During the Inca Empire, Cusco was a sacred city of temples and palaces laid out in the shape of a puma, a feline that was considered as the special deity among the Quechuas. The Puma’s head was the Sacsayhuaman fortress and the body was the city, which extended between two rivers – Saphy and Tullumayo – and ran along streets of the same name.
As an evidence of this, the name of Calle Pumakurko has been maintained, and it represents the “Puma’s backbone”; the Pumaqchupan district or the “Puma’s Tail” is in the junction of the Saphi (“Root”) river and the Tullumayu (“Bone River” or “Thin River”), these junctions are located in front of the Savoy Hotel. Besides, the head is situated in Saqsaywaman, whose name derives from “uma del saqsa” or “marbled head”. According to the tradition, Cusco had the shape of a crouching puma.
Streets were narrow, usually straight and duly paved. The building walls of the central zone of the city were made of carved stones, whereas the suburbs had walls made of adobe (sun-dried brick) or “parka”, with striped walls with painted stucco or plaster made of clay. Their roofs were made of straw. Houses did not have many doors or windows so as to maintain the temperature during cold seasons. Through the rivers’ beds flowed clean water that was consumed by the population.
Life in the old Cusco city turned around its great Square. It was known that it was large and it was divided into two sectors by the Saphi (“Root”) river. Tawantinsuyo’s most important political and religious ceremonies were held in one of these sectors, which was called Haukaypata, word that would mean “Ceremonial Sector”. However, there is a controversy regarding the name of this sector. The tradition and some researchers state that the original name was Wakaypata (The Crying Sector). The other half of the Square encompassed the Kusipata (Joy Sector), because after the great ceremonies people gathered there in order to celebrate their parties, eat and drink. This great Square was paved in different segments with stone labs, and it was covered with sea sand so as to avoid causing troubles during the rainy seasons. In the center of these two sectors there was a special high platform known as “Usnu” from where the Incas and priests or other officials spoke to the people.
The most important buildings were located around the Square, in particular the palaces of some of the Inca Society Governors. Inca Pachakuteq’s palace known as Qasana, which nowadays makes a corner with the Plateros street, stood out towards the northeast. To the north, we could find the palace of Inca Roqa called Qoraqora; the palace of Inca Wiraqocha, Kiswar Kancha, was located in the area where the Cathedral is currently situated, in front of that palace there was one Suntur Wasi, a building that had a cylinder shape and was used as the emblems’ house: the Hatun Kancha, which belonged to Inka Yupanqui, and was located at the east of the former building. In the Pukamarka, which belonged to Tupaq Inka Yupanqui, we still can see the entire wonderful wall at Maruri street.
There is also the Hatunrumiyoq palace (a modern name since its original name is unknown; this is where the 12-angle stone is situated), which belonged to Inka Roqa but today is the Archbishop’s palace; the Qollqanpata palace, located in the San Cristóbal parish church and was supposed to be property of Inca Manko Qhapaq; the Ajlla Wasi or Virgins of the House of the Sun were situated in the northeast side of the current Society of Jesus; the Amaru Kancha was the palace of Wayna Qhapaq and is currently occupied by the Society of Jesus, today surrounded by El Sol Avenue, Afligidos street and Loreto. In front of this palace there was also another called Suntur Wasi.
Each palace occupied a wide territory, almost always an entire block, and they must have housed the Inca’s Panaka, that is, his whole family (ancestors, descendants and other relatives). Around the Kusipata there weren’t other palaces, but the areas were already prepared and fortified for future buildings. Likewise, every 5 days, people carried out the qhatu (market) there. This activity was based on a products exchange and, according to Martín de Murua, it was executed with the assistance of one hundred thousand persons approximately.
The one-time capital of Tawantinsuyo, Cusco today it reflects both an urban and rural face where modernity coexists with tradition. An example of this is the colorful neighborhood of San Blas, home to artisans and ancient secrets.
The sacred city was surrounded by terraces used for farming, which went far beyond the two rivers that formed its borders. Carefully tended, the terraces also served to isolate the sacred center. Neighborhoods that housed the common people were spread throughout this isolation belt. There were 12 neighborhoods, according to the chroniclers. Tococachi (salt hole or cave), today known as San Blas, was one of these neighborhoods.