Cusco: The Center of the Universe

Cusco is a city located in the very center of the 120 million year old Andean mountain range in South America. It is the center of the Incan Empire, situated at the crossroads between 4 major states known collectively as Tiwantinsuyu. To the North is Chinchaisuyo, East is Antisuyo, South is C’oyasuyo, and to the West is Q’ontisuyo. In 1491 the Incan empire was the greatest on Earth and was much larger than the Roman, Ottoman, and Aztec empires. Tiwantinsuyu expanded from Ecuador to Chile, covering every terrain possible from the Amazonian rainforest, to the coastal deserts, and the 20,000 ft peaks of the Andes in between. Although this empire was arguably the most powerful and proficient of all history, it was also one of the most short lived. The Incan empire lasted only around 100 years before the Spanish Inquisition decimated the region. Our visit to Cuzco, the center of this once mighty empire, showed the contrast between the Spanish colonization of South America to the British colonization of the Chesapeake. We visited Incan ruins, the Temple of the sun, and the cathedral in the main square of Cusco. The influence of the Spanish was very evident and presented the intersection of modern and traditional.


Cusco from the view of Sasqaywaman

The first site we visited was called Sasqaywaman, or sexy woman as our tour guide Juan Jose like to call it. This is the head of the Puma-shaped city of Cusco. The reason the city is shaped like a puma is because the puma represents earth as median between heaven and the underworld. In Quechua, Sasqay means satisfied and Waman means Golden eagle. However, the name used to be pronounced Sasqayuma, uma meaning head. So, Sasqayuma means satisfied head and satisfied knowledge. As a background, the Inca believed that the underworld was represented by a snake, the earth as a Puma/jaguar, and the heavens as a Condor. In sexy woman, we saw one of the largest amphitheater in South America, constructed of large limestone and basalt bricks ranging from 50 to 170 tons. Up to %80 of the stones were somehow brought from a quarry 6 miles away. Further, each stone fits perfectly in place with the other stones to the point where a piece of paper couldn’t fit between the cracks. No mortar was used, it was all stone on stone. How was this breathtaking architecture made possible without modern technology? The mystery of how this site was built is still unsolved today, but many believe that an outside presence (aliens)definitely had something to do with it because humans could not have made these structures alone.


Amphitheater wall. Tall stone on far left weighs around 170 tons

Before setting off for our next destination, the group and I took in an amazing view of the entire city of Cuzco. We then went a large natural basalt rock formation overlooking Cuzco. This place was the site of numerous sacrifices that happened underground, within the caves of the basalt. The reason Incas made human, animal, and crop harvest sacrifices inside this basalt rock is because they believed it was El estomago de Pacha Mama, the stomach of Mother Earth, and a great place for her to fully receive sacrifices. Sacrifices were done for many reasons, one of which was to thank Pacha mama for bringing rain for crops and food and to plead for her to lessen her anger (natural disasters, earthquakes, droughts). Much of this basalt formation was used in the construction of The cathedral we visited next on the agenda.

The main cathedral of Cusco is a grand testament to Spanish domination and their immense value of religious idolization and worship. It was here that the Spanish built a cathedral on top of an Incan temple to help establish their way of life and destroy the Incan culture. However, inside the cathedral many paintings show Incan beliefs and traditions combined with Catholic depictions. For example, Mother Mary for the Inca is Pacha Mama, Mother Earth. This is shown by Mary’s dress being shaped like a mountain. Another way these two cultures combined was in the painting of the last supper. On the table, Jesus and his disciples were eating guinea pig and tropical fruits from the region. Judas, the betrayer of Jesus, is portrayed as Pizarro, who led the Spanish to destroy the Inca.


The Cathedral of Cusco

The clashing of these two cultures goes far beyond the church and are present in all aspects of society. The civil was amongst the Incans and social disorder made the militarily advanced spaniards to take control of the Inca. The Spaniards moved Incans from different areas to other parts of the empire to mix with other cultures, the idea being that ultimately no one culture would prevail but a new homogenous culture would be created. This reshuffling of populations was a trademark of Stalin and Mao five centuries later. The language of Spanish overtook the native tongue of Quechua.
The Spanish colonization of South America was just as devastating and game changing as the influence of British colonists in the Chesapeake.


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