Sacsayhuaman: Where the Inca Empire was lost

Top view
Sacsayhuaman, on the wall looking down at the parade ground

Cusco, Peru, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018 — In 1536, there were 190 Spaniards in Cusco, eighty who had horses. Juan Pizarro, half brother to Francisco, had freed Manco Inca, made ruler by Francisco Pizarro after he executed Atapaulpa. The newest Inca leader made haste to the hills to raise as many as 200,000 troops to get rid of the Europeans.

The Inca force returned, burnt the city and holed up in Sacsayhuaman where they could sweep down on the besieged Spaniards.

“Thus ended the Inca capital: stripped for Atahualpa’s ransom, ransacked by Spanish looters, and now burned by its own people,” says John Hemming in “The Conquest of the Incas.”

Peter Frost’s book, “Exploring Cusco,” called the “bitter struggle for these heights became the decisive military action of the conquest. Manco’s failure to hold Sacsayhuaman cost him the war, and the empire.”

Spaniards, protected by steel helmets and bucklers, killed thousands of Manco’s forces by wielding steel swords and using their horses to charge into the Incas armed mostly with slings and stones. An example: The Spaniards wiped out about 1,500 Inca holdouts in the last battle for Sacsayhuaman. And not all 190 went up there. One who surely didn’t go was Juan Pizarro, killed previously by a stone dropped from one of the towers at Sacsayhuaman, the first of the Pizarros to go.

Frost tallies the rest of the Pizarro clan: Gonzalo executed in 1548 for rebelling against the Spanish crown; Francisco was assassinated in Lima in 1541 by rivals; Hernando spent 20 years in a Spanish prison for either provoking Manco’s rebellion, killing a Spanish nobleman or both. He died an old man whose wills and other efforts to control his vast fortune all ended in naught.

Big stones
See that rock behind us? Could you drag it three or four miles?

Our guide, Yakelin, said it probably took 20,000 people working for 60 years to complete the Sacsayhuaman. The stone quarry was three to four miles away from the site, and if you look at the size of the stones you can see what a struggle it must have been to drag them to Sacsayhuaman. They had no horses and did not know about the wheel. So they pulled the stones themselves by rolling them over logs. (It seems that someone might have thought, “These logs could be cut into segments, hitched behind a llama and we could open a John Llama dealership.”)

Cut stones.jpg
And once you got it here, could you carve it to make it fit?

The three towers on top of Sacsayhuaman were torn down, and the Spaniards forced the Incas to drag the stones into the city to build cathedrals.

That tickled a question in my mind that I had had since finishing Hemming’s book: Why did anyone in Peru allow anyone to speak Spanish? After independence, why didn’t they put every European they could find on a boat and head them back home – or drown them?

My effort to get those questions answered never worked. But Ramsey, a doctor on our tour who would make a good reporter, got it right when he asked Yakelin about her heritage: Given that she is mestizo (mix of European and Indian blood), what side of the family do you lean toward?

“I don’t worry about Spaniards or Inca,” she said. “No one separates things that way.

“The Incas incorporated others into their Empire, some asked, some forced.”

She learned basic information about Incas in school — some of it wrong. She grew up in Cusco and said they were taught that the Incas only lasted 100 years. Actually, they had been around for at least 400 before the conquest. This short-lived story of the Incas was also used as a justification by the Spaniards for the conquest: The Incas had only ruled for a few generations, and the Europeans “supplanted other equally unwelcome conquerors.” Maybe.

Yakelin explained that Quechua, the native language, is being reintroduced with medical professions and educators required to learn it. The CIA Factbook notes that the Peruvian population is 60 percent mestizo, Amerindian 25 percent, white 6 percent, African descent 3.6 percent and others (Chinese, Japanese, etc.)

It’s a mixed bag in Peru, native religion mixed with Catholicism, Quechua and Aymara languages mixed with Spanish. And no one is being led down to the boats for a journey to somewhere that would no longer feel like home.

Leaving Cuzco
A baby goat, a woman in native dress — who could resist?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cuzco and Not the Best Damn Band in the Land

PachacuteqCuzco, Peru, Monday, Sept. 24, 2018 – We arrived in Cuzco, Peru, today, a city of 500,000 in the Cuzco state of about one million residents. This was once the capital of the Inca Empire of about 12 million people that covered from present-day Ecuador down to about half of Chile.

In the center of the main square now is a statue of Pachacutec, the Inca ruler responsible for binding that empire together from the different groups of people who lived there in the mid-fifteenth century.

Opposite Pachacutec’s statue on the “Plaza de Armas” is, of course, a church, this one built on top of an Inca palace. When we arrived there, the Iglesia de La Compañía de Jesús (built by Jesuits) was celebrating. My devout Catholic wife says one of those statues they were carting around was maybe Saint Francis.

However, on the day we were there, the saint calendar held out many saints, martyrs from the Spanish Civil Wars and numerous other people that could have been celebrated. There was a band, a procession and statues. Pachacutec did not participate.

 

The band above may not be The Best Damn Band in the Land, but I had to keep shooting to see how the sousaphone player was doing. Did not dot the i in Francis.

From there, we went to the Museo Machu Picchu, home to the largest collection of Machu Picchu artifacts in the world. Housed in a colonial home, the Casa Concha, the museum includes the artifacts dug up by Hiram Bingham, generally described as the man who discovered this ancient Inca ruin. Bingham sent what he found there in 1911, 1912 and 1915 back to Yale University with the promise that they would be returned to Peru when the research was done. About 100 years later, they found their way to Peru.

Yakelin
Yakelin explains Machu Picchu in a model at the Museo Machu Picchu in Cuzco

Our newest Alexander + Roberts guide, Yakelin, explained that Bingham had no archeologists with him and no plan on how to go about the dig.

“He paid the people working for him one sol (Peru currency now worth three to a dollar) for every skeleton they could find,” she said. “so the farmers dug everywhere.”

The 174 skeletons they did find apparently came from important people in the Inca society – no broken bones, little evidence of hard work.

Some of the bodies discovered were probably mummies, important to the Incas. The mummies of rulers were brought out for festivals, had servants and were “sustained by offerings of food and drink,” according to John Hemming’s book, “The Conquest of the Incas.”

The Spaniards burned mummies, used them to lure Incas from the highlands to the new capital at Lima, where the mummies were never found, said Yakelin. The conquerors hoped the mummies could be replaced by images of the Virgin Mary.

Yakelin said that many of the bodies found at Machu Picchu were buried or in caves, opening to the underground world.

Which led to the subject of human sacrifice. Yes, Yakelin said, the Incas did sacrifice humans, mostly children in the worst of times – quakes, eruptions and natural disasters. The children were raised separately, fed only corn and families considered it an honor to have a child sacrificed. None of our group offered up any children.

The unfinished city was ordered to be built by Pachacutec about 100 years before it was abandoned. Five different groups of people were discovered to have lived there, representing the way Pachacutec brought together his empire, gathering knowledge from other districts and then incorporating them.

There was some metal work done at Machu Picchu, but no gold was found there. Was it a religious site without riches? Or, did the Incas take it with them when they abandoned the city in the face of the Spanish conquest?

No need for that as the Spaniards never found Machu Picchu.