It is not Machu Picchu!
Unfortunately our plans to see Machu Picchu were scuttled at the last minute by a strike that occurred on the day we had arranged our tour of the ruins. Since we were scheduled the next day to fly back to Lima, we left Cusco without seeing the famed site. Because I had been to Machu Picchu before, it wasn't a problem for me. But, I know Karie and Omar were very disappointed.
That being said, here is my take on Cusco.........................
Cusco was the historic capital of the Inca Empire situated in the high Andes. In the 13th century the Incans conquered the city and established it as the center of their empire. Following the arrival of the Spanish to the region and the defeat of the Incans at Cajamarca, the Spaniards quickly moved into the Cusco region and assumed control of it.
Today, Cusco is the focal point of the tourist industry in Peru. Of course, the most popular attraction near Cusco are the ruins at Machu Picchu, but the city itself and the numerous other ruins surrounding the city are impressive in their own right. Since we didn't visit Machu Picchu, I thought it would be interesting to share with you some photos of the City that you may not have seen before.
While we were in Cusco, we rented an apartment located about a mile from the heart of the historic district. This afforded me the opportunity to do a lot of walking, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Cusco is a very walkable city with many things to see and do around town. But before I could to do much walking, I had to get acclimated to the elevation. At 11,200 ft. it was quite an adjustment from Lima which was at sea level.
The center of the city was the Plaza de Armes in the historic district. The plaza was surrounded by large Catholic churches on two sides and small cafes and shops. Almost anytime day or night you will find the plaza full of people enjoying the views and pleasant surroundings. Many visitors to the plaza were tourists as you would expect, but a surprisingly large number were residents of Cusco out enjoying their city. The plaza and surrounding streets are also used for parades, protests, demonstrations, festivals and other community gatherings.
Most of the buildings in the historic district were built hundreds of years ago, during the time when the city was still under Spanish control. When the buildings were constructed the cobblestone streets only needed to accommodate carts and pedestrian traffic. Thus, many of them were not wide enough for even the smallest economy-sized cars. The streets that were a little wider were all restricted to one way traffic, and their sidewalks were just wide enough for one person at a time. Dodging cars and people is a required skill to navigate the narrow streets of Cusco.
Not far from the Plaza was an expansive mercado that most tourists never see or visit. In it were hundreds of little stalls where the locals sell just about anything you could ever want. The photo below is of the section where numerous vendors sell fresh fruit juices. In other sections they sold dry goods, fresh meats, bakery items, vegetables, and of course potatoes of every imaginable size and color.
Walking along the streets I could not help but notice that the foundations of many structures were actually the walls the Incans built hundreds of years ago. The stones in these walls were so massive and expertly chiseled that they required no mortar to hold them in place or to fill gaps between the stones.
Perhaps the most impressive reuse of the Inca structures is the Church of Santa Domingo that was built over the Sun Temple. I took pictures in areas where photos were allowed, but was not permitted to take pictures of the main cathedral. It was exceptionally ornate and beautiful.
Cusco has an abundance of catholic churches, and this was especially true within the square mile that surrounds the Plaza de Armes. I counted seven major churches all of which were impressive. Additionally, these churches contained significant artifacts dating back hundreds of years that captured the history of the city and its people. In one church indigenous artisans in the 16th and 17th centuries had created massive replicas of religious art done in Europe. They also created intricate wooden carvings out of cedar that lined the walls. An alter I saw in one church was created several hundreds of years ago and thought to contain over a ton of silver. The cross on top of another alter was believed to be the one the priest who accompanied Pizarro carried with him to the battle of Cajamarca in 1532.
The City also has several fine museums with interesting artifacts that tell stories of the people who inhabited the regions in South America that would eventually be conquered by the Inca and consolidated into their empire. However, not all of the museums were limited to the displays of artifacts. At the "CENTRO QOSQO DE ARTE NATIVO" I spent an evening enjoying music and dancing performed by native people during significant celebrations.
As I mentioned above, there were many ruins and other attractions around Cusco that were worth a visit. One day I rented a taxi and visited two of them. The first stop was at the salt ponds located about 40 miles outside of Cusco. Extremely salty water from a spring was diverted to the hundreds of ponds constructed along one side of a small canyon. There the water was allowed to evaporate, leaving the salt concentrations to be collected, packaged and sold.
Not far from the salt ponds were the Moray ruins. The pits at Moray were constructed so that each level would have slightly different temperatures and humidity. Archeologists believe Moray may have been used to grow crops in these micro climates to determine which were the most productive for various types of plants.
Although disappointed we didn't get to Machu Picchu, Cusco was still worth the visit.