Cuzco

            The trip from Machu Picchu consisted of a bus trip down along the many switchbacks to the town of Aguas Caliente and then a three hour train ride to Cuzco.  On the train, we were treated to a native dance in costume and also to a fashion show featuring Alpaca wool clothing for both men and women.   Our hotel in Cuzco was a monastery originally built in 1595 on the site of an Inca ruler’s palace.  

In 1598, Catholic priests were being trained and housed at what was now the San Antonio Abad monastery.  A chapel was added later and the entire structure was decorated in the Baroque style with gold plated picture frames and paintings by the best local artists.  In 1965, the monastery was remodeled into the hotel it is today.    

Situated in the Peruvian Andes, Cuzco was developed by an Inca ruler into a complex urban centre with distinct religious and administrative functions. It was surrounded by clearly delineated areas for agricultural, artisan and industrial production.

When the Spaniards conquered this region in the 16th century, they preserved the basic structure, but built Baroque style churches and palaces over the ruins of this Inca city.  

Cuzco is the Inca Empire’s former capital and South America’s oldest continuously inhabited city.  It bears the marks of its Spanish and Inca heritage and both the colonial and modern buildings still incorporate walls constructed during the Inca period.  For that very reason, the streets are very narrow as that was how the Inca buildings were originally constructed.    

            While in Cuzco, we visited Sacsayhuamán (also known as Sexy Woman), which is a stone fortress of massive zigzag walls, fashioned from stone blocks, some thirty-three feet high and weighing hundreds of tons.   It was built on ground that towers over Cuzco and represented the expression of the Incas’ military strength.  We climbed the walls for impressive views of the city and to sense the magnitude of this undertaking which took some fifty years to finish.

Sacsayhuaman Stone Fortress

Cathedral of Cuzco

           We also visited the Church of Santo Domingo and its convent, which was built in the year 1535 on the foundation and walls of Coricancha, the Inca Temple of the Sun.  Originally covered with thick plates of solid gold by the Incas, the Spaniards took the gold and built their own Dominican church atop the seamless Inca walls ...a bizarre juxtaposition that illustrates the religious conflict that continues to divide Cuzco today especially among the Quechuan people. 

            We then went to the Plaza de Armas, the main square which is surrounded by arcades and houses with ornate carved balconies and terra cotta roofs.   There presiding over the town square is the imposing Cathedral of Cuzco and its churches.  The cathedral was built on top of Inca Viracocha’s palace using blocks of red granite taken from Sacsayhuamán and took more than a century to construct from 1560 onwards.   

            There are 328 paintings many by local artists produced under the direction of the church.  None could show mountains, sun, moon or stars as they representations of the Inca religion.  It is possible to see many unique paintings, including odd works such as Christ eating a guinea pig at the Last Supper and a pregnant Virgin Mary. There is also an interesting painting, reported to be the oldest in Cuzco, showing Cuzco during the 1650 earthquake with the townspeople praying in the Plaza de Armas.                         

            During our stay in Cuzco, we had lunch with a local family... a very pleasant experience except for the serving of guinea pig, which for the Peruvians, is considered a local culinary delicacy.   We also attended a musical folklore and dance performance that was extremely entertaining and enlightening ....complete with colorful costumes and a live orchestra.