What we know about Cuzco before the conquest comes from old oral traditions transmitted from generation to generation. They say that, Inca Manco Capac, who according to the legend came from the sacred Titicaca Lake, founded this city between the 5th and the 12th centuries.
Another legend tells us that following God Viracocha's advice the four Ayar brothers left the Altiplano. One of them, Manco, after having got rid of his brothers, stick his golden wand, sign of his power, in the ground at the location that became the city of Cuzco, empire capital of Tawantisuyo. It stretched from the Maule River, which cuts central Chile, to the city of Pasto in Colombia including Ecuador, Bolivia and a part of the north of Argentina.
Because of their great knowledge in architecture, hydraulics, medicine, and agriculture, the Inca society was an admirable example of political, administrative and social organization.
On March 23rd, 1534 Francisco Pizarro founded in the city of Cuzco a Spanish city built over Inca foundations. During the vice-monarchy, the city of Cuzco maintained its political and social importance. It was also the center of a passive resistance, which had some confrontations, the most important was the one leaded by José Gabriel Condorcanqui, who took the name Tupac Amaru II.
From 1821, when began the republican period, the political importance of Cuzco declined.
In 1911 after the discovery of Machu Picchu, Cuzco regained a good reputation, to become today the archeological capital of America.
Located at 3.400 m of altitude, Cuzco (255.300 inhabitants) and its surrounding areas are one of the most beautiful places of South America. Surrounded by dark mountains, the city stretches in a magnificent site, heart of the Inca Empire (Cuzco means navel in quechua language) and has monuments and pieces of art of a great artistic and historic value.
In Cuzco, heart of the Inca Empire, we can find very beautiful ponchos (for men) and mantas (for women), which you can't find anywhere else. Ponchos are an identity mark and their designs vary in accordance to the villages (ayllú).
At the beginning, altitude could bother you. Don't go for long walks. Drink a coca leave infusion (Mate de coca) in a coffee place to reduce altitude effects and go to your hotel and rest for 2 or 3 hours, in order to get used to the altitude. The first day, eat light at noon and avoid too rich meals or red meat like churrasco.
Notice also, in the Cuzco region, the chicherías, to drink a real chicha, the most popular local drink. A paper flower or a red rag at the end of a long pole distinguishes these places.
The Plaza de Armas
Surrounded by the cathedral and the Compañía de Jesús, Cuzco's most beautiful church is a masterpiece of the catholic architecture, built by Jesuits. The Plaza stretches exactly on the Inca ceremonial space and was surrounded by prestigious monuments. Only by studying closely the stones in the Roma restaurant you can imagine the quality of the construction. Today, it is almost completely surrounded by portico galleries, with two prestigious churches; it's one of the most beautiful colonial places of Peru.
Built in 1560. The main altar and the retable are entirely in silver. Behind the altar, there is another retable carved in rough wood. There are also admirable wood stalls sculpted in baroque 18th century style (as well as the lectern). In the sacristy, there is a nice collection of colonial furniture. A retable, Christ on the Cross, attributed to Van Dyck. Notice the superb chiseled with floral elements. Behind their wood closure, money flows like water in most of the chapels. Richly decorated, they shelter also interesting paintings of the ... Cuzco school. In the Christ of earthquakes chapel (right nave near the hall that goes to the Triunfo church), the Black Christ, offered by Charles the Fifth.
The Compañía de Jesús
Jesuit Fathers created it when they arrived to Cuzco in 1571. In 1576 began its construction in the area of the of the Wayna Capac's Amaru Kancha, following the plans of the architect Don Francisco Becerra. 1650's earthquake damaged the construction, which continued in 1661 under the direction of the Jesuit architect Juan Bautista Egidiano. The entire construction was completed in 15 years, and opened on August 19th, 1668.
The Jesuit Fructuoso Viera made the facade and towers plan, and the architect Diego Martinez de Oviedo was the manager of this work. The construction has the shape of a Latin cross, with only one nave, two towers with bull eyes that fit and adjust in the facade. The central alley ends in a cupola of a great architectural technique in a particular baroque style. Notice in the inside the great carving work of wood decorations in a baroque style.
Retables are in cedar gilded with gold sheets. We find also paintings representing the marriage of the Peruvian Inca princess Isabel with Diego Oñas de Loyola and another one representing the union of the Loyola and the Borja. We find, among other artists, Marcos Zapata, Basilio Santa Cruz, Basilio Pacheco, Cipriano Gutierrez, Rivera and anonymous ones.
Among the most remarkable sculptures, we find the ones of San Jeronimo and San Francisco, in the sacristy, made by the artist Melchor Huaman Mayta.
Church and convent of La Merced
Fray Sebastian de Trujillo and Castañeda founded the convent or the church in 1536, on the place called LLimipipata. The foundation was confirmed by papal order from Pio the 9th, in 1561. The ancient cloister and church were used until 1650, when an earthquake destroyed them. The reconstruction ended in 1675. Some of the donors were Alonso Casay and Francisco Monya, but the most important ones were the Pizarro and the Almagro, among others.
