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Cusco (Cuzco): History

Killki temples - Inca temples - the holy puma of Cusco - slavery - the Spanish occupation with new terror and new temples - rebellion and independence  - new terror of mestizos - detection of Machu Picchu in 1911 - the profits all go to Lima

presented by Michael Palomino (2008)



from: Dilwyn Jenkins: The rough guide to Peru; Rough Guides, New York London, Delhi; 6th edition September 2006; www.roughguides.com

Cusco and Machu Picchu

Offering access to Machu Picchu - the biggest tourist destination in the Americas - CUSCO has become one of the most popular destinations in Peru. Located in a highland valley, fed by two rivers, the city's unique layout was designed in the form of a puma by the Incas hundreds of years ago (p.244).

[The Incas were a belligerent and strong people and - compared with other pre-Inca cultures - did not enjoy life too much. The dictatorship of the system was absolute, and spiritually only a tiny upper class had access to the gods. So the Inca system was not at all "romantic" but stupid. That's why many other cultures helped the Europeans to destroy the Inca leader state].

Some history about Cusco (Cuzco)

Killki temples - Inca temples on Killki temples

The Cusco Valley and the Incas are synonymous in most people's minds, but the area was populated well before the Incas arrived on the scene and built their empire on the toil and ingenuity of previous peoples. The Killki, who dominated the region from around 700-800 AD, while primarily agrarian, also built temple structures from the hard local diorite and andesite stones. Some of these structures still survive, while others were incorporated into later Inca constructions - the sun temple of Koricancha, for example, was built on the foundations of a Killki sun temple.

The foundation of the Inca empire capital of Cusco - the legend and the wars - the puma form - stone houses of Inca terror and slavery

According to Inca legend, Cusco was founded by Manco Capac and his sister Mama Occlo around 1200 AD. Over the next two hundred years the valley was home to the Inca tribe, one of many localized groups then dominating the Peruvian sierra. It wasn't until Pachacuti assumed leadership of the Incas in 1438 that Cusco became the centre of an expanding empire and took the Inca army, gaining religious and political control of the surrounding valleys and regions. As Pachacuti pushed the frontier of Inca territory outwards, he also master-minded the design of imperial Cusco, canalizing the Saphi and the Tullumayo, two rivers that ran down the valley, and built the center of the city between them.

Cusco's city plan was conceived in the (p.244)

form of a puma, a sacred animal: Sacsayhuaman, an important ritual center and citadel [fortress about 2km on a hill near Cusco], is the jagged, tooth-packed head; Pumachupan [lower part of Cusco] the sacred cat's tail, lies at the junction of the city's two rivers; between these two sites lies Koricancha, the Temple of the Sun, reproductive center of the Inca universe, the loins of this sacred beast; the heart of the puma was Huacapata, a ceremonial square approximating in both size and position to the present-day Plaza de Armas, then Aucaypata. Four main roads radiated from the square, one to each corner of the empire.

The overall achievement was remarkable, a planned city without rival at the center of a huge empire, and in building their capital the Incas endowed Cusco with some of its finest structures. Stone palaces and houses lined the streets which ran straight and narrow, with water channels to drain off the heavy rains. So solidly built, much of ancient Cusco is still visible today, particularly in the stone walls of what were once palaces and temples.

[The big majority in the Inca system were slaves of the tiny upper class. The slaves never had stone houses].

The colonial occupation by the Spaniards

In 1532, when the Spanish arrived in Peru, Cusco was a thriving city, and capital of one of the world's biggest empires [with a huge slavery and repression]. The Spaniard [who came with the help of the natives who were suppressed by the Incas] were astonished: the city's beauty surpassed anything they had seen before in the New World, the stonework was better than any in Spain and precious metals, used in a sacred context throughout the city, were in abundance throughout Koricancha. They lost no time in plundering its fantastic wealth [with the agreement of the natives who were not Incas so the terror regime was gone for ever].

Atahualpa, the emperor at the time was captured by Spanish Conquistadors in Cajamarca while en route to Cusco, returning from bloody battles in the northern extremity of the empire. [Many natives never wanted the Inca terror]. Hearing from the Emperor Atahualpa himself of Cusco's great wealth as the center of Inca religious and political power, Francisco Pizarro reached the native capital on November 15, 1533.

