Cusco is a city in the Peruvian Andes and was once capital of the Inca Empire. It is now known for its archaeological remains and Spanish colonial architecture. Plaza de Armas is the central square in the old city, with arcades, carved wooden balconies, and Incan wall ruins. The baroque Santo Domingo Convent was built on top of the Incan Temple of the Sun (Qoricancha) and has archaeological remains of Inca stonework. The site was the historic capital of the Inca Empire from the 13th until the 16th-century Spanish conquest.
In 1983 Cusco was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO with the title “City of Cuzco”. Cusco has become a major tourist destination, hosting nearly 2 million visitors a year and is a popular stepping stone for visitors to Machu Picchu. The old city is situated at a height of 3,399 m and has many steep, cobbled streets with some fascinating architecture and many museums displaying the artifacts of the Incan era as well as the later Spanish period.
Cusco was long an important center of indigenous people. It was the capital of the Inca Empire (13th century–1532). Many believe that the city was planned as an effigy in the shape of a puma, a sacred animal. How Cusco was specifically built, or how its large stones were quarried and transported to the site remain undetermined. Under the Inca, the city had two sectors: the urin and hanan. Each was divided to encompass two of the four provinces, Chinchasuyu (NW), Antisuyu (NE), Kuntisuyu (SW) and Qullasuyu (SE). A road led from each quarter to the corresponding quarter of the empire.
Each local leader was required to build a house in the city and live part of the year in Cusco, restricted to the quarter that corresponded to the quarter in which he held territory. After the rule of Pachacuti, when an Inca died, his title went to one son and his property was given to a corporation controlled by his other relatives (split inheritance). Each title holder had to build a new house and add new lands to the empire, in order to own land for his family to keep after his death.
According to Inca legend, the city was rebuilt by Sapa Inca Pachacuti, the man who transformed the Kingdom of Cuzco from a sleepy city-state into the vast empire of Tawantinsuyu. Archaeological evidence, however, points to a slower, more organic growth of the city beginning before Pachacuti. The city was constructed according to a definite plan in which two rivers were channeled around the city. Archaeologists have suggested that this city plan was replicated at other sites.
The city fell to the sphere of Huáscar during the Inca Civil War after the death of Huayna Capac in 1527. It was captured by the generals of Atahualpa in April 1532 in the Battle of Quipaipan. Nineteen months later, Spanish explorers invaded the city (see battle of Cuzco) and gained control because of their arms and horses, employing superior military technology.
The first three Spaniards arrived in the city in May 1533, after the Battle of Cajamarca, collecting for Atahualpa’s Ransom Room. On 15 November 1533 Francisco Pizarro officially arrived in Cusco. “The capital of the Incas…astonished the Spaniards by the beauty of its edifices, the length and regularity of its streets.” The great square was surrounded by several palaces, since “each sovereign built a new palace for himself.” “The delicacy of the stone work excelled” that of the Spaniards’. The fortress had three parapets and was composed of “heavy masses of rock.” “Through the heart of the capital ran a river…faced with stone.” “The most sumptuous edifice in Cuzco…was undoubtedly the great temple dedicated to the Sun…studded with gold plates…surrounded by convents and dormitories for the priests.” “The palaces were numerous and the troops lost no time in plundering them of their contents, as well as despoiling the religious edifices,” including the royal mummies in the Coricancha.
Pizarro ceremoniously gave Manco Inca the Incan fringe as the new Peruvian leader. Pizarro encouraged some of his men to stay and settle in the city, giving out repartimientos to do so. Alcaldes were established and regidores on 24 March 1534, which included the brothers Gonzalo Pizarro and Juan Pizarro. Pizarro left a garrison of 90 men and then departed for Jauja with Manco Inca.
Pizarro renamed it the “Very noble and great city of Cuzco”. Buildings constructed after the Spanish invasion have a mixture of Spanish influence with Inca indigenous architecture, including the Santa Clara and San Blas neighborhoods. The Spanish destroyed many Inca buildings, temples and palaces. They used the remaining walls as bases for the construction of a new city.
Father Vincente de Valverde became the Bishop of Cusco and built his cathedral facing the plaza. He placed a St. Dominic monastery on the ruins of the House of the Sun and a nunnery where the House of the Virgins of the Sun was stood.
The city was retaken from the Spanish during the Siege of Cuzco of 1536 by Manco Inca Yupanqui, a leader of the Sapa Inca. Although the siege lasted 10 months, it was ultimately unsuccessful. Manco’s forces were able to reclaim the city for only a few days. He eventually retreated to Vilcabamba, the capital of the newly established small Neo-Inca State, which lasted for another 36 years but he was never able to return to Cuzco. Throughout the conflict and years of the Spanish colonization of the Americas, many Incas died of smallpox.
Cusco stands on layers of cultures, with the Tawantinsuyu (old Inca Empire) built on Killke structures and the Spanish replacing indigenous temples with Catholic churches and palaces with mansions for the invaders.
Cusco was the center for the Spanish colonization and spread of Christianity in the Andean world. It became very prosperous thanks to agriculture, cattle raising and mining, as well as its trade with Spain. The Spanish colonists constructed many churches and convents, as well as a cathedral, university and Archbishopric.
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