Monday, December 20, 2004

Navel of the um....universe!

We landed at Cuzco, the sacred centre of the Inca empire, a small city of thatched roof houses nestled in a high mountain valley. Terraced fields, networks of canals and baths, hilltops, carved rock formations, temples, plazas and many other structures radiate outward from the center of Cuzco. Not surprising that the Incas called their capital the ‘navel of the earth’. During the Inca times, the city housed the empire’s royalty and nobility including all the service personnel that the elites needed to keep their lives running smoothly.

It is hard to imagine what the city may have looked like during the height of inca power, since much of its architectural features were affected during the clashes with the Spanish. The main temple at the Plaza des Armas for example, was converted into a monastery or church of the Santa Domingo. The story goes that the Spaniards looted the temple (which was called Coricancha – quechua for the golden courtyard and the most important shrine for the Inca. All the major celestial beings were worshiped here and this was where the important royal mummies were kept) and made away with mind-boggling quantities of gold. Luckily their greed was not able to budge the massive and impressive stonework. A perfectly fitted, curved 6m wall can be seen from outside the site. While much of the church of Santa Domingo was destroyed by the 1650 and the 1950 earthquakes, the inca walls survived both of these with hardly a crack! The stone blocks are so precise that for the most part you cannot tell where one block ends and the next begins. Still, what remains with you is a sense of sadness and outrage at what the Spanish did to the Inca temples. A beautiful reminder to the bigotry and the sheer brutality of those times!


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