Cusco city tour: The Cathedral and the Plaza de Armas, the Koricancha temple and the nearby Inca ruins. The graceful main square, Plaza de Armas, is lined with colonial-style covered walkways and houses that contain souvenir shops, restaurants, bars, money exchange and bank agencies. The large Cathedral is the most prominent structure overlooking the square and is adjoined to a church on either side, the Iglesia Jesus María and Iglesia El Triunfo. Inside is the elaborately carved wooden altar, covered in gold and silver plate, and the carved wooden choir stalls that are acclaimed to be the finest in the country. Also of interest are the 400 paintings of the Cusco School; A curiosity is the painting The Last Supper, which portrays Jesus and his disciples gathered around the table, on which a central platter of the local Inca delicacy, ‘cuy’ or roasted guinea pig, is placed.
The Koricancha temple: Koricancha is a Quechua word meaning ‘Golden Courtyard’, but the Inca stonework is all that remains of the ancient Temple of the Sun, which was the most important temple in the Inca Empire, dedicated primarily to Inti, the Sun God. The walls and floors were once covered in sheets of solid gold, and the courtyard was filled with golden statues. Spanish reports tell of its opulence that was ‘fabulous beyond belief’. Here there are also several minor temples, like the moon and stars ones, as well as water channels.
The Church of Santo Domingo was built on the site, using the ruined foundations of the temple that was flattened by the gold-hungry Spanish in the 17th century, and is a fine example of where Inca stonework has been incorporated into the structure of a colonial building. Major earthquakes have severely damaged the church, but the Inca stone walls, built out of huge, tightly-interlocking blocks of stone, still stand as a testimony to their superb architectural skills and sophisticated stone masonry.
The four archaeological sites above Cusco
Saqsayhuaman: Of the four ruins near Cusco, Sacsayhuamán is the closest and the most remarkable. Its proximity to Cusco and the dimensions of its stones caused it to be used as a quarry by the Spanish conquistadors, providing building material for their colonial buildings in the city below. The complex suffered such destruction by the Spanish conquistadors that little is known about the actual purpose these magnificent buildings served, but it is usually referred to as a fortress, constructed with high, impenetrable walls, although it is also believed to have been a ceremonial or religious centre. The ruins cover an enormous area, but only about 20 percent of the original complex remains and are a fine example of extraordinary Inca stone masonry. It is estimated the complex took 100 years to build, using thousands of men in its construction, the massive blocks of stone fitting together perfectly without the aid of mortar, one weighing over 300 tonnes and standing 16ft (5m) tall. The magnificent centre was the site of the infamous bloody battle between the Spanish and the Inca people in 1536 that left thousands of the native people dead, providing food for the circling condors, and ever since the Cusco Coat of Arms has featured eight condors in memory of the event. Today it holds the annual celebrations of Cusco’s most important festival, Inti Raymi, the sun festival, a spectacular and colourful affair that re-enacts the Inca winter solstice festival every June.
Q’enqo, a temple built on a huge boulder which could have been used to worship Gods from the upper and underworld, and a ceremonial center to do sacrifices to the Mother Earth.
Puca Pucara, or the Red Fortress, probably defending the entrance to the important temple sector from the trails leading to the Sacred Valley.
Tambomachay, called also the Inca’s Bath, a beautiful temple dedicated to worship water, source of life for an agrarian society like the Inka.