, about 15m in length. The site afforded marvellous views of the valley, and we could hear a children's party in full swing hundreds of metres below.

In the town of Ollantaytambo we saw a temple made of massive monoliths, and a fortress. What was interesting about this site was that at some point, for reasons unknown, work mysteriously stopped and the buildings were never completed. You can see blocks just left lying on the ground, and trace the ramp and road where along which they travelled from the quarry on the other site of the valley. 

The surrounding valleys have been cultivated continuously for well over 1,000 years. The farmers still grow potatoes and maize, but now use chemicals, and like many underdeveloped country's the control and effect of these substances are poorly understood by the masses. The natural vegetation is scrubby subtropical region ferns and palms. We spotted many eucalyptus trees, obviously an invasive species, but how they got here we don't know.

Cusco's central Plaza

Typical colonial style cloisters surround the plaza. Built in the early 1500s on the original foundations of the Inca city

Guinea Pig anyone?

Fraser and Sarah out exploring Pisac's ruins

The steep terraces of Pisac's fields that supported the Inca fortress

Sarah tied to the old hinges in the stone doorway

Beautiful stonework - no mortar required

Family outing in Olantaytambo

The ruins at Olantaytambo overlook the small fortified town

The prominent bulges on these stones are believed to have been used to help fix the ropes to the stones for moving them from the quarry, on the other side of the valley, to the site. The blocks would then have been ground off once the blocks were in position. As the site was never finished these bumps remain providing clues into the construction methods used.

The straight road on the edge of the fields leads to the quarry where the majority of the large stones came from

The original aqueducts and channels still function perfectly even 600 years later

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