Inca Civilization

The Inca civilization was the largest Pre-Columbian civilization in the Americas and Cusco was its capital. The best kept example of its architecture is Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu

The Sacred City is one of the most significant archeological sites left by the Incas


Fascinating culture and Inca heritage of this beautiful country

Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world. It occupies an important place in Inca mythology.

Animals of Peru

Animals in Peru have specialized and adapted to the conditions of its geography. At higher altitude levels, few animals and plants can survive because of the lack of oxygen.

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The fall of the Inca Empire

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Conquest of the Inca Empire Map.

From around 1200 when the first Inca, Manco Capac, settled in Cusco, until 1533 when the last Inca, Atahualpa, was executed; the Inca civilization had grown from a group of settlers to the largest empire in Pre-Columbian America. The Incas had built more than 18,600 miles/30,000 km of paved roads in the most rugged terrain in the world uniting different cultures and religions into a harmonious society with a successful centralized economy.

The spread of disease

The collapse of the Inca Empire started when the Spaniards arrived in Central America and transmitted their diseases to locals who spread them to other parts of the continent including South America. It is believed that in ten years between 50% and 90% of the population was attacked by diseases like smallpox, influenza, typhus, diphtheria, chicken pox and measles, disease spread alarmingly fast as Amerindians did not have the immunity to fight off newly brought viruses. Influenza and smallpox were the main causes of death among the Inca population and it affected not only the working class but also the nobility. As a result disease weakened the working class which resulted in lower agricultural output as well as in the effectiveness of the communication network which were the backbone in the success of the empire. Without its reliable communication network which used man power or chasquis,officials in Cusco, the capital, did not know what was happening as they were invaded in the north. When the nobility got affected by disease it unraveled previously unseen struggle for power and a fight for the succession to the crown of Sapa Inca. This situation triggered a civil war between supporters of the two brothers Atahualpa and Huascar which enabled the Spaniards quick access to the control and the wealth of the empire.

Civil War

Peruvian 18th Century painting of Atahualpa based on an engraving by Antonio de Herrera

The civil war was triggered by the death in 1527 of Sapa Inca Huayna Capac and his eldest son Ninan Cuyochi, who was the heir to the throne leaving no clear successor, both died of smallpox. According to Inca family tradition only the son of the Sapa Inca and the Coya, his legitimate wive, can become the next Inca emperor after the death of his father. Following this tradition Huascar was the next in line after the death of his older brother and was crowned Sapa Inca by the nobility in Cusco. Meanwhile in the northern administrative capital of Quito, his half brother, Atahualpa was considered a more capable warrior and proven administrator and was crowned as Sapa Inca by his supporters. However, as Atahualpa was the son of the Inca emperor and one of his concubines he did not have legitimacy to the throne..

Huascar, who considered himself as the heir to the empire started a long civil war that lasted five years until 1532. Atahualpa proved to be a better warrior and won the war. Torn by a long civil war and debilitated by smallpox and influenza the Spanish conquistadors did not find a strong resistance and took advantage of this situation.

The decline of the Inca Empire started before the Spanish arrived in Inca territory but their arrival accelerated its decline and eventually its fall destroying its civilization.

The conquest

Atahualpa being strangled by soldiers of Pizarro. Engraving, 1595 from the Bettmann Collection

The conquest of Peru started in 1532 when a group led by Francisco Pizarro arrived in the city of Cajamarca, armed with 110 men and a cavalry of 67. The following day he met Atahualpa. It is believed that Atahualpa regarded the meeting as a peaceful gathering where the newcomers would present their respect to the emperor. His view was short lived as he would shortly experience when a  priest named Valverde handed him a Bible and tried to make him swear loyalty to the Pope and the King of Spain. Atahualpa threw the Bible on the floor and refused to swear loyalty, at that moment they took him prisoner. The Spanish showed their superiority by killing and capturing his soldiers in less than thirty minutes. Atahualpa knew then that their visit was not peaceful and that the Spaniards were after gold and silver. He offered offered two full rooms of silver  and one of gold as payment for his freedom. Atahualpa was never let go and was charged of treason and crimes against the Spanish state. He was executed on August 29, 1533.

After the capture of Cajamarca and with no Inca resistance the conquerors made their way south to capture the capital of the empire, Cusco. Once there they named Manco Inca, brother of Atahualpa, as the new Sapa Inca. He had the support of the nobility in Cusco and would serve as a puppet to capture the Inca capital city. Manco Inca collaborated with the Spaniards but in 1536 he tried to recapture Cusco but failed, retreating to the mountains of Vilcabamba where he created a neo- Inca government that lasted for 36 years.

Consequences of the fall of the Inca Empire

The Inca civilization had unified a vast territory in South America integrating many ethnic groups into a unified society under the rule of a common Inca law. The arrival of the Spaniards stopped the development of this civilization and created a social gap that has endured for more than 500 years. The Incas resisted the conquerors for four decades until 1572 when Tupac Amaru, son of Manco Inca and the last Inca ruler, was executed along with his family and advisers, leaving no successor.


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