Qosqo Inkas' Sacred Capital


Qosqo, the most important pre-Columbian metropolis in the American Continent, is heir of a cultural tradition developed all over the Peruvian territory since 18 thousand years B.C. It is a living museum where it is still possible to perceive grandeur of remote epochs. A total description or interpretation of Qosqo would be a gigantic work requiring thousands of books. This "Navel of the World" has developed one of the most advanced old civilizations on the earth. The name "Qosqo" is used the way our authorities and our consciences state it; I believe that it is a moral duty of every son of this sacred land to recover its past.

The present work is an attempt to summarize what is outstanding in the city and its region, trying to present information that is precise or at least as close as possible to historic and present truth, and unspoiled from prior prejudices and knowledge that normally mark in our lives. Having been born and lived my whole life in this Holy City gives enormous value for this purpose; its air is poor in oxygen but is pure and invigorating, intermingled with glory, passion, suffering and discouragement. I feel myself as a child of the "Pachamama", engendered by the sacred "Willkamayu" that drags the limpid water from thaws of imposing glaciers like the "Apu Ausangate" that forever protects the city and its children.

This is also an attempt to swear allegiance to the Andean Man, the heir of a great past and creator of peculiar culture. Until now some social segments unjustly, prejudiced and contemptuously call the Andean Man as "Indian"; they fail to recognize that this disdained race forged modern Peru. Peru is complex and although many in this country of "Indians", "Cholos" and "Mestizos" boast themselves having "blue blood", what is great in this land is a product of the creative ability of the same Andean Man. It is contradictory that while by the beginning of the XXI century thousands of intelligent and cultured people of the planet admire fervently works of Ancient Peru, but human dignity is denied to the heirs of their authors.

Information listed in the present work is not new and has a strong endorsement in assimilated academic subjects in the Tourism and Anthropology faculties of the three centuries old San Antonio Abad National University of Qosqo. I remember my professors with special affection and gratitude. Special mention is made to doctors Victor Angles, Manuel Chavez, Luis Barreda, Jorge Flores, Demetrio Roca, Justo Paucar, Efrain Bellido and many other illustrious scholars that in our formation taught us to love Qosqo with passion and nourish ourselves with its glorious past. Gathering experience as a full time professional local tour guide for a decade was also a great help. I also express my gratitude to the visitors arriving to these lands because their interests make present-day Peruvians become more aware and preoccupied about our legacy. I hope that their doubts and questions will be answered by this book.

"Runa Simi" or "Quechua" is the language of Inkas; it originally was non-written but has now a consistent modern spelling that I tried to follow. The whole language is somewhat problematical for most westerners. For example, many consonants have three different pronunciations and depending upon pronunciation, the meanings are different. For instance:

Qata = Cover
Qhata = Slope
Q'ata = Muddy

Moreover, another aim is to offer information about this "Peruvian Source" from the point of view of a common Peruvian Andean Man. Interpretations given by outsiders are sometimes mistaken or even darkened with racial, social and economic prejudices.

On the other hand, I apologize if somebody gets offended by my very "Peruvian" English. Many thanks to Hope Thibodeau in Canada for her great help and patience.

The Author.



NAME OF THE CITY.- There is some uncertainty about the correct name of the city. According to some chroniclers, in the first centuries of the existence of this most important city in pre-Columbian South-America, its name was Akamama that according to Guaman Poma de Ayala means "chicha's mother" (chicha is a fermented corn beer). Possibly it was Aqhamama -in the modern Quechua spelling- or "chicha mother". Surely that name became useless by the beginning of the Inkan development. When this was the ancient Capital of the Tawantinsuyo, it was named as Qosqo, word that is translated as "navel" or "center". That is the regular name for any Quechua speaking Andean Man. After the Spanish invasion in 1533 the name was transformed into Cuzco, word that according to the Spanish language dictionary is contemptuous, meaning "hypocrite", "humpback" and "small dog". This was a way to minimize or satirize the name of the city. Later the name was changed into Cusco, because over here "z" is not pronounced as in Spain. By the end of the XX century a very strong social movement is willing to preserve the original name of this ancient city; thus since June 20, 1990, the City's Municipality by means of Town Council Agreement Nº 078-A/MC-SG-90 stated that the official name is Qosqo.

