A first guide to the City of Cusco, the door to Machu Picchu


Cusco, the gateway to Machu Picchu, is located in the valley of the Huataney River in the southeast of the Andes at 3400 meters above sea level, Cusco its 1153 Kms. southwest from Lima. Cusco is the former capital of Tahuantinsuyo, the center of the Empire of the Four Regions and the “Navel of the world”.

From this city unfurled one of the most remarkable empires in the history of mankind. The Incas expanded in less than one hundred years their frontiers from the North of Quito in Ecuador to Santiago de Chile far South. In eastern direction they reached Argentina. Although the Incas are not well known in the western world, they were bigger than many ancient cultures intensively studied.

Cusco or Qosqo was built at 3400 above sea level in the shape of an enormous puma. The body of the puma contained the most important palaces, temples and governmental buildings while the fortress just outside the city, known as Sacsayhuamán, formed the head of this sacred animal. The square between the legs of the puma is the Plaza de Armas.

The city today is a strange mixture of Inca architecture and the Spanish-Moorish colonial style. The Spanish destroyed unfortunately most of the temples in Cusco for building catholic churches. Inside the Santa Domingo you can still visit the temples built in name of the natural elements as lightning, rain, Moon (Quilla), Sun (Inti), wind, etc. Most of the enormous palaces every new Sapa Inca (the emperor) built to performance his duty do still exist and some of them are turned into museums.

The legend tells us that the first Sapa Inca Manco Capac and his royal wife Mama Occllo received the assignment of the God of the Sun the Inti itself. They established the capital city of a new empire where the golden staff sunk in the ground and improved life of the people living in this part of the world.

The Spanish arrived in Cusco late 1533 and were astonished by the beauty of the capital city. Eyewitnesses described the place as a city of gold and light. Streets were quiet, the Incas had no horses and the biggest domestic animal was the llama which can’t be used to pull any kind of cart. Street life was quiet because only the inhabitants on sandals walked there. Every street was clean and had two canals: one as sewerage and on the other side of the street a canal with fresh and clean river water.

After the conquistadors took all the gold and other valuables, they burned Cusco totally. Only the foundations, made by the Incas to overcome earthquakes and time, survived the disaster. Cusco is today most probably the most beautiful city in Latin America.