Cusco, the City of the Puma
The name Cusco comes from the Aymara language qusqu wanka that means “rock of the owl”. According to one of the myths of the origin of the Incas, the myth of the Ayar brothers, Ayar Auca became an owl and flew to the location where they would settle to create the capital of the new empire, he converted into a rock to mark the chosen site.
Inca Manco Capac was the founder of the city of Cusco. The inner city of Cusco was laid out in the shape of a puma whose head was the fortress of Sacsahuaman. His body was shaped by the rivers Tulumayo and Huatanay and his tail was where both rivers meet in a place known as Pumaq Chupan. His heart was the Huacapata or holy square containing the Coricancha or Temple of the Sun.
Cusco was the most important city in the Inca Empire; it was the capital of the Tawantinsuyu, the place of residence of the elite and a sacred city. The city was organized around a central plaza from which the roads leading to the four provincial governments or suyus originated. Important architectural development took place in Cusco, palaces and schools were built for the elite, temples including Coricancha or temple of the Sun and a very important network of roads. Cusco was a spectacular capital city.
To protect the city from invaders, Cusco was guarded by the fortress of Sacsahuaman. It stood on a hill above the city and contained an arsenal, a temple, reservoirs, storerooms and a throne for the Sapa Inca.
Coricancha Temple of the Sun
Coricancha or the Temple of the Sun was built in a plaza called Huacapata in the heart of Cusco. It was the religious center of the empire and was reserved for the Sapa Inca, his immediate family, priests and the chosen women to worship. Although it was meant to be a center for pilgrimage, people were not allowed to go inside..
The building contained six rectangular chapels dedicated to each of the celestial gods in the Inca religion: Inti or Sun, Moon, Stars, Thunder and Wiracocha. A separate chapel was dedicated to the huacas from conquered territories as the Incas believed that these idols would add power and allow them to control the new territories. An image of each god made of solid gold resided in its own temple. At the eastern end of the courtyard was the representation of the Sun, a huge plate of solid gold. Under it, seated on golden thrones sat the mummies of previous Sapa Incas. The Sapa Inca would often worship at this temple and ask the mummies for advice.
Coricancha was a magnificent building, an architectural marvel. Its walls were covered with sheets of gold and silver. Gold was a sacred metal thought to be the sweat of the sun and the tears of the moon. Archaeologists think that Coricancha was serviced by a staff of four thousand. High priests and priestesses or acllas served the gods. These women were chosen for their beauty and worked in a secluded convent called the Accllahuaci. They served by cooking food for the gods, weaving fine clothes for the Sapa Inca and making daily offerings to the gods.
Unfortunately the original temple was modified by the Spanish who built a church using the original walls of the temple. The gold and silver sheets covering the walls and all other objects were appropriated by the Spanish.
Fortress of Sacsahuaman
This fortress formed the Puma’s head that made up the inner city of Cusco. It was an impressive construction that stood on the highest point of a steep-sided hill overlooking the city. The Inca’s engineering skills were tested in the building of this magnificent structure. Its zigzag walls were made of enormous stone blocks that weighed 90 to 120 tons each. Without the use of a mortar they were able to interlock the stones. .
On the south side of the fortress was a steep cliff. The other sides were guarded by three towers. Sacsahuaman had several functions; protecting the city against invaders and sheltering its people. Inside the fortress there were numerous rooms and passages that stocked food, clothing, weapons and water.
Tags: acllas, archeology peru, Coricancha, Cusco, Inca Architecture, Inca civilization, inca culture, Inca empire, incas, Inti, Machu Picchu, Pachacuti, peru inca, Puma, Sacsahuaman, Tawantinsuyu, Temple of the Sun