Formerly the capital of the Inca Empire, and during the Spanish conquest one of the most important cities of the Viceroyalty of Peru, Cusco, the oldest inhabited city in the Americas can transport the visitor back to its magnificent and rich history.
In pre-Columbian times the Inca Empire extended from San Juan de Pasto in Colombia to the Maule River in central Chile and included all of Bolivia and large parts of Argentina. Cusco, the capital, located in the highlands of southern Peru, was an important political, administrative, military and religious center. A dominion as vast as the Roman Empire, it was connected by a road network reaching over 23.000 kilometers (14.300 miles).
View of the tiled roofs in the central area of the city of Cusco, Peru.
The Spanish soldier Pedro Sancho de la Hoz, who acted as assistant to the conquistador Francisco Pizarro, wrote in 1543 that the Inca city of Cusco had about 100.000 households. The historian Victor Angles, based on ancient chronicles, concluded that at the time of the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors Cusco would have had about 300.000 inhabitants.
Andean musical group welcomes visitors at the Cusco Airport.
The Inca city must have been very organized and well planned; a nice place to live. Its central streets, usually straight and narrow, were covered with cobblestones and had side channels with flowing clean water which was consumed by the population. In the center of the city the walls of the buildings were built with carved stones and in the suburbs, of mud bricks covered with painted stucco or plaster made of clay.
Narrow cobblestone road in the Saint Blas district of Cusco.
Many of these buildings remain to this day. Modern Cusco has preserved the main stone walls and cobbled streets. Also preserved are the main buildings, churches and monasteries, built by the Spanish conquerors. Because of this, many splendid architectural styles reflecting the diversity of cultural influences in the city can be seen today. The Peruvian Constitution declared Cusco as the historical and cultural capital of the country. In 1983, the historic city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Stone walls dating from the Inca period along a narrow street not far from the main square of the city of Cusco, Peru.
The capital of the ancient Inca empire is located at 3.395 meters above sea level (11.203 feet) and currently has about half a million people. Present day Cusco is experiencing a population explosion fostered by tourism to the city and to the ancient Inca ruins at Machu Picchu. Because of the altitude, during the first hours after arrival, travellers usually feel a slight headache and difficulty in breathing. Visitors should maintain a low level of activity for the first 6 to 8 hours and follow the recommendation to drink coca tea, a pleasant local drink made with coca leaves.
The Cathedral of Cusco was built over a period of more than 100 years (1559-1669).
In Inca times, the main square of Cusco was the scene of many celebrations and is still an ideal meeting place. There are two imposing colonial churches surrounding the main square. These are the Cathedral and The Society of Jesus. The Cusco Cathedral was built between 1560 and 1669. The design of the plant is shaped like a cross. The building materials were stone blocks from nearby areas and also reused blocks of red granite brought from the Inca fortress known as Sacsayhuaman. The front of the church is of Renaissance style and the lavish interior contains elements of Baroque, late-Gothic and Plateresque styles.
The beautiful church of the Society of Jesus in the main square of the city of Cusco.
Painting of anonymous artist (circa 18th Century) of the Cusco School of Art. The image represents "Our Lady of Bethelem".
The Church of the Society of Jesus was built by the Jesuit order staring in 1576. Its architecture is considered one of the finest examples of colonial baroque in America. Its carved stone facade is spectacular. The church has a beautiful gold-clad altar built over an underground chapel. There is a rich collection of religious art including sculptures and magnificent paintings.
Among the major hotels in the city is "The Monastery". The building dates from 1595 and it was built over the former Palace of the Inca King Amaru Qhala. For many years the monastery, under the name of San Antonio Abad Seminary, was used for the preparation of Catholic priests. The building was seriously damaged by an earthquake in 1650. After being restored, a chapel was also built which is decorated with beautiful paintings of the greatest artists of the Cusco School of Art. From 1692, it housed the Royal Pontifical University of Cusco. However, since 1816 became again a seminary until 1965, when the building was remodelled and converted into a hotel operated by Orient Express.
Courtyard of the magnificent Orient Express' Monasterio Hotel of Cusco. The building is about 500 years old, the oak tree at the center of the picture has been growing there for about 300 years.
The Hotel is a national historic monument, protected by the INC (National Institute of Culture) and has retained its original charm and features. It is a splendid model of colonial renaissance style. The hotel has a central courtyard with a pool and a huge cedar tree surrounded by gardens and paths covered with paving stones.
The ruins, temples, churches and mansions make Cusco a memorable destination, full of history and culture, a city with a splendid past. The winding cobblestone streets of Cusco transport the visitor back to the magnificent and rich history of the ancient city.
To get to Cusco, one must first travel to Lima, Peru's capital, where there are numerous daily flights (75 minutes) to Cusco. Major airlines that travel between Lima and Cusco are LAN and TACA.