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Peruvian City Of Cuzco Once The Capital Of The Incas

By James Donahue

The mountain city of Cuzco, in southern Peru, is a place of Catholic cathedrals, adobe houses, open markets and narrow, winding cobblestone streets. About 275,000 people live there.

Amid the buildings and buried under those cobblestones are the ruins of the original city that once served as the capital of the mighty Inca empire. Even the name of the place, which means navel, has not changed. When under Inca rule, Cuzco was the center of the world and the hub of a magnificent network of roads linking all parts of the empire that reached into what now is Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia and Colombia. The Incas erected unique stone structures and huge temples with broad public squares that still are standing throughout that part of South America.

The amazing ability of the Inca architects has been as perplexing to contemporary archaeologists as the people who designed and built the great pyramids of Egypt. Somehow they managed to place enormous cut-stone blocks that fit so perfectly that no mortar was needed.

Just how and where the Inca people had their origins is somewhat of a mystery. Some believe the first Inca tribes came to Cuzco from the Lake Titicaca region, where more forms of this amazing masonry can be found. The story is told that the City of Cuzco was founded in the 11th Century by Manco Capac.

Lake Titicaca is the highest navagable lake in the world at 12,506 feet above sea level. Strangely, at this great altitude, the remnants of one of the oldest known American civilizations have been found on Titicaca Island, in the middle of this lake. Legend has it that the first ruler, Manco Capac and his mate, Mama 0cllo, were sent down to earth by the sun. Another story says they emerged from the water.

Manco Capac became a culture hero. He was said to have ruled at Cuzco for about 40 years. During that time he and Mama Ocilo taught the people industries and arts, established a code of laws and some said they abolished human sacrifice. Where did they gain this knowledge?

The City of Cuzco was of a far different design than European cities of that time. The entire city was designed in the form of a puma, if it could have been examined from the air. The great fortress of Sacsahuaman was the head of the cat. The confluence of the Huatanay and Tullumayo Rivers was dug out as a straight canal to form the tail. The center of the city contained official and ceremonial buildings and homes of ruling officials. The other buildings and homes were spread for and wide throughout the countryside although they were considered part of the city as well.

The road system was another amazing part of the Inca Empire. Although the Incas never invented the wheel and everybody traveled on foot, they built over 14,000 miles of road, much of it paved, with some sections of road measuring over 15 feet in width. Some roads passed along the sides of such steep cliffs that stone walls were erected on the edge to prevent people and animals from tumbling over the edge.

The roadway also included a variety of different styles of bridges since the roads were constructed in a mountainous region. The types of bridges included suspension structures held up by huge cables made of woven reed, pontoon bridges made from reed boats, and pulley baskets that could be pulled by hand as travelers rode them over deep gorges and rivers.

All travelers in the Inca Empire were official government people. The common people were forbidden to use these roads. The army moved troops on their way to stop rebellions or protect the people from invaders. The army also brought supplies to victims of natural disasters. Llama trains carried food from the farms to markets by way of the roads. And official messengers ran the roads, with their important letters. Rest houses were placed along the roads, within a few miles of each other, offering a place for travelers to rest, cook a meal, water their llamas, or spend the night.

Unfortunately the Incas also had mines from which they gathered a quantity of silver and gold, much of this brought into Cuzco for the construction of the temples and palaces. When the Spanish arrived in 1533, the treasures were plundered by Francisco Pizarro and the city was destroyed. On top of the ruins a new city was erected, this time with Catholic churches decorated with the looted wealth from the Inca structures.

Because of its important location Cuzco flourished under the new Spanish rule and became an art center.