POPULATION.- The population in Qosqo City by the beginning of the XXI century is projected to be 300,000 inhabitants. The annual growth rate is approximately 4%. In 1821 after 3 centuries of Spanish colonial administration, this city had about 40,000 people. In the Tawantinsuyo's apogee it should had between 225 to 300 thousand inhabitants.

ALTITUDE.- The altitude is 3,400 meters above sea level (11,150 feet). Some persons not used to the high altitude get problems as a consequence of the oxygen scarcity. There is an inverse relationship: the higher the altitude, the smaller the amount of oxygen. That phenomenon makes changes in people who live in high altitudes; they develop their hearts and lungs bigger. Their blood contains a higher amount of red cells too. Scarcity of oxygen produces in some people the altitude sickness that is also known as soroche or sickness of Monge. The symptoms include sleeplessness, headaches, increased excitability, shortness of breath, and a lower threshold of pain and taste. Tendon reflexes slow down and there may be loss of weight, thyroid deficiency, lung edema, or infections. Women may experience dysmenorrhea or amenorrhea, and many people experience psychological or mental disturbances. For some people it may take days, weeks or even years to adjust to some altitudes.

LATITUDE.- 13° 30' 45". Our latitude indicates that we should have a tropical or equatorial weather, but it is not like that. Qosqo is cooler because of its high altitude.

LONGITUDE.- 71° 58' 33". We are 5 hours later than the Greenwich Mean Time.

TEMPERATURE.- It is relatively cool. The annual average in the city is between 10.3° to 11.3° Celsius (50.54° to 52.34° Fahrenheit). Over here there is some uniformity in temperature between summer and winter. Normally it is somewhat cold at nighttime and during the first hours in the early morning while that at midday temperature increases considerably. During the early mornings in June and July temperature frequently drops to 5° and 7°C below zero (23° and 19.4°F).

RAINFALL.- The altitude in which Qosqo is found and its proximity to the equator make the city's climate so special. There are just 2 well-defined seasons: a dry season and another rainy one. The dry season is from May to October and the rainy season from November to April. Generally, rainfall fluctuates between 600 to 880 mm. per year, that is between 31.5 to 34.5 inches.

HUMIDITY.- In the lower section of the Qosqo Valley there is an annual humidity average of 64 %.

- Peruvian Republic: 1'285,215 Km² (496,221 mile²)
- Inka Region: 175,280 Km² (67,676 mile²)
- Qosqo Department: 76,225 Km² (29,430 mile²)
- Qosqo Province: 523 Km² (202 mile²)

FLORA.- The original landscape of the valley in which the city is located has suffered some important changes. Pre-Columbian civilizations were ecologist cultures that learned to respect and live along with nature. In ancient times the grounds have been covered with sparse grasses, ichu (Stipa ichu) a native bunch grass, bushes and low trees. Among the most important native plants and bushes are: ñucchu (Salvia oppositiflora), yerba mora or ccaya-ccaya (Solanum nigrum), cow's tongue or llaque (Rumex crispus), male llanten or waqa kallo (Plantago hirtella), minor nettle or quisa (Urtica urens), yawar ch'onka (Oenothera rosea), ch'iri-ch'iri (Grindela boliviana), cancer herb (Stachys bogotensis), trinitaria or wallwa (Psoralea mexicana), q'eto-q'eto (Gnaphalium spicatum), wild tobacco or qhamasayri (Nicotiana paniculata), supai karko (Nicotiana glauca), dog thornbush or alkoquiska (Xanthium spinosum), dandelion or pilli-pilli (Taraxacum officinale), muña (Minthostachys spicata), chicchipa (Tagetes mandoni), verbena (Verbena litoralis), t'ankar quiska (Solanum pseudolicioides), llaulli (Barnadesia horrida), kantu (Cantua buxifolia) -a bush having red or yellow flowers that are considered as the Peruvian national flowers-, marqhu (Ambrosia peruviana), q'era (Lupinus condesuflorus), manca p'aki (Eupatorium sternbergianum), rata-rata (Abutilon arboreum), runto-runto (Calceolaria cuneiformis), angel's trumpet or floripondio (Datura arborea), red angel's trumpet (Datura sanguinea), roq'e (Colletia spinosissima), panti (Cosmos peucedanifolius), mountain ginger (Canna iridiflora), achupalla (Pitcairnia ferruginea), kcayara (Puya herrerrae), aguaimanto (Prunus), chunta paqpa (Fourcroya andina), century plant or paqpa (Agave americana), prickly pear or tuna (Opuntia ficus indica), p'ata quiska (Opuntia exaltata), jawaq'ollay or giant cactus (Trichocereus cuzcoensis), atoq-wakachi (Opuntia tunicata), niwa (Cortadería rudiuscula), ch'illca (Baccharis polyanta), maych'a or árnica (Senecio pseudotites), begonia or achankarai (Begonia sp.), etc.

