Incan Architecture

Not much is known definitively about Incan culture prior to the conquest by the Spanish conquistadors in 1532, since the Incas didn’t have a writing system that documents their history. In broad strokes, the Incas were accomplished administrators and devoted to their religion which seemed to center on worship of the sun and the mountains, their king they believed was a direct descendant of the sun itself.

The conquest of the Incas by the Spanish conquistadors is a harsh period of history to read about, since the brutality of the conquest by the Spanish is infamous, though the Incas weren’t exactly angels either. The Incas had effectively conquered and ruled all neighboring tribes in the area during their short, but brilliant 90 year reign as masters of the Andes. Even now, nearly 500 years later, the scars and turmoil of the titanic collision between Incan and Spanish culture still resonates in Peru.

One thing is certain though, the Incas were masterful architects and builders. The precision and beauty of their masonry skills is exquisite. Large granite blocks weighing many tons were carved to perfectly fit with each other in organic shapes, without the use of any mortar whatsoever. Often the blocks were cut in a pillowy shape that belies the weight and hardness of the rock, which makes it seem like the massive wall is just puffs floating in space. The angles and curves of each block fit together as perfectly as a complex puzzle, and the overall effect is dazzling on the senses. It would have been a sight to see the full majesty of Incan architecture at its peak.

The below block is a good example, it has 12 unique corners that fit perfectly with all the other blocks adjacent to it.

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Upon our arrival in Cusco, Peru we got our first glimpse of Incan masonry.  Cusco was the center of the Incan universe and they believed that all things emanated from this central point.  Therefore, the city of Cusco is filled with Incan history.  The narrow streets that cars and pedestrians squeeze through today were originally built for an Incan resident and his llama.

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Without mortar, steel, or modern machinery to help them, the Incas were able to carve and lift the enormous stones to create their sanctuaries.  The stones on every wall fit together as if they were one, without even a millimeter of space in between at any edge.

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On this wall you can see the knobs and divots that the Incas used to move and lift the stones into place.  Long poles of wood were situated under the knobs so that the Incas could carry the carved stones to their destination.  The Incas used the divots to lift the stones into the higher places on the building walls.  These marks were usually removed once the stones were in place…we are not sure why they still remain on some walls.

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The large stone walls seen throughout the city are remnants of Incan architecture.   One of the most impressive streets was called Inca Roca.  Inca Roca was the 9th Incan emperor and the present day street of Inca Roca is where his temple was constructed.  The stones used in creating this building were not only perfectly carved, but immense.

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Here is are two exemplary stones from the Inca Roca wall.  The first stone has 10 corners and the second has 12 corner   Each corner and each side perfectly match every side around it, displaying the precision and meticulousness with which the Incas worked.

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Another fascinating thing about the Inca Roca wall is that the Inas used the stones to create images representing Incan values.  If you look carefully at this section of the wall you can see a puma which signifies strength and below the puma, a serpent which represents intelligence.

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Above is the actual wall, but here are the images highlighted so you can make them out…

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After admiring the streets of Cusco, we went to visit the most scared temple of the Incas, Qorikancha.  This temple is located in the direct center of Cusco, and as Cusco is the center of the Incan universe, everything in the Incan empire leads back to this sacred place.  Unfortunately the structures of Qorikancha are not intact as they were demolished or re-fabricated after the Spanish conquest of the Incas.  Although we prefer the Inca’s work, the Spnaish architecture inside was beautiful as well.

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The work of the Incas was more unique and impressive to us and the original structures that remain demonstrate immaculate precision.  Inside Qorikancha there is even a 14 angled stone that the Incas carved to perfectly fit into it’s place in the temple.

Look at the perfectly symetrical trapezoidal double doors…

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These niches the size of windows were probably places for valuable objects…

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Three trapezoidal windows in the walls of the temple that perfectly align with one another…

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And here are some other remarkable stone carvings done by Incas…

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From the exterior of the cathedral you can see the remnants of the Temple of the Sun, the Inca’s most sacred room.  It was covered in gold from top to bottom, creating an unimaginable golden glow from the sun shining off the gold plates. The Spanish must have crapped their pants when they stumbled upon this place in its full glory.

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The Incas believed heavily in astronomy and based many of their buildings on the sun and moon.  Here is a neat painting of the Milky and various images that they saw represented in the stars.

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As we walked around other streets in Cuzco we saw some stonework that looked like Inca quality, but not related to any temple.  We speculate that the Spanish enlisted the Incas to do this work after the conquest.

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Our first look at Incan ruins makes us eager to see more.  We are looking forward to exploring the Sacred Valley and the spectacular site of Machu Picchu.

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One response to “Incan Architecture

  1. I enjoyed reading your blog, and looking at the beautiful and exotic places that you visited.
    Enjoy this part of your journey.
    Raouf

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