Historical Walking Tour Cusco – Inca History


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In our Historical Walking Tour Cusco – Inca History we will show you the greatness of our glorious past dating back to the year 300BC, below we show you more facts about our culture, history, tradition and local people.


inca empire - free walking tour cusco
Large pitchers like this were used to store and serve liquids such as Chicha, a corn based alcoholic beverage. ancient peruvians attached cords to the handdles and carried the vessels on their backs. this type of pitchers is reminiscent of the Greek Aryballus vessels. Larco Museum, Imperial period AD. 1200 – 1532

Prior to their emergence as conquerors of a vast empire, the Incas were a small and politically unimportant group residing in the southern Peruvian highlands. Around 1414 A.D. They began their expansion through conquest, combing formidable military tactics with highly efficient organizational skills, enabling them to maintain extremely tight control over a far-flung empire.

The Inca sovereigns climbed to have descended from the Inti, the Sun God who was the personification of the Andean Water God and the most important deity on their pantheon, together with Pachamama the Earch Goddess. Thirteen sovereign or Incas, were recorded, including Atahuallpa , whom the Spaniards captured. Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo who were brother and sister, were said to have married and founded the Inca Dynasty. According to Inca beliefs, Cuzco was chosen as their capital city and the center of the world and the golden staff carried by Manco Capac as he travelled in search of fertile land with his people sank into the earth in that spot. The Incas policy was the expansion of their civilization and the age of the enlightenment originated in Cusco, around which the world was into fourth quarters.

The Realm of the Incas was called Tahuantinsuyo; the land of the Four Quarters. From Cusco emerged four great state roads leading to the regions of Chinchaysuyo, Collasuyo, Antisuyo and Contisuyo. The roads and secondary highways linking them constituted a network of 30,000 miles. Suspension bridges some of them hundreds of feet long allowed passage over the deep gorges. The Inca emperors created a state covering a territory nearly 3,000 miles long, the government and administration of which were highly efficient. The Empire possessed a carefully planned economic structure which developed and employed agricultural techniques appropriate to the hostile environment. For a more accurate info about the Incan society, meet our guides in Historical Walking Tour Cusco – Inca History


Cuzco: Sacred City

Cusco was expanded from 1438 A.D. by the great emperor Pachaquteq, whose name in Quechua language means “Earth Shaker”. Early his career, Pachaquteq had defended Cusco against a powerful enemy, and subsequently he launched many successful expansion campaigns. He then turned his attention to organizing and consolidating the Vast Inca gains. Leaving the command of the Inca Empire army to his Son, Tupac Inca, who was himself an excellent tactician who expanded the Inca Empire into Ecuador and central Chile, Pachaqueteq returned to Cusco, where he created or improved many institutions including the highway system, an expensive warehousing network and system of national taxation.

He honored the God Sun Inti by enlarging and embellishing Cusco, the administrative and religious capital of the Inca Empire. Royal rooms have been built over the dual Plaza of Hauycaypata-Kusipata, part of which still functions as Central Plaza of Cusco. He comissioned Cusco’s most important sanctuary, The Koricnacha, a marvelous construction believed to have been the Temple of the Sun. early chroniclers claim Koricancha housed life size gold replicas of plants, birds, llamas and its walls were covered in sheets of gold. Also housed in the Koricancha were mummified remains of the emperors in fine clothes and accompanied by sumptuous emblematic jewelry.

A pair of naked golden idols, with large oval eyes. Inca Culture AD, 122 - 1532
A pair of naked golden idols, with large oval eyes. Inca Culture AD, 122 – 1532

Economic Administration of the Inca Empire

The workforce required to erect public works such as the extensive road network, was assembled though an obligatory system of labor called Mita.

Mita literally “a turn” was essentially a period of work owed on the government as a form of taxation. The service personnel of the Mita were rotated, spending their time building and repairing roads, mining precious metals or serving in the Army. Another government-managed organization was the Acllacuna, made up of women chosen for life of religious devotion, elite craft production, or serving as concubines to the Inca Nobility.

The Accllawasi, the chosen women, was located in the main square near the Koricancha, indicating its importance in the Inca society. The acllas were chosen at the age of ten on the basis of their skills and beauty. They were taught and perfected on many skills, such as weaving and making of the Chicha (a corn based alcoholic beverage used for rituals) From the Accllas, the emperor chose wives for himself, and some were given as rewards to the nobles.

Others served as priestesses known as the virgins of the sun. Chastity was the absolute rule and violation of this rule meant death for both parties. Unlike the Mita labor of the acllas were rendered for Life. Another form of tribute to the government was paid in goods, particularly foodstuff. The state saw that each family received a certain amount of land to cultivate from which it demanded two thirds of the production. The government used part of its surplus to support its administrative and religious leaders. A considerable portion, however was accumulated in silos for other state purposes, including the feeding of the army. To preserve their stored reserves the Incas turned to a variety of food preservation techniques. Meat for example was dehydrated into charqui (known in English as jerky, which is derived from the Inca word) and potatoes were freeze-dried.

