This marvelous, enormous, Inka structure is just a brief taxi ride away from the Plaza de Armas in Cusco. Here is a map (from the back of our "Boleto Turistico") that can orient you to the locations of Cusco, the sites nearby, and the Sacred Valley. The small red dots indicate the sites we saw on the same trip, and with the same guide, as Sacsayhuamán. It is the closest to Cusco (click here to see pictures from the other sites).
On the left below you can see the hill behind which Sacsayhuamán is situated, as seen from the city. On the right is a somewhat panoramic view of a large part, but not nearly all, of it. (The gorgeous mountains in the distance are a bonus.) What is left of Sacsayhuamán, after years of deliberate destruction for political, religious and practical reasons (people used it as a quarry for many years) is still a breathtaking sight. It's impossible to imagine what it must have looked liked in the glory days of Cusco as the capital of the Inka empire, but it is amazing enough as it is.
We had thought just to wander about the place by ourselves, but fortunately decided to hire Abelardo, one of the many wonderful cultural guides we had throughout Perú, to show us around. On the left below he's giving us some background information near the beginning of our tour in the wide plaza between the two main sections of Sacsayhuamán. (By the way, the long name isn't nearly as intimidating to pronounce if you just remember "Sexy Woman." That's how we referred to it most of the time.) On the right below is what the main section of the structure looks like from where we were standing.
It's a bit hard to convey the scale of the construction without seeing a known object next to it. Here are some examples:
One of the fun things the Inkas did was arrange their stonework to look like sacred animals, so that gringo tourists would sometimes feel inadequate when they couldn't see them. Fortunately, Abel was patient in pointing out these things to us. See if you can tell what these two shapes are. Answers below:
Answers: a llama on the left and a puma's paw on the right.
Another important shape was lightning, the jagged outline of which explains the layout of the first wall of the structure. Here is a view from above, a shot looking straight on at this impressive wall, and, in between, a close-up of one of the corners making the lightning outline:
Here are some more views of portions of the main section of Sacsayhuamán, one complete with tourists for scale:
This is a large area containing the remaining circular foundation for a mysterious building whose function has not been determined. Near this point is the lovely view of Cusco that you can see at the right. Kathy is supposedly pointing to our hotel, a few blocks south of the Plaza de Armas, which you can see in the photo.
Here are two views showing the other side of Sacsayhuamán, across the "plaza" ...
... and here are Kathy and Debby resting on the climb up to the top of the hillside in the pictures above. Remember, this structure is at over 11,000 feet and it was our first full day in Cusco. No time yet for the lungs to completely adjust; that is, if they ever could!
This photo, of something that looks a bit like an altar or a throne (although its true function is not known) not only shows off the excellent stoneworking skills of the Inka builders, but also gives you a good idea of the color and texture of the rock that was used at Sacsayhuamán:
As if all the foregoing structures didn't give you enough to see, there's even a little cave Abel showed us through—it was pretty exciting since we experienced a brief period of total darkness and there were some playful young Cusqueñas right behind us:
Altogether an amazing place, and amazingly un-crowded, as you can see here, although it was election day in Perú, which might account for the small number of tourists:
Abel showed us a very locally-colorful restaurant near Sacsayhuamán, where we stopped for some coca tea after seeing the other archeological sites near Cusco. Click here to see pictures of the restaurant.
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All photos, unless otherwise credited, are © by Henry J. Amen III. Please do not use without permission.