We’ve been able to explore many ruin sites since we arrived in the Sacred Valley almost two months ago. The major sites are pretty expensive, costing about $25 per person for a two day pass. There is also a 10 day pass for $40, but since we’re here awhile, we prefer to spread things out a bit. Although these national treasures are expensive for us they are definitely worth the cost. Unfortunately none of the ruins are labeled with any information to help educate visitors. I believe the ruins are kept this way to encourage wealthy foreigners to hire local guides to provide them with information. Unfortunately, we are not wealthy foreigners, so we have to use our imaginations a bit.
We still haven’t been to Machu Picchu yet, this is by far the most expensive site, so we are finding the best and most economical way for us to see it. Even without Machu Picchu this area is loaded with worthwhile Inca sites. I am truly amazed by many of the ruins we’ve seen. They are often located in impossibly high places and built with unfathomably huge rocks cut into perfect angles.
The big sites are definitely worth seeing, but there are numerous free, smaller ruins dotted throughout the countryside. These are so much fun to explore on hikes. It takes a bit more research to find these sites, but that’s part of the fun.
I’ve studied quite a bit of Latin American history, but I never learned that much about the Incas in my studies. Being here has given me the opportunity to explore the culture and history of Peru. We’ve also been to some excellent museums in the area where I have learned quite a bit, plus I’ve researched some on the internet and through books. I know that most people don’t know a whole lot about the Incan civilization, so I thought I’d share with you some of what I have learned. Here is a (very) brief history.
The Inca civilization has many similarities to the Aztecs. The empire was in power less than 150 years, yet achieved some amazing accomplishments. The reign of the Incas spread from what is now Quito, Ecuador in the north, to Santiago, Chile in the south. It was the largest empire in the world at the time. Their accomplishments included the ability to exploit harsh landscapes through terraced farming, and an advanced road system that enabled communication with their outlying dominions. They created a communication system like no other, the quipu, and built amazing architecture in unthinkable places.
Cusco and the Sacred Valley had been settled for centuries, but only became a significant center with the rise of the first Inca leader in the early 1400’s. As the Inca empire expanded they began to conquer other civilizations and impose a tax system. This required an extensive and well maintained road system as the empire grew.
The Sapa Inca was the title of the emperor who lived in the lap of luxury. He had complete and total control over his dominion. Even deceased emperors enjoyed extravagance, they were mummified and often brought outside for ceremonies and were even consulted for important decisions.
There was a segregated ruling and class system wherein the Quechua speaking Incas governed over the conquered tribes. Since there was no monetary system, taxes were paid with food, precious metals, or textiles. The quipu was an elaborate knot system often worn on a belt that help the rulers keep track of things.
Inca architecture was constructed by master stone masons who were able to fit precisely cut rocks so that no mortar was needed. They used clean lines and trapezoidal shapes which became a symbol of Inca rule throughout the empire. They used irrigated terraces to maximize agricultural area. Many of these terraces are still in use today. Differently styled granaries were used for potatoes or corn. They were well ventilated and topped with a thatched roof. The Inca road system included rest stops and covered 40,000 km and allowed for the transportation of goods and armies. The government used messengers that could collectively move 240 km a day.
Although the Incas imposed their religion and taxes on the conquered tribes, they improved granaries, redistributed food during natural disasters, and sponsored religious feasts. Still the occupied provinces were not happy to be under Inca control. Rebellions were common, and soon European diseases swept through the South American continent with devastating results. Diseases such as smallpox are estimated to have killed between 65%-90% of the native population. The Spanish took advantage of the unpopularity of the ruling Incas to subdue the rulers.
Pizarro learned much from Hernan Cortez in Mexico and with only 160 men was able to collapse the mighty Inca Empire. Part of the reason that the Spanish conquistadors were so successful is that there was a ruling system already in place and all they had to do was take it over. The Spanish even continued to use the quipu to keep track of tributes and taxes.
Immersing ourselves in this culture and history has been an incredible experience. This valley is an amazing place all around. I’ll get to some more specific posts about particular places in the up and coming weeks.