To more efficiently exercise their dominance over theirs subjects, the Incas organized the general populations into units of 10, 100, or 10,000 tax paying units (often families), perhaps farther subdivided into groupings of 50, 500, and 5,000. A whole hierarchy of administrators was charged with overseeing specific groups within this scheme. Divisions were also made according to age, by which the productivity of each person judged. From childhood, individuals were required to comply with duties appropriate to their age.

In order to achieve satisfactory harvests, the Incas often engaged in ritual procedures intended to sway the will of supernatural powers. To gain the approval of the Gods, it was necessary to offer sacrifices of all kinds, from the sea shields and the llama fetuses, and, in some cases, humans. The Incas also perfected the construction and use of terraces for cultivation, this system expanded the agrarian frontier by making steep mountain slopes productive and at the same time, preventing erosion.

Agriculture in coastal valleys was also expanded by building canals, which improved and expanded the major hydraulic works of earlier cultures. Some of the canal systems inherited by the Incas carried water dozens of miles and involved considerable engineering expertise.

Long distance communication was established by way of messages carried by runners. The transmission of urgent messages across the Inca territory was achieved by the teams of “Chasquis”, runners stationed along the royal roads at distances which would be covered by an individual at speed. Messages were relayed from runner to runner until the news arrived to the final destination. The messages might have been verbal but also recorded in knotted cord records called “Quipus”. The Incas were able to keep an accurate census and accounting records by using the Quipus, a system of knotted strings radiating from a base cord. Numerical data could be recorded using different types and positions of knots on strings of varying length and colors. Those trained to make and read the quipus were called the “Quipucamayoc, and some researchers believe they also recorded historical information.

Bottle with a sptrap handle, decorated with geometric designs
Bottle with a sptrap handle, decorated with geometric designs

The Ruler, the Nobility and the Commoners

Inca society was divided into the nobility and various lower classes, apart from those who would distinguished themselves in war or other state activities, social mobility was rare. It is for this reason that William Presscott wrote, referring to the individual in the Inca Empire, “as he was born, so shall he die”. Myths imparted to the population the belief that nobles and commoners were born unequal BY DEVINE WILL. The creator God Viracocha was said to have travelled to Tiahuanaco, where he modeled people and animals from a primordial clay he gathered there. He then painted on the people various costumes that would forever distinguish their ethnicity and class. The Incas used this kind of ideology to maintain a strict social hierarchy, although internal disputes did exist in the form of rivalries over dynastic succession within the nobility. The Inca ruler stood at the head of the nobility. Below him were his closest relatives, followed by the members of Cusco’s nobility and the nobility of the annexed provinces. The remaining population was composed of common farmers.

 The Yanacona were a group of servants or retainers whose status depended on many factors, including their own geographic origin and the status of the individuals they served. The Inca nobility wore garments made from cotton and alpaca wool, sandals and elaborate earrings. The Inca emperor or “Sapa Inca” wore a highly symbolic headdress consisting of a fringed cord wrapped around his head. The emperor also carried symbolic staffs and was transported on a litter with a great pomp. Such ostentatious ceremony served to emphasize his power and assure that his orders were followed. The dress of ordinary Incas was not different in style from that of the governors and nobles. The main differences were in the quality of the workmanship and in the degree of decoration of the fabric, with average Inca’s garb much more simple and rustic. Marriage customs varied depending on the social status.

Adulterers were punished severely, sometimes with death. The punishments applied for other infractions also varied according to social status. Commoners did not seek personal wealth, since money was unknown to them, and precious metal did not constitute commercial wealth. All precious metal belonged to the state and were used in ritual and in royal insignia.

The Incas believed that in death the nobility maintained the same socio-economic status in afterlife that they had enjoyed in life. Those in power continued ruling in afterlife, surrounded by concubines and privileges. The Inca nobility were mummified and a court was maintained for them with a elaborate array of precious artifacts. The Inca system provided enormous privileges to the governing Inca and his family, but also allowed its commoners, the great majority of the population, to provide themselves with their own basic needs. The responsibility of supply fell upon the shoulders of local governors, or curacas whose were conscious of this and strove to fulfill their obligations. Propagandist strategies, initiated by the elite and diffused by the state, contributed to a feeling of state solidarity. This seems to have led to a general conformism in which there were few aspirations of upward social movement, social change, or the accumulations of wealth.

A very sofisticated data keeping item.
A very sofisticated data keeping item.