The facade is very beautiful; notice the church tower with exceptional cut in a baroque style. The church has three naves with remarkable pillars and vaults; the first cloister has rich decorations in carved cedar wood.
Also, the most remarkable goldsmith's art is the monstrance of La Merced, in two styles. Juan de Olmos, a Spanish goldsmith, made the upper part in a baroque style in 1720. Manuel de la Piedra, a Cuzco goldsmith made the lower part in a renaissance style in 1805. It weights 22.2 kg and measures 1,30 m of height; it is inlayed with 31,518 diamonds, 615 pearls, rubies, topazes and emeralds! This monstrance is inside the convent (first cloister).
San Blas's Church
The parish was built in the 16th century and it is the oldest one of Cuzco.
In this church we find the most extraordinary fine woodwork, in the churrigueresque Spanish style. The pulpit is the most impressive cedar carving known in Peru, made by the Indians. We don't know the artist. The altar's retable is gilded in baroque style. Another retable of a very good quality represents the Virgin del Buen Suceso, made by the artist Mateo Tuiro Tupac. Notice also the fresco of the same Virgin.
San Francisco's Church and convent
Founded by Franciscan Fathers, in 1645, with two facades and a unique church tower, all made of carved stones in ancient Spanish style, it was finished in 1652.
In the inside of the convent there is a huge picture (12 m by 9 m.) representing the genealogy of the Franciscan family, made by Juan Espinoza de los Monteros. We also find pictorial works by Diego Quispe Tito, Basilio Santa Cruz, Antonio Sinchi Roca, Marcos Zapata among many others.
Santa Catalina's Church and monastery
Mrs. Lucia de Padilla and Don Jeronimo de Pacheco founded them in Cuzco, in 1605, on the land of the Ajila Wasi or The House of the Virgins of the Sun. The architecture corresponds to the last period of the renaissance, with vaults in roman style. We find a chapitral room with frescos and works of art such as the magnificent goldsmith's art, fabrics, sculptures, gilt decorations and baroque retables. There are also paintings such as the collection of the artist Juan Espinoza de los Monteros and a gigantic painting of the Assumption Virgin and another one of the glorification of Santa Catalina, painted by Lorenzo Sanchez.
Santa Clara's church and monastery
In was founded in the Santa Clara's Street, in 1558. In its construction participated half-caste workers, Indians and the architect who finished the work.
There is a great altar and a retable with Venetian mirrors built by Pedro de Oquendo, which makes of it the only sample of this style in Cuzco.
Weather and seasons
In general, the weather is nice: cool and dry and temperature varies between 3°C and 25°C. The rainy season is from November to March. With light rains at the beginning of the season, and heavy rains from January to March. The dry season is from April to October. We advise visitors to take warm cloths and raincoats during the rainy season.
During June, July and August the temperature goes down almost to 0°C. The ground configuration is very uneven, with many gorges and waterways coming from glaciers. These waters feed Urubamba River that goes through the area forming a deep valley which forces his way through the granite of Vilcabamba.
The natural panorama is impressive and the balance between nature and Inca architecture work is notable. The presence of the Vilcabamba Range with glaciers which summit is higher than 6.000 m, such as Salkantay, Humantay, among others, and the layout of valleys and forests create surrealistic images where sunrises and sunsets are a wonderful and mysterious show.
It is varied and abundant. The existence of some species considered in extinction such as "the bear with glasses" (Tremarctos Omatus), the cock of the rocks (Rupicola Peruviana), the dwarf stag (Pudu Mephistopheles), etc. has conduct the government to declare this region protected.
The presence of other species like the puma, the Andean fox, the river otter, the taruka, the wild cat, the ferret, etc.; many birds like cara-caras, humming birds, torrent ducks, parrots, wild turkey and many other birds with colorful plumage, reptiles such as the jergon bothrops and the coral snake (dangerous for its very active poison; alligators, frogs, 'quirópteros' and a large Andean and Amazonian fauna that mix in the area, make of the sanctuary a place where observation and/or study are and additional attraction for tourists and researchers.
Big natural areas are occupied by a large diversity of forest species with characteristics in accordance to the altitude. The forest vegetation is composed by species of trees like the cedar, rosemary, laurel, etc., and of kinds such as Ocotea, Pedocarpus, Guarea, Weinmania, Clusia, Cedropia, Cinchena, Eritrina, or Pisonay, Ilex among others.
Around the Machu Picchu site, they have made a list of 90 varieties of orchids, many species of begonias, etc. Most of the surface is covered with herbs, bushes and trees.
Varied conditions are favorable for the development of a very diversified flora, which goes from a dense forest to forests scattered with mountain summits.