Refounding of Cusco under Spanish terror - civil war - siege of Cusco by the natives - Spanish occupation of Sacsayhuaman

The Spanish city was officially founded on March 23, 1534: keeping the same name as it had under the Incas, Cusco was divided up among 88 of Pizarro's men who chose to remain there as settlers. Manco Inca, a blood relative of Atahualpa (who was murdered by Pizarro, see pp. 577-578), was set up as a puppet ruler, governing from a new palace on the hill just below Sacsayhuaman. After Pizarro's departure, his sons Juan and Gonzalo came out on top of the power struggle, and after a year were free to abuse Manco and his subjects, which eventually provoked the Incas to open resistance. In 1536 Manco fled to Yucay, in the Sacred Valley, to gather forces for the Great Rebellion.

Within days the two hundred Spanish defenders, with only eighty horses, were surrounded in Cusco by over 100,000 rebel Inca warriors. On May 6 Manco's men laid siege to the city. After a week, a few hundred mounted Spanish soldiers launched a desperate counterattack on the Inca base in Sacsayhuaman and, incredibly, defeated the native stronghold, putting some 1500 warriors to the sword as they took it.

White rival Almagro in Cusco - Pizarro lets execute Almagro - Inca rebellion in Vilcabamba

Spanish-controlled Cusco never again came under such serious threat from its indigenous population, but its battles were far from over. By the end of the rains the following year, a rival Conquistador, Almagro, seized Cusco for himself until Francisco Pizarro a few months later, defeated the rebel Spanish troops and had Almagro garroted in the main plaza. Around the same time, a diehard group of rebel Incas held out in Vilcabamba until 1572, when the Spanish colonial viceroy, Toledo, captured the leader Tupac Aymaru [Tupac Amaru] and had him beheaded in the Plaza de Armas.

Cusco earthquake in 1650 - Bishop Mollinedo's leadership in rebuilding the town

From then on the city was left in relative peace, ravaged only by the great earthquake of 1650. After this dramatic tremor, remarkably illustrated on a huge canvas in La Catedral de Cusco, Bishop Mollinedo was largely responsible for the reconstruction of the city, and his influence is also closely associated with Cusco's most creative years of art. The Cusqueña school (p.245) (see box, p.256), which emerged from his patronage, flourished for the next two hundred years, and much of its finer work, produced by native Quechua and mestizo artists such as Diego Quispe Tito, Juan Espinosa de los Monteros, Fabian Ruiz and Antonio Sinchi Roca, is exhibited in ["Christian"] museums and ["Christian"] churches around the city.

[At the same time the "Christian" regime was killing any resistance with stakes and hanging against the natives up to independence - and since then the mestizos in the towns are governing against the pure natives in the villages].

1911: Detection of Machu Picchu - Cusco becomes a tourist center - festivities and political disaster

In spite of this cultural heritage, Cusco only received international attention after the discovery of Machu Picchu by Hirham Bingham's archaeological expedition of discovery in 1911. With the advent of air travel and global tourism, Cusco has been slowly transformed from a quiet colonial city in the remote Andes into a busy tourist center with scores of decent hotels, restaurants and shops retailing local peasant craft and also some fine jewelery, much of this replicating Inca style and design.

[Tourist profits are going only to the government and the profit is not spread to the people in Cusco. The hotels in Machu Picchu only belong to members of parliament in Lima, and all profit is kept by the government and not given to the people!]

Today, Cusco possesses an identity above and beyond its architectural and archaeological legacy. Like its renowned art, Cusco is dark, yet vibrant with (p.246) colour: one minute you're walking down a high, narrow, stone-walled alley listening to the soft moans of a blind old busker, then suddenly you burst onto a plaza full of brightly dressed dancers from the countryside, joining in what, at times, seems like the endless carnival and religious festival celebrations which Cusco is famous for.

It's a politically active, left-of-center city where street demonstrations organized by teachers, lecturers, miners or some other beleaguered profession are commonplace [because of cuts of salaries which ruin the people. It's a disaster!]

The leading light of Cusco's left, in the early 1990s, mayor Daniel Estrada, with the help of local architect Guido Gallegos, contributed to the city's legacy with elegant Inca-like modern fountains and statues, such as the Condor and Pachacutec monuments and the new plaza in San Blas. Since then a huge, largely concrete and circular sundisc monument has been erected on the lower part of Avenida Sol, near Huanchac station and Cusco's largest artesanía market. (p.247)

[Well, statues are not helping against poverty, and the railway is in the hands of Chile. Peruvian government is selling the country].