Among the most important native trees are: chachacomo (Escallonia resinosa), molle or false pepper (Schinus molle), kiswar (Buddleia longifolia or incana), qolle (Buddleia coriácea), elderberry or sauco (Sambucus peruviana), capuli cherry (Physalis peruviana), lloq'e (Kageneckia lanceolata), tara (Caesalpinia spinosa), huayruro (Citharexylum herrerae), alder tree or lambran (Alnus jorulensis), cedar (Cedrela herrerae), coral tree or pisonay (Erythrina falcata), weeping willow (Salix humboldtiana), waranway (Tecoma sambucifolia), q'euña (Polylepis incana or racemosa), etc.

Since colonial days people from the city have been exterminating slowly many bushes and almost all of the valley's native trees for use as firewood. Today the trees that dominate our valleys are eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus), imported from Australia in the 1880s. Another element that has changed the original landscape of the valley is the grass known as kikuyo (Pennisetun clandestinum), grass native from Eritrea and Abyssinia -present day Ethiopia- that was brought from Kenya and planted first in the Qosqo Valley in 1928. In the very beginning it was imported with ornamental purposes and as cattle pasture. Today it grows wildly even in the very high Andean Mountains as a pest that reduces the farmlands. It is appreciated by cattlemen but hated by farmers.

OROGRAPHY .- The Qosqo Valley is located by the mid-west of the Peruvian Andes, not so far away from what is known as the "Vilcanota Node". Mountains around it contain mainly sedimentary rocks. However, there is an important limestone formation and some "stocks" or outcrop igneous formations. Among the most important mountains surrounding Qosqo City, named clockwise are: on the northern side Saqsaywaman, Pukamoqo, Socorro and farther away Senqa (4400 mts., 14432 ft.) and the Fortaleza (4193 mts., 13750 ft.). Advancing to the east side are the Pikol (4482 mts., 14700 ft.) and the range of Pachatusan (4842 mts., 15880 ft.). Towards the Southeast are the Machu Loma, the mythological Wanakauri (4080 mts., 13382 ft.), Santa Ana; farther south is the Anawarque (4050 mts., 13284 ft.), Qachona, and closer the Choqo, Araja, Muyu-Orqo and the Condoroma which closer side to the city is named Araway Qhata where today the sign "Viva el Perú" ("Long life for Peru") is found; to the southwest are the Pukín, Waman Charpa and further away the Mama Simona (4300 mts., 14105 ft.). Dominating the western side are the K'illki and Picchu (3820 mts., 12530 ft.). On the top of the Picchu Mountain today many microwave antennas are placed.

Besides, in the Qosqo Region there are also some very important mountain chains, standing out the Cordillera (Range of Mountains) of Vilcanota towards the city's east and which highest peak is the Ausangate over 6372 mts. (20905 ft.); the Cordillera of Urubamba towards the northwest with its highest peak La Veronica over 5682 mts. (18641 ft.); and the Cordillera of Vilcabamba toward the west and which highest summit is the Salkantay over 6271 mts. (20574 ft.).