Art and Architecture

The Inca Empire inherited a rich and ancient tradition of artistic expression. This is reflected in their exquisite ceramics, textiles and metallurgy. Their most significant and original contribution, however was architecture and engineering, which resulted in the construction of superb administrative and religious buildings, as well as in the construction and maintenance of an immense network of roads and irrigation systems.

The city of Machupicchu is an exceptional testament and high level of achievement reached by Inca architecture. The site is located on a mountain ridge covered by lush Amazon flora, on the eastern descent from Cuzco toward the tropical lowlands. The grandeur of the landscape surrounding Machupicchu heightens the beauty of its temples, shrines, patios and stairways. Many sections of the city are built from hand-cut stones which fit together so perfectly that, even today, a knife cannot be inserted between the blocks.

After the fall of the Inca Empire Machupicchu remained abandoned and forgotten by early 500 years, then in 1911 this Inca architectural jewel was discovered by Hiram Bingham, a professor of Latin America History at Yale University. Bingham’s intention was to find the lost city of Vilcabamba, the final capital of the Incas after the Spaniards took Cusco. He believed it to be hidden in the densely forested forge of the Urubamba River. Informed by a local farmer that there were Inca ruins above the river valley, Bingham set off the on the morning of July 24, 1911 with the farmer and one other companion. Climbing a steep hillside with terracing dating to Inca times, he stumbled upon a magnificent find. Although they were partly covered by trees, moss, and tangled vines that had grown over the site for centuries, he identified finally temples tombs and residential buildings for the elite made of white granite blocks perfectly fit together without the use of mortar. The site was intricately terraced, the whole city looked as if it had carved out of the mountain. Bingham came to believe that this was indeed Vilcabmaba. It was not until 1964 that Gene Savoy, another American explorer, reached the site of the true final refuge of the Incas, in a much more remote location at even lower altitudes. He was guided by Antoniio Santander who was already convinced that the ruins of Espiritu Pampa were those of Vilcabamba the Old, keep leraning about the Incas by walking in cusco.


ceramic decorated with a human face on its neck. Inca Culture AD 1200-1532
Ceramic decorated qith a human face on its neck, lear more about this in our Historical Walking Tour Cusco – Inca History .
Inca Culture AD 1200-1532


The Fall of the Inca Empire

At the time of the Spanish arrival in the Andes, the Inca Empire covered an immense territory that surpassed the borders of modern-day Peru. It included present-day Ecuador, Parts of Colombia and Bolivia, northwestern Argentina and northern Chile. It is extraordinary that the Spanish were able to conquer such a highly organized, successful and warlike empire of perhaps 10 million subjects with only a few hundred men, some riding horses and a few armed with guns.

In part the Spanish were able to prevail because the Land of the Four Quarters had already fallen victim to the disease of smallpox.

Carried by Europeans to Central America the disease traveled swiftly through the population of new world, far ahead of actual contact with the Spanish. Furthermore not only the Inca Empire was suffering from the devastating effects of the disease which decimated the population, it was also torn apart by a civil war which was partly a result of the tumult created by the plague. While the Spanish where exploring the Pacific Coast in 1527, the Inca Emperor Wayna Capac died, probably from smallpox, after his dead his two sons Atahualpa and Huascar, began a series of disputes over who would inherit the power, and a civil war ensued. By manipulating this situation and through other deceits the Spanish were able to foothold in Tahuantinsuyo. Atahualpa may have thought he could gain the Spaniard’s support for his cause, while some ethnic groups, harshly governed by the Incas, believed they had much to gain freeing themselves from the Inca rule. For this reason many Andean cultures welcomed the arrival of the strange bearded men.

The decisive encounter with the Spaniards and the Incas ended in a massacre and the capture of the Inca Atahualpa, who offered a pay a ransom on gold and silver objects. While amassing the agreed amount, he was accused by the Spanish on trumpet-up charges. In a sham proceeding, Atahualpa was sentenced to death and he was murdered on June 6, 1532 Seen from the Indigenous perspective, this appalling history and the suffering imposed on the people of the Andes can be described in one evocative Quechua phrase: haoupi punchaipi tutayarcan – out fo daylight came darkness.

Of course, it was the Spaniards’ quest for riches which brought them to the Land of the Incas, where they found gold beyond their wildest dreams: temple walls were covered with gold, gold doors, gold vessels. In the years following the conquest, looting became so large-scale that it was more akin to a vast mining operation. Pre-Inca tomb sites and monuments were divided into individual claims, and title holders established corporations, to enlist the immense work force needed to systematically excavate them. The Spaniards’ own accounts of the period tell of the Incas’ dazzling sculpture and other gold work. However, little is left for us to see today because the Spaniards melted the gold into bars, which were easier to ship back to Spain. Today it is primarily through their amazing architecture that we are able to appreciate the genius of the Incas.



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