Apart from the spectacular cathedrals, churches and palaces in Cusco there are some very interesting and beautiful Inca and pre-hispanic ruins in the areas surrounding the city and in the neighboring Sacred Valley. Here are a few of the ruins we visited while in the area.
About a 45 minute drive out of Cusco and perched on a hill, are the well manicured ruins of Tipon. Tipon was a place for Incan royalty to kick back and relax. The ruins are characterised by a set of beautifully manicured terraces fed by an intricate system of water canals – some of the most impressive yet discovered – which are still in perfect functioning order. The ruins are situated about 30 minutes from Cusco and were a huge walled settlement for Inca nobility. Tipon is an example of how the Incas married water, soil, agriculture and topography to create functional yet beautiful settlements.
Popularly known as El Baño del Inca or the Bath of the Inca, Archaeologists are undecided on what Tambomachay’s purpose was. It may have been used as a ceremonial cleansing site for Inca royalty and water still flows through the site today.
Ritual bathing was used as a way to cleanse sins by the Incas. Examples of sins were lawbreaking, failure of religious observances and disobeying the chief. If a man had many sins he would be risking all sorts bad things happening to him. If an Inca ruler had any sins hard times would fall on his subjects hence the importance of this site.
The most impressive part of Tambomachay is that each end of the water fountain has an identical flow rate. In other words, if you put a bucket under each of the two main fountains simultaneously you would fill them up at exactly the same rate.
Puka Pukara or “Red Fort” in the Quechua language was possibly used as a checkpoint for travelers and traders on their way to Cusco during the times of the Inca. There are some magnificent views from the top of the site of the surrounding hills and valleys. The name “Red Fort” comes from the red hue the walls give off in the evenings. Puka Pukara is situated a short distance from Tambomachay and the Inca ruler probably housed his vast staff at the fort while bathing at the royal baths.
The site consists of a set of large, roughly built stone buildings, high walls and the remains of what seemed to have been watchtowers. This is probably why archeologists think it was primarily used for military purposes. Other reasons for their thinking are its proximity to Cusco and location on the main road from the Sacred Valley.
Qenko is thought to have been place of worship for the Inca. Weird shapes have been carved out of the rock and there is a ceremonial chamber carved out of the rock underground. The Inca were known to worship rocks and this may have been the sites primary purpose.
Sacsayhuaman is Inca architecture on the grandest of scales. Often incorrectly referred to as solely a fortress, it had a dual purpose for the Incas. First and foremost it was a place of worship and a site for festivals honouring the sun god – Inti. It also served as a fortress and a vast storage complex. It is undeniably spectacular. After the Spanish conquered Cusco they tore what they could of the complex down and used the stones to build their own buildings in the city below. There are very few colonial buildings in Cusco that haven’t been built out of stone from Sacsayhuaman. What was left are the parts the Spanish were simply unable to destroy nor use. 4-metre high stones make up parts of the construction, some so expertly and closely slotted between their neighbours that you can’t help wondering how it was done. Sadly, a lot has been left up to the imagination as most of the fortress was destroyed. Today the ruins are the site of the Inti-Raimi festival marking the Winter Solstice which was started in the 1940s in an attempt to resurrect a part of the Inca culture.
If you get to spend some time in Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley, then I would highly recommend the hike up to the ruins of Pumamarca. Largely untouched and hardly visited by tourists the trail offers some spectacular scenery of the surrounding Andes. Along the route you pass through ancient farmlands where the the farming methods haven’t changed since the Incas. Little is known of what the ruins were used for – some speculate it was a checkpoint for traffic into Ollantaytambo. Nonetheless, it is a beautiful place to visit, especially on foot. Along the way you pass through tiny villages that are only reachable on foot as well as some beautiful Inca terraces and ruins.
Perched on the side of a mountain with a beautiful, living Inca-village of the same name below, Ollantaytambo is probably the most impressive Inca ruin we visited, save for Machu Picchu. The ruin was the royal palace for Emperor Pachacuti. During the Spanish conquest, the palace served as a stronghold where Manco Inca successfully drove off a raiding Spanish party in a bloody battle. Due to its location they were able to flood the planes below the fortress and drive the Spanish out of the valley. After the battle Manco Inca fled deeper into the mountains where he was pursued by the Spanish. An unsuccessful attempt to capture him at Uiticos led him to escape to Vilcabamba – the lost city Hiram Bingham was searching for when he discovered Machu Picchu.
The ruins consist of a rather large temple housing some impressive cut stones, extensive terraces, granaries, quarries and a ritual cleansing area. We stayed the night in Ollantaytambo and were lucky enough to be the first visitors to the site the next morning which meant we could enjoy the ruins with very few other visitors. The view from the top of the ruins across the valley is spectacular. On one side you have a bird’s eye view of the town and farmlands and on the other side of the ruins you can see the tail of the snowy peaks Veronica and Salkantay with the Urubamba river snaking its way toward them.
Walking among the ruins and imagining what it looked like during the height of the Inca Empire is a fantastic experience but after one-too-many we started to suffer from the dreaded ruin-fatigue. So after visiting Ollantaytambo we decided to call it a day and not visit Pisaq, Moray and Chinchero. I think we will leave these for our next visit to Peru which is definitely going to be in the near future.