Meeting Gabriela and the Incas

August the 13th-14th, 2012.

Arrived in Cuzco. I’m staying in the house of Sra. Gabriela Nishiyama which is located in Ttio La Florida, less than a minute walking from the big Pachacutec Monument, honoring the man who transformed the Kingdom of Cuzco into the Inca Empire in the mid-15th century and had famously ordered the construction of architectural wonders such as Qorikancha, Sacsayhuaman and Machu Picchu.Sra. Gabriela is of Peruvian and Japanese descent and lives in a charmingly unique-looking two-story home of humble means. Among other things, she earns money by hosting tourists such as myself.I was warmly greeted with a cup of Mate de Coca – herbal tea made using raw leaves of the Coca plant. Andean people have been using it for centuries to help cope with the altitude and, despite the international ban on Coca for containing the alkaloids needed to produce cocaine after chemical extraction, is legal in Peru (as well as Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia.) Having felt very dizzy from the difference of altitude between Lima and Cuzco, I accepted with pleasure. The abuela, in her 80s, was wearing colorful traditional clothes and hugged me, saying “Oh, how handsome!” I was sharing the house with a British/South African couple, Dan and Rachel, and went out with them to Norton Rat’s Tavern, a nice and coveniently-located bar in Plaza de Armas.

The next morning, I immediately went up Avenida del Sol, stopping at my first Inca wonder: Qorikancha (Pictures in next post).

Qorikancha, which literally means Golden Temple in Runasimi, or Quechua, the official language of the Inca empire, was the most important temple of the Inca empire. It was originally called Inti Kancha or Temple of the Sun and was used to worship the Sun God, Inti, son of Viracocha, God of Civilization. The whole temple was literally covered with Gold and, according to the Spanish, was “fabulous beyong belief”. Unfortunately, as with most of Inca-related anything, the Spaniards were not really bothered with their sacredness to local citizens. Cristobal de Mena, the Spanish Conquistador, tells us how:

The Christians went to the buildings and with no aid from the Indians (who refused to help, saying it was a temple of the sun and they would die) the Christians decided to strip the ornaments away… with some copper crowbars. And so they did.

To understand how greatly offensive they were to the priests and temple virgins, (Mamacuna) – who were the only ones allowed inside – imagine thieves allowed to enter St. Peter’s Cathedral or Mecca, to plunder at will with the local believers unable to do anything about it. Such was the situation in Cuzco after Atahualpa, the last Sapa Inca of an unconquered Tahuantisuyu, or Inca Empire, was captured by the Spaniards.

I first entered the underground Qorikancha museum, located just below the site, where I joined an old Australian couple in their short guided tour through parts of Inca history. We saw mummies, textiles and sacred idols which were present at the site itself. I then went up to the actual museum which looked anything but finished. I entered the Temple of Santo Domingo and soon saw some of my first Inca stones, or what’s left of them. Nevertheless they still were imposing. It is noteworthy to remember that several earthquakes throughout the years damaged the Church built on top of the ruins but the huge, tightly-interlocking blocks of Inca stone still stand. Such was the ingenuity of Inca masons.

I then entered Sala Guaman Poma de Ayala which shows some of the Indian chronicler’s numerous drawings. Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala was a Quechua noble man who famously chronicled, and illustrated, the history of the Incas pre- and post-Spanish invasion and in particular documented the cruel treatment suffered by the natives. He sent the manuscript to King Philip III of Spain but no one knows if the latter received it. The original manuscript was found, weirldy enough, at the Royal Danish Library in Copenhaguen in 1908 by Richard Pietschmann. A digitial version can be found here and Cuzco’s libraries are filled with re-printed editions of the book. According to a local guide who was explaining to fascinated Japanese tourists, the manuscript is still in Copenhaguen. “It is very sacred to us,” he said. “Guaman was one of the firsts to show our ancestors as human beings”.

I then visited the Main Inca Chamber which is the largest of the surviving structures of the original Inca temple. It was either called the Temple of the Stars or the Temple of the Moon, no one really knows. The Double-Jamb Doorway, next to the former, is a trapezoidal structure typically representing important Inca buildings. To its right is the famous fourteen-angled stone, another proof of the greatness of Inca masons. It was revealed in 1982 by anthropologist Tom Zuidema that this very passageway was aligned with the point where the Pleiade rises which is “a constellation venerated by the Incas and associated and associated with their beliefs regarding climatic changes and the success of the harvest.” A semi-destroyed Inca chamber can be found next to it.

Qorikancha would probably have been the main sight to visit were it not reduced to what it is now. I suspect the original Sacsayhuaman would have been its only real competition. That being said, Qorikancha is still worth a visit as it is the closest door to the Inca’s world in and around Cuzco. A suggestion would be to do as much reading as you can on Qorikancha before visiting – although local guides are very good and knowledgeable – so that your more or less accurate imagination can enhance the experience.

Also found on CowBird

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