January - 1st to 6th, exhibition of typical Nativities in Cusquenian churches and homes;
- 06th, "Descent of the Three Wise Men", important religious and folk festival in Ollantaytambo
February - (movable date) Folk Carnival Festivals in different towns of the Sacred Valley of the Inkas
March - (movable) Holy Week; procession of the Lord of Earthquakes on Holy Monday and some other processions during the week, Eucharist exhibitions too;
- 23rd, Spanish Refoundation of Qosqo City
May - 02nd, "Cruz Velacuy", day of the Catholic crosses in Qosqo and in almost every Andean Village, the festivity goes on even until May 4th;
- (movable between May and June) Festivity of the Lord of Qoyllurit'i, in the Sinakhara Mountain that is nearby Ocongate; it includes pilgrimage and folk atmosphere
June - (9 weeks after Holy Thursday) Corpus Christi. It has processions of Virgins and Saints from almost all the parishes of the city escorted by folk dances. Fruits and local dishes are displayed and sold at Plateros Street. The classical dish for this festivity is "Chiri Uchu";
- Sunday before the 24th, Folk Festival in the Wiraqocha Inkan temple of the Raqchi village, district of San Pedro, Canchis province;
- 24th,Inti Raymi. Performance in Saqsaywaman of the most important festivity of Inkan times: the "Sun Festivity"; it includes Inkan clothing and folk festival;
- 29th, Festivity of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the parish of San Pedro in Qosqo and the districts of those names in the Canchis province;
July - 16th, Virgin of Carmen; great religious and folk festivity in the Paucartambo village as well as in P'isaq;
- 25th to 29th, Coffee Festival in Quillabamba
August - Last Sunday of the month. Performance of the "Warachikuy" Inkan Festival in Saqsaywaman;
September - 14th, Festivity of the Lord of Huanca. It includes pilgrimage from Qosqo City as well as goods and cattle fair in the town of San Salvador;
- 30th, Saint Jerome's Festivity in the district of San Jeronimo;
- Tourist Week, with different sport and cultural activities. Main day is the 27th;
October - 04th, San Francisco Festivity in Tinta, Urcos and Maras.
November - 01st, All Souls' Day. Visits to cemeteries;
- 02nd, All Saints' Day. Sale of bread with shapes of "wawas" (dolls) and "caballitos" (little horses), consumption of "Lechón" (roast pork) and "Tamales" (corn wet-bread)
December - 19th, Gourmet Festival in Andahuaylillas;
- 24th, Santuranticuy Fair (Purchase of Saints). Craftsmanship exhibit and sale in Qosqo's Plaza de Armas;
- 25th, Cusquenian Nativity.



Culinary art in the Peruvian Andes has a lot of diversity. Many of the main dishes which we refer to next have pre-Hispanic origins. Some dishes appeared in colonial and republican days and their consumption is extensive. We also include some coastal dishes that are very preferred in the region:

- Cuy Asado (Roast Guinea-Pig). Qowi, Cuy, Cuye (Cavia porcellus Linnaens); it is the region's most symbolic and important main dish, eaten during the most important feasts and celebrations. It is oven roasted and seasoned with black mint (wakatay), garlic, cumin and salt.

- Pepián de Cuy (Guinea-Pig stew). It is prepared from pieces of fried Guinea-pig and seasoned with peanuts, garlic, black pepper, onions and salt. It is served along with rice and potatoes.

- Rocoto Relleno (Stuffed hot pepper). Rocoto (Capsicum annuun) is a local chili or hot pepper, boiled and stuffed with ground meat, peanuts, dry grapes, peas, cheese; coated with battered eggs and finally fried.

- Chiri Uchu (Cold chili). It is a dish that is served always cold and has small pieces of roast guinea pig, chicken, boiled jerk (charqui) or dry meat, pork sausage, cau-cau (dry fish eggs), cheese, corn flour French toast, toasted corn grains, qocha-yuyo (dry algae) and the local chili rocoto.

- Choclo con Queso. Boiled fresh corn (maize) on the cob, served along with a piece of cheese. Fresh corn on the cob is known as "choclo".

- Chicharrones. Pieces of pork meat, fried in their own fat; served with large fried potatoes, mote (boiled corn), mint and onion salad.

- Lechon. Pork meat roasted in oven, seasoned with yellow chili, garlic, cumin, and onions.

- Adobo. It is a stew prepared with pieces of pork meat boiled in "chicha de jora" (local corn beer), heavily seasoned with yellow chili and served with heads of onions and boiled rocoto chili.

- K'apchi de zetas. It is a stew prepared from mushrooms (Marasnicios alboericius), green broad beans, potatoes and milk, served along with rice.

- Chairo. It is a local soup prepared with small pieces of lamb or beef, "choncholin" (small pieces of sheep intestines), charqui (jerk), potatoes, pumpkin, moraya (dehydrated bitter potatoes), ollucos (Ullucus tuberosus), wheat, maize, carrots, and cabbage.

- Sara Lawa (maize cream). It is a very Andean cream prepared from ground fresh corn, potatoes, cheese and eggs; seasoned with turmeric.

