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Cuzco

CUZCO: THE HEART OF THE SACRED VALLEY OF THE INCAS
                                                                By Diana McLeod                                                        2010

The old city center of Cuzco far surpassed my expectations. Nowhere else in Peru does the colonial style flourish like it does in Cuzco. Tourist wealth helps a great deal, keeping the historic city safe from unfortunate modernization. Magnificent Cathedrals and historic colonnades surround each of the three main squares. Gardens and trees in these central zocalo parks grace the city with bright flowers, greenery, sunshine, and shade, right in the heart of the old town. Behind it all, mountains ring the area. It is really a beautiful place to visit.

The stamp of the conqueror is everywhere in Cuzco. The Spanish did everything they could to destroy the symbolic heart of the Incan empire, and they replaced it with their own symbols of power. They tore down the palace of the Incan King, leaving nothing but the foundation stones. They stripped all the gold and jewels off of the great temple of the sun, leaving nothing but bare walls. Then they surrounded the ruins with a high-walled Catholic monastery, ensuring that the local population would be permanently shut out of their own most sacred space. The local population was forced to work for the Spanish, using the stones from their own ravaged monuments to build cathedrals for the foreign god.

For the tourist, it is sometimes frustrating. The Spanish walked into a civilization in full bloom, and they pillaged it so thoroughly that there is pitifully little left for the rest of us to see. For the Peruvian people, especially for those who yearn to know more of their original civilization, it must be a terribly sad experience to read their own history.

The tale of conquest is a remarkable story, when you realize that the Incan Empire was at the height of its power when the Spanish came. The Inca were the late bloomers of the indigenous civilizations, organizing at about 1100 AD. At the time of conquest, the Inca controlled territory all the way from Columbia to Chile –- over half the length of the entire continent of South America!

When the Spanish arrived in the 1500’s, they had a famous meeting with the Incan emperor Atahualpa. The Spanish arrogantly announced that they were claiming the entire Incan Empire for the King of Spain. Atahualpa was, needless to say, quite taken aback, and asked by what authority the Spanish could possibly make such an outrageous claim. According to legend, the Spanish interpreter handed him a Bible, claiming that the book contained the word of God. Atahualpa held the book to his ear. “It does not speak to me,” he said. Atahualpa tossed the Bible aside. The outraged Spanish used this act to rationalize the atrocities later committed against the unfortunate Incan king, including his murder.

Today, Cuzco is famous for the blending of the two unique cultures. Here is a little snapshot of Cuzco attractions that we enjoyed there:

THE CATHEDRAL: Large and imposing, in pure opulent Spanish style, with a heavy emphasis on suffering. Even the angels look as though they are having a bad day. Our favorite thing: a painting of the Last Supper. On the table, right in front of Jesus, is a Peruvian delicacy - a whole roasted guinea pig!

THE MARKET: A lively market, with something for everyone, both tourists and locals. We bought lots of hand knitted alpaca wool clothing for friends and family. After shopping, we went to the food court, bought fruit smoothies, and got to know some friendly local folks.

CUISINE: Peru is home to an interesting form of nouvelle cuisine. Chefs are combining the old and the new, creating exciting new Peruvian dishes which are very intriguing. We had several fine dinners at trendsetting new restaurants. Surprisingly sophisticated and delicious!

BURIED TREASURE UNDER THE SUN TEMPLE RUINS: Walls of the old Incan Sun Temple of Qoricancha contain some of the most impressive stonework we’'ve ever seen. The Spanish monastery still surrounds the ancient temple, and today, it'’s still run by Dominican Friars, although it'’s also a museum open to the public and a World Heritage site. In the 1990’s, because of persistent rumors of Incan tunnels and hidden gold beneath the temple, an archaeological team brought in ground penetrating radar into the Church of Santo Domingo, which was also built on the site. They found an open cavity, directly beneath the Church altar, about 30 feet down. This operation was approved by the abbot, who supposedly was given a piece of Incan gold by a digger who claimed to have discovered secret passageways. According to one man who claims to have seen abbot’'s gold himself, the abbot is keeping it safely hidden away, and he will not reveal either the gold nor his part in the mystery until his death or retirement. So far, the Church has not approved excavation, so the mystery continues...…

Thanks for reading! Diana


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