The message we’re receiving loud and clear, over and over again here, is that the Peruvian (Quechua) and the Incan culture was never completely obliterated, despite the best attempts of the Spaniards to do so. The site of Qorikancha (pronounced core-ee-kan-cha) is a perfect symbol for that attempt by the “conquerors” (that’s what they are constantly referred to here, not “the Spaniards”) to subjugate the Incas.
Once the most important temple in all of Cusco, it was known as the “Golden Place,” a place to honour the Sun, the Stars, the Moon, Rainbows and Thunder. It was also an astronomical observatory dictating planting and harvest times, and it was the burial place of 13 of the 17 of the Inca Kings (that is, the ones who lived and died before the arrival of the Spaniards in the 1530s). The ashes of their burned hearts and their mummified bodies rested at the base of the huge golden disc, all lined up, facing east, when the Spaniards found them.
When the Spaniards arrived they found the perfect place to plunder and the perfect place to demonstrate their superiority. The temple’s interior walls were wrapped or banded in thick lines of gold. It had golden artifacts and a gigantic golden disc that was 3m in diameter and weighed 2,000 kilos, if you can imagine! The Spaniards came, removed the gold and melted it down for coins. Then the entire site was given to the Catholic monks as a gift. On top, they built a monastery and a convent. The ultimate insult. The ultimate message delivered.
But here’s the clincher. When a big earthquake happened in 1950, a lot of the convent’s walls toppled, but the Inca foundations remained. So if you look in the photo above, you’ll see the black, curved wall of the Temple of the Sun (where the kings’ mummies were held with that huge golden disc). Those foundations, even though they were curved, didn’t budge a bit. And so, this place has once again become a place of intense Inca pride for the people of Peru.
What I found fascinating on this part of the tour, was what I learned about how these foundations were built for strength. The blocks are so precisely shaped and carved out that they fit so tightly together, even today, so that you cannot get a finger nail in between them, or a knife blade, or a sheet of paper. There is no mortar. No joining compound of any kind was used when they were assembled into the walls of the massive temple.
Look at the photo above and you’ll one thing they did with their corner stones… see how they actually wrap around the corner of the wall? They don’t meet at the corners; rather the corner stones have 12 corners on them (6 inside, 6 outside) and bend right through the corners for strength. This is no Lego construction! I won’t bore you with more photos of grey stone blocks, but there was even a 28 cornered block that we saw in there!
Another thing they did was use a lot of trapezoid shapes for strength. Look at the doorway behind Bill in this pic and you’ll see a trapezoid in use, along with a long lintel stone on top… and do you see the way the edges of the doorway’s capstone go in a direction that is opposite to the slope of the doorway itself? That’s another technique to build strength in the structure. Enough strength to support the monastery and convent buildings on top of them for centuries, and enough strength to withstand earthquakes.
One more trick: the walls inside the temples’ rooms sloped ever so slightly inward, despite looking straight. Here Bill tries to stand up straight, but struggles to stay balanced. But the walls don’t just slope inward. They angle inward, into the interior of the rooms they enclose, by a 5% angle, and outward, on the outside edges of the rooms by an angle of 3%. How’s that for precision? It’s another way they strengthened the walls to help them support the incredible weight of the massive stones.
One thing that our guide wanted us to understand about the Incas was that gold was not seen as a symbol of wealth. It was meant for the gods and for their representatives here on earth, the Inca Kings. It was never worshipped. It was never traded. The conquerors were gold hungry, blinded by greed, hoarders (how’s that for cultural bias coming through loud & clear!), not the Incas. What was valuable for the Incas was food. As our guide put it, trade was simply, “I’ll give you potatoes; you give me quinoa.” It was as simple as that.
One side note: This morning, I was woken very early, before sunrise (5:00 am) with a loud cacophony of sounds: fireworks and raucous marching band music struck up and went on for 2 hours! I asked at breakfast what it was all about. Apparently, the Catholics here are melding traditions, still to this day. They celebrate Saints days (with virgins often figuring heavily in the regular celebrations here) like San Isidro or San Cristobal, with fireworks and music and parades, and they always occur at sunrise or sunset. Today’s was the start of a 3 day celebration for the Holy Nativity. So the sun still figures prominently even in today’s modern society. Clearly, those conquerors haven’t sucessfully subverted the old ways.