- Chuño Cola (cream of dehydrated potato). An energetic cream eaten in the coldest days, prepared from flour of black chuño (dehydrated potatoes), with pieces of lamb or beef, potatoes, chickpeas, rice, and seasoned with yellow chili, garlic, cumin and mint.

- Picante de Tarwi. It is another very energetic dish prepared from tarwi (cultivated lupine beans -Lupinus mutabilis-) without any bitter, and ground with milk. It contains potatoes and cheese, seasoned with garlic, yellow chili, onions, mint and wakatay (black mint); served with beefsteak or rice.

- Chupe de Quinua. A soup prepared from a native cereal named quinua (Chenopodium quinoa) peeled and without bitter; cooked with beef or lamb, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, green broad beans and seasoned with onions, paprika, garlic, mint, coriander and marjoram.

- T'impu or Puchero. It is a very popular dish during the carnival parties, prepared from lamb and head of sheep, beef, dry meat, potatoes, corn on the cob, cabbage, chickpeas, sweet potatoes, cassava. It is served with the broth of all that.

- Tamales. They are very popular in Latin America; "tamale" is something like a bundle of corn wet bread, covered with corn husks; stuffed with small pieces of beef, olives and onions, and cooked in water steam.

- Anticuchos. Pieces of cow heart skewered in a stick, pickled in vinegar and then broiled; served with potatoes and "uchu-kuta" (a local hot sauce consisting on rocoto chilies ground with peanuts, black mint and some other spices)

- Escabeche de gallina or pescado. Pieces of chicken or fish, onions, cauliflower, carrots, peas and virraca (Arracacia xanthoarrhiza), previously boiled and then pickled in vinegar, served along with lettuce and parsley.

- Ají de gallina. It is a stew prepared from chicken served with rice, potatoes, olives and hard eggs with a lightly piquant cream sauce seasoned with a lot of ground peanuts and yellow chilies.

- Cebiche. Prepared from shellfish and small pieces of raw fish, marinated in lemon juice along with onions and celery; seasoned with garlic and ginger and served with corn on the cob, sweet potatoes, lettuce and toasted corn grains.


- Aqha or Chicha de Jora (yellow chicha). Chicha is an alcoholic beverage inherited from Inkan times, prepared from dry yellow corn that is previously germinated, ground and boiled. The liquid is sifted in huge reed baskets and dry "ichu" (the local bunch grass) and fermented during three days in enormous ceramic jars. At the end of the whole process this beverage must have about 3% of alcoholic content.

- Frutillada. Its preparation process is the same as that of "chicha", the only difference is that ground "frutilla" (a special strawberry from the Sacred Valley) is added to this one giving it a somewhat pink color and a special sweet flavor.

- Chicha de Quinua or Kiwicha. They are nonalcoholic refreshing drinks, prepared from quinua (Chenopodium quinoa) or kiwicha (Amaranthus caudatus) flours, without fermentation.

- Chicha Morada. Another refreshment resulting from boiling dry purple corn on the cob; lemon juice and sugar are added.

- Mate de Coca (Coca Tea). It is an infusion of natural coca leaves (Erythroxilon coca). In the Andean villages it is drunk for medicinal purposes helping avoid headaches, dizziness, sleeplessness, and some other feelings caused by high altitudes. People also drink it when they have sore throats and stomach problems.

- Té piteado. Very popular in high and cold areas. It is a cup of normal or Chinese tea to which some jiggers of rum are added.

- Pisco Sour. It has become the classical spirituous Peruvian cocktail. It is prepared of "Pisco" a Peruvian brandy made of white grapes. Following is a recipe for one portion:


1 ½ ounce of the best quality pisco
¼ ounce of lemon juice
¼ ounce of egg white
½ ounce of sugar syrup
3 ice cubes
1 mite of angostura bitter
1 round lemon slice


Put in a cocktail shaker or a blender all the ingredients without the angostura bitter neither the round lemon slice; shake during 10 seconds and then serve pouring the angostura in the middle of the cocktail and decorate with the lemon slice on the glass edge.

While staying in Qosqo, also try the local beer "cerveza cusqueña" that is one of the best in Peru which as advertisement says "it's made with the water of the Inkas". In fact, the water running in the religious Inkan fountain in Q'enqo was piped and taken to the "cusqueña" brewery.

Select Another Chapter: