High and magnificent in the Andes Mountains during the Inca empire was the greatest city in South America: Cusco. Their capital was the administrative and religious center of the whole of the empire. Its borders were shaped like that of a puma, the Andean symbol for this world. The Inca leader, the Sapa Inca, had his palace there. Just outside of it sat the great fortress of Saqsaywaman. The Incas couldn’t have made a better city.
The Incas had flawless systems of agriculture and construction, applying those mechanisms to Cusco. The city was called the navel of the world. The birthplace of everything they knew and loved.
To themselves, the Incas were the center of the world. Much like the Chinese at the time, the world beyond their borders was almost desolate and boring. They created great and vast network systems, intertwining and crossing over each other through the Andes from southern Colombia to mid Chile and Argentina. And all the roads led to Cusco.
There was a saying from the Roman times. All Roads Lead to Rome. Well, for the Incas, you could tweak that statement to rather say All Roads Lead to Cusco. And it was true. Every mountain had its roads, up and down, under and over.
So the Incas flourished with their roads, terraces, fortresses, and aqueducts until someone arrived that shook the Inca’s sense of reality. They called it a nightmare, as if it were some kind of bad dream, not really real. But Pizzaro and the Spanish were very much real.
The Spanish told the rest of their known world that there was a whole new continent out to the West, and so the Americas became a very different place. Cusco became a very different place.
Since the year 2000, tourism in Cusco has tripled. That really changes a place. Cusco has a colorful and welcoming flavor to it, with an amazing festival, the Festival of Cusco, taking place between the 1st and 24th of June. Colorful dancers and beautiful music parade the streets, waving banners and long braids through the air.
I personally just love the feel of Cusco. The city seems about 45% Inca, with ruins and traditions still surviving. It also seems about 15% Spanish, carrying Catholic and European influences from the time that the Conquistadors landed on their shores. And the other 40% would go to the modern world, the city now getting quite used to tourists and modern what-not.
But I love the Inca part of it. How the native culture still survives from 500 years ago. I love walking through the small streets, passing shops and restaurants with Inca people in them. But most of all I love the color and welcoming feel that the city holds, a glorious heart from hundreds of years past.
Below: The Spaniards destroyed the most important temple of the Incas, the Quoricancha, but the old Inca walls are still there.