Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Cuzco, Cusco, Cosco

We are now at the capital of the Inca Empire which was ransacked and occupied by the Spanish Empire in 1534, maltreated by the Spanish Inquisition but never conquered. The spirit of the Inca is still here today. Many examples are present that show the outside world that the population adopted the way of the Spanish yet hidden in all the rituals of the Catholic faith, for example, are the Inca rituals. The food, even today, is not Spanish here but Quechuan or Inca. Again, the Inca was the king of the Quechuan. The people themselves are the Quechua.
The city is large; a total population of nearly 400,000 inhabitants lives 3500 meters (11500 feet) above sea level. The air has 30% less oxygen in Cuzco.
Many people still dress, especially the woman, like they did 100 years ago. Their shoes are sandals. Their legs are bow legged. The people are short, usually around 5 feet tall, and the women even less. Dark skinned, with distinctive facial features. Most of the population today is of a mixed race but the Inca (Quechuan) features are predominant. I am told the purest blooded Incas live not in the city but deep in the mountains. Life for them has not been affected by the modern age. They still live, like they did years ago, like the Quechuans of old.
But I am in Cusco, or Cosco or whatever spelling you want to give it. The confusion comes from the way the city name is pronounced in the local language. The main language here is Quechuan. Not Spanish. Spanish is the official language of Peru but here, people speak Quechuan. During our city tour our guide was proud to be able to speak Quechuan fluently. He was a Mestizo, a man of mixed races or mixed blood. He was proud of it, too. Our guide considered himself Quechuan, not Peruvian. According to him, many people feel like he feels. His estimate is that 90% of the population of Cuzco feels this way. While not teaming with hatred for the Spanish I could feel his frustration with the present Peruvian State. His belief was that had Spain accepted the Incan Empire and not tried to conquer it, the world would have been better off today. We, today’s inhabitants of mother earth, would have been astonished at the things we could have learned from the Incas.
So much has been lost forever due to religious intolerance and pure greed of the Spanish that it still hurts the Quechuan today. Temples, the center for the Quechuan religious life, were destroyed and churches build on top of the same foundations just to demonstrate that Spain and the Catholic Church now rules. The Churches were built to show that the Inca Empire was subdued and forever gone. Exquisite buildings were mindlessly destroyed forever. The city of Cusco has too many churches, not because they were all needed but because the Inca Empire had so many temples for their many gods and the Spanish demonstrated their superiority by building a church over each temple. The old gods are gone forever; there is now only one God, the Christian God of the Spanish, the Catholic God. Or so the Spanish thought. People were forced to attend church services, they were forced to pray. And now comes the peculiar twist, the people prayed but in their Quechuan language and they asked their Inca god for help. They knew that this was originally an Inca Temple, even knew to which Quechuan god the spot was dedicated. So they prayed, asking their local deity for help. They prayed in the name of Jesus just to conform to the wishes of the Church but in their hearts they were and always will be Quechuan. It is further evident in the woodcarvings they were forced to make for the Spanish and the Catholic Church. Our guide pointed out that Jesus has Inca facial features, that he is bow legged, that his skin is dark, that next him in the ornamentation are local flowers or hidden symbols of the Quechuan belief system. The Spanish never conquered the Inca they invaded them but could not force the Inca spirit to follow the Christian Faith. Today only about 10% of the population even attends church services, yet many more participate in every festival that celebrates an old Incan ritual. The Incan Empire still exists in Cuzco or as it was pointed out to me, Cosco, since Cuzco in Quechuan is a small barking dog.
The obligatory city tour consisted of the Plaza de Armas, the main Cathedral with its elaborate solid silver altar and gilded to the hilt with 18 Carat gold. Way too much pomp for me yet a must see, naturally.
We next visited a cloister or monastery called Qorikancha, whose walls and some rooms are still pure Inca. These rooms were used as storage rooms by the Spanish but were originally part of the Temple of the Sun God. One room still had an Incan sacrificial stone in its center.
One can still see the traces of the pure gold decorations once present. Originally there were 12 large solid gold plates but 11 of these were melted to decorate the Churches. The gold plate we saw had symbols for the sun, stars, the Milky Way, east/west/north/south directions, a rainbow, a man and a woman, and many others hammered into it.

The masonry work for this Sun temple is of such quality and the carvings so complicated that it defies today’s engineers. The workmanship just cannot be reproduced today. Even with modern equipment. Remember the Inca did not use hammer and chisel like we know them. The Inca pounded rock against rock to form the seamless joints of each stone. I tried to stick a sheet of paper between many joints on the walls, never was I able to penetrate the space between the stones with my paper test. All the stone work is done without any kind of mortar. One stone just sits on top of the next. The walls are almost earthquake proof. Very, very solid and the best masonry work I ever saw. How it was done, nobody knows, the Spanish killed the knowledgeable.
A further stop on the city tour was an archeological site, 2 Km north of Cuzco, called Sacsayhuaman, which translates roughly into city of stone. Construction, ordered by the Inca ruler, Pachacutec, began in 1440 and it took 20,000 workers to build this amazing site. Stones, huge, massive, some weighing in at 361 tons, were used from a location 5 km away. How those huge stones were transported, sometimes up hill is unknown. Yet here the complex stands, evidently the impossible was accomplished. Only 20% of the original complex stands today, the rest of the stones were used as a quarry by the Spanish to build their Churches. Not only were these huge blocks of stone stacked on top of each other but hidden among the many stones are the symbols of their gods. I saw clearly the rabbit and the snake inside this huge, zigzag stone wall. The purpose of this extremely large building site is still under debate. Was it a temple? Was it a fort? Was it a palace? A so-called Inca throne, the Suchuna, is still present today and the site is still used by the Quechua each June 24th for the most famous of Cuzco’s festivals, the Raymi, the festival of the sun, commemorating the winter solstice of the Andean Calendar. The whole area of Cuzco needs time to explore. Carol and I just visited and the few days we had, we used to familiarize ourselves with the most basic knowledge. There is a whole lot more to see if you are deeply interested in the Spanish Conquest, the ill fated Inquisition of the Catholic Church, the way of the Inca or Quechuan or the social aspect of today’s Peru. We just scratched the surface with our short visit and in no way do I assume I am correct in some of my assumptions. I just know too little about any of the facts but I base my comments on feelings and insights I obtained while being here. Yet, I like to point out that I usually have a good sense for what is going on when visiting a country or city. Or more bluntly said, I feel I am right in believing that Cuzco, Cusco is still the heart of the Inca Empire; even though it belongs to Peru.

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