Cusco, a city in the Peruvian Andes, was once capital of the Inca Empire and is now one of Peru’s most visited cities as it is the largest and most comfortable city from which tourists can begin visits to Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley, and other Inca sites in the region.
Located in a fertile valley fed by several rivers in the heart of the Central Peruvian Andes of South America, Cusco is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the Western Hemisphere. Formerly the capital of the extensive Inca empire, the beautiful city is known for its well preserved Spanish colonial architecture, often erected directly atop ancient Inca walls lines or with the early stone architecture preserved in the foundations and lower stories of colonial structures.
Cusco, whose name derives from a Quechua word meaning “navel” or “center” dates back to the late 11th century. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Cuzco became the capital of the Tawantinsuyu Inca Empire, and covered much of the South American Andes, approximately to the northern border of present-day Ecuador, the south reaching the center of present-day Chile, as well as to the southeast to portions of modern Bolivia and Argentina. In the 1530’s, during the time of the Spanish conquest, the population of the Tawantinsuyu Inca Empire may have numbered more than 12 million. While the city itself had tens of thousands of inhabitants, perhaps as many as 200,000.
Modern Cuzco and the surrounding area contain extensive Inca ruins that reflect great skill in engineering, stonework, and architecture. The Stone of Twelve Angles is an excellent example of this construction. Built without mortar; stones were cut in irregular shapes and fitted with such precision that a matchbox cover cannot be inserted into most seams.
Between the forces of the Spanish conquistador, Francisco Pizarro sacking the city and a major earthquake occurred in 1650, many of the buildings in Cusco were greatly damaged. Efforts to restore the destruction marked the beginning of the Cusco’s Baroque period, during which the city was the center of a prolific artistic production in masonry, painting, sculpture, ornamental woodworking, and jewelry. Several notable buildings and churches were erected in place of or above existing Inca structures.
Consecrated in 1654 the church of Santo Domingo was built on the foundation of Koricancha, the most important temple in the Inca empire. Known as the “Golden Garden” the site was dedicated to Viracocha the father of all gods. Constructed by the Inca on a sacred site that served as the nucleus of an astronomical and calendrical observatory. During Inca rule, the walls were sheathed in hundreds of silver and gold plates, its roof covered with a mixture of thatch and gold “straws” so that it glittered in the sunlight. According to some early chroniclers, the temple grounds also contained gold statues of llamas, shepherds, insects, flowers, and small animals. As with most other treasures of the Inca empire the artwork of the Koricancha was converted into bullion and shipped to Spain.
With everything, Cusco has to offer its important to remember the local industries like the production of cloth, rugs, tapestries, fine metalwork, and beer for both the local and tourist markets. While the farming of potatoes and grains are cultivated for local consumption, and sheep, alpaca, and llama are grazed in the outskirts of Cusco. There is no other place in the whole continent where you can so easily access ruins of such cultural significance and in such good condition. Full of life, colors, the mixture of indigenous and western, history and present, gives Cusco its special beauty and charm. Ancient ruins, colonial architecture, bars, museums, restaurants, and cobbled stoned streets with small shops and friendly people make Cusco one of the most popular travel hubs of Latin America and a great travel destination you will most certainly enjoy.