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Picture Pages:  Airport arrival  |   Qoricancha Sun Temple  |  Town Square  |  Local street  |  Group Picture  |  Saqsayhuaman   |   Q'enqo  |   Curandero Healing  |  Indian market  |  Tambo Machay |   Political Rally  |  Pisac  |  Home Lunch   |  Local Entertainment

Cuzco (or Cusco), the Sacred City of the Sun, was the nearly impenetrable capital of the Incas. To Francisco Pizarro and his Spanish conquistador the l0,909-foot-high city was the coveted gateway to new dominions. To modern-day travelers, it is the acclaimed "archaeological capital of South America," a cultural treasure of humanity.

Days of Incan Glory
Founded in the 11th century, pre-Columbian Cuzco boasted a sophisticated water system, tens of thousands of miles of paved streets, and a distinct lack of poverty. Such affluence was encouraged by the Incan credo, "Ama sua, ama quella, ama lulla" ("Don't steal, don't be lazy, don't lie.") While not all shared equally in the riches of the Incan empire, each citizen was made to feel that his contributions were essential to the glory of the whole. Such unity of purpose allowed the Incas to support a vast conquering army while simultaneously expanding their cultural influence.

The Incans were unable to hold off the Europeans' superior military strength, however. Around 1523, Francisco Pizarro, urged on by Cortez's success in conquering the Aztecs and claiming their vast riches, set his sights upon the fabulous wealth of the Incas. By 1532, he and his armies had brought the mighty reign of the Inca to an end.

Central City
From our hotel we took a walking tour to explore the Qoricancha Sun Temple, the city's most important ceremonial structure during the Incan era. Historical records of the time note that its walls were once covered with 700 sheets of gold studded with emeralds and turquoise; when the sunlight streamed through the windows, the reflection off the precious metals was blinding. Contemporary reports indicated that the windows were placed to maximize the reflected light of the sun, creating a near-blinding effect. In the patio garden stood dozens of life-sized statues, made of solid gold.

By contrast, the solid silver altar of Cuzco's 17th-century Cathedral would have seemed pedestrian. There is a painting of the Last Supper, featuring Christ and his apostles feasting on roast guinea pig, hot peppers, and Andean cheese! Next we went to see the rich colors of San Bias, the city's thriving artisan's quarter.  This is where we had a group picture taken.

Cusco's main square known as the Wajaypata in Inca times, was the site of many religious, cultural and ethnic celebrations and is still an ideal meeting place.  The Cathedral and La Compañia, two of Cusco's main colonial churches, beautifully frame the plaza. Other colonial churches are Santo Domingo, the convent of Santa Catalina and San Bias with its famous pulpit, in the neighborhood of the artist's quarter.  Our hotel, the San Augustin, was only four blocks from the main square.

On our second day in Cusco we visit the massive Saqsayhuaman fortress. Set on a hilltop overlooking the city, it is constructed of enormous stones weighing up to 125 tons apiece. Its double zigzag wall is said to symbolize a puma's teeth, and at one time there were three immense towers and a labyrinth of rooms large enough to garrison 5,000 Incan soldiers. Today, the interior buildings are gone, having been dismantled by the Spaniards for their stone. But the imposing outer walls remain, as does the Inca Throne. Recent excavations have revealed this ancient stone complex to be much larger than previously thought. 

We next visited the sacred spring of Tambo Machay which is located in a peaceful sheltered valley.  We also stopped at a smaller area called  Q'enqo.  This was a funerary place to prepare bodies for burial.  In the center of the site was a huge puna rock formation.

We got a glimpse of contemporary culture as we witness a traditional curandero healing ceremony. Belief in folk medicine is prevalent here, even among sophisticated urban dwellers.

The next morning we had a half-day excursion to Pisac, the site of an important Incan ruin. On the way we stopped at a colorful indian market and bakery.  Pisac is situated in a spectacular location atop a buttress ridge, with gorges on either side. From this ancient city, you have sweeping vistas both upstream and downstream in the Urubamba Valley. Pisac's highly defensible site guarded both the Valley and a high jungle pass to the northeast. The main Incan religious center includes well-built stone rooms and temples. Among Pisac's most distinctive features are the agricultural terraces that sweep around the mountainsides below in long, graceful curves. 

After touring the ruins, we had a home-hosted lunch with a local family. See the pictures.

One day in Cuzco is all it takes for one to understand why colonial explorers did not hesitate to christen it "the most marvelous city of the New World."

Our last evening in Cusco was spent at a local restaurant where we were entertained with indigenous musicians as they play traditional Andean instruments – the panpipe, charango and tambo.

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