Cusco: The “Prosperous Puma” of the Inca Empire

Many people struggle to tell the ancient civilizations of the Americas — Mayan, Inca, and Aztec— apart. The Inca Empire was actually the largest and most prolific of the three, and despite being seated in the great heights of the Andes Mountains, its capital Cusco had as many as 200,000 people. This was a staggering amount for the 1400s (more than London and Rome combined at that time).

Learning All About Cusco

Many people struggle to tell the ancient civilizations of the Americas — Mayan, Inca, and Aztec— apart. The Inca Empire was actually the largest and most prolific of the three, and despite being seated in the great heights of the Andes Mountains, its capital Cusco had as many as 200,000 people. This was a staggering amount for the 1400s (more than London and Rome combined at that time).

The Inca population was so large despite the mountainous conditions because the people had toiled to build over 14,000 miles of roads. They developed impressive irrigation techniques to deliver water to such a lofty altitude. At the heart of it all was (and is!) the grand city of Cusco, Peru, which sat sacredly at the meeting point of three rivers: Huatanay, Tullumayo, and Chunchul. The Inca people took advantage of these to construct their masterful canals and irrigation system, which led not only to agricultural growth, but eventually paved the way to great prosperity. This wealth is most easily seen in Cusco’s biggest structure, Coricancha, which was covered in gold and emeralds and was a shrine to their main god, the sun god Inti.

Inca rulers didn’t live in Coricancha, though; they always built their own large palace, and from that vantage point, commanded a strong military through which the Inca Empire conquered more and more surrounding lands. Cusco itself was built in the shape of a puma, an animal with religious significance because it was associated with the sky and thunder god, Viracocha.

Besides the puma-like strength with which the Incas took over neighboring lands, the Inca people also had strong spirits of merriment. Poorer people (who lived at a lower elevation on the “body” of the puma) and richer people (who lived at a higher elevation on the “head” of the puma) still gathered together often as equals, at the “center” of the puma’s body. This was the main hub of the city, with two beautiful plazas. Real beach sand was imported to these terraces, and religious celebrations were hosted there — with a giant golden bowl of beer as the centerpiece of many holidays!

Today, Cusco maintains much of the structure and many of the original buildings of the great Inca Empire. From residential homes to temples and churches, visitors to Cusco will have a lot of ancient preserved majesty to take in. Understanding the cultural background of the Inca Empire makes this sightseeing even more rewarding.

To plan your Peru adventure and to learn more about preparing for the Inca Trail hike, get in touch with Alpaca Expeditions. Alpaca Expeditions is a Peruvian travel operator with a main office in located in Cusco, Peru, and we are the top-rated tour operators of the Inca Trail.

SOURCES: (ClassZone, Wikipedia, Wikipedia, Ancient.eu, and UNESCO)

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