Sacsayhuamán is the largest structure that the Incas built. Its construction began during the reign of Pachacuti, and it reflects the common theme in the Inca’s architecture which is the integration of natural scenery with man-made architecture. The indentions in Sacsayhuamán rise and fall in a similar pattern as the mountains behind the site. Unfortunately, parts of it were later taken apart by the Spanish to be used for their own buildings, but the larger stones remain because they were too difficult to move.
Sacsayhuamán is right outside the city of Cusco, and its architecture still remains a mystery because of the immense size of the stones, as many of the stones weigh more than 100 tons. For this project 20,000 laborers were needed to quarry and lay the stones. The stones were also not cut, instead only bronze tools and harder stones were used to shape the stones. The Incas, however, did not let the lack of tools stop them from creating strong walls. The stones fit together perfectly so that there were virtually no cracks. The structure is so strong that it has lasted numerous earthquakes and other natural disasters. The stones have held together over 500 years even without the help of mortar between them because of how precise the fitting of the stones is.
Sacsayhuamán had a religious as well as military function. The site includes temples, one of which was for Inti, the sun god, and is currently where part of the Inti Raymi celebration takes place. There is also a terrace at the site that could have been used as a shrine or a viewing platform for the Inca king to oversee ceremonies, study astrology, etc. Sacsayhuamán also served a military function because of its size and ability to seal itself off from outside attacks (due to the strong, high walls). It was a fortress in 1533 during the Spanish conquest of Peru. The original attack was unsuccessful, however, because shortly after another attack was orchestrated and Sacsayhuamán was occupied.
Following the Spanish conquest of Sacsayhuamán many of the smaller stones were repurposed in different areas of Cusco, for houses and other buildings. The Spanish then covered the ruins to prevent Incas from finding the site, and it remained hidden until 1934, when it was excavated. Many aspects of Sacsayhuamán remain a mystery to us. The construction seems almost impossible with the resources available at the time, and whether it was used as a military or religious center is still up for dispute.
Due to its mysterious nature and historical significance, Sacsayhuamán is currently a popular site for tours as well as ceremonies such as Inti Raymi. It is high above Cusco in an area just outside of the city. If you are interested in visiting Sacsayhuamán as well as other historical sites, our Cusco City Tour’s itinerary includes visiting Sacsayhuamán after touring the Qoricancha (Temple of the Sun) in the city. Our tour is half a day and offers you the opportunity to visit sites both within and outside of the city.
By Abigail Sullivan