Cusco Tourist Attractions
Cusco, once the capital city of the Incas, is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the Americas. In 1983 the city was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The ruins of the old Inca city became the foundation for the Spanish architecture which exists today. Walking through the narrow streets lined by Inca walls, visitors can't help but feel the history that exists here.The main tourist area is the Plaza de Armas and the surrounding streets. Many of the cities main attractions are within a few blocks of the Plaza. This is also where visitors will find some of the best restaurants, hotels, and shopping in Cusco.Uphill, to the northeast of the Plaza de Armas is the San Blas district. Cobble stoned streets lead up the hillside to this quaint little area. Many visitors choose to stay in this section of the city, which is much quieter than the central area and offers fine views over the entire city.HistoryThe history of Cusco and the Inca Empire is hard to distinguish from the myths and legends. It is generally believed that the Ticsanaku first reached the Cusco area around 700 AD and the Wari arrived shortly thereafter. The Incas arose when these two cultures collapsed, sometime around 1100 AD, although they did not move into the Cusco area immediately.The city of Cusco, crafted in the shape of a Puma, was designed by Pachacutec in the mid 1400s. He was a great planner and master builder, and was also responsible for building the famous Coricancha temple.In the early 1500s, with the arrival of the Europeans, diseases and epidemics spread down through South America from Central America and the Caribbean, wiping out scores of people. One casualty of the epidemics was Huayna Capa, the last ruler of the united Inca Empire. Following his death the empire was divided in two sections, one section for each of his sons to rule over. Unfortunately each son wanted total control and a civil war broke out.During this same period the Spanish arrived in South America and eventually marched on Cusco. The gold and silver was looted under the direction of Francisco Pizzaro, who entered the city himself for the first time in 1533. Uprisings between the Spanish and the Incas followed but the heavily armed Spanish conquered the Incas. Once the gold and silver were taken from Cusco the Spanish focus shifted to Lima, and Cusco became another colonial town.The most significant historical events since that time have largely been earthquakes. The worst earthquakes to rock Cusco were in 1650, 1950, and 1986. The quake of 1650 devastated Cusco, destroying many of the churches and historical buildings. Despite this Cusco has been resilient and rebuilt following each of these disasters.
Visitors can travel to Machu Picchu on a four hour train ride to Aguas Calientes, located at the base of the mountain. The train ride offers a scenic journey through the countryside.
Church of Santo Domingo and Coricancha
The church of Santo Domingo is built on the ruins of the famous Inca site of Coricancha - Templo del Sol. Coricancha (Q'orikancha), meaning "golden courtyard", was in fact known literally for its gold. Solid gold sheets once lined the temple walls and golden statues and pieces decorated the interior. A large golden sun disc reflected the sun, casting a brilliant light on the temple.Unfortunately all of this was looted by the conquistadors soon after they arrived in Cusco. Most of the gold was simply melted down. All that remains today of the once glorious Coricancha is the fine Inca stonework, which forms the foundation of the church of Santo Domingo. Most impressive is a 6m high, curved wall at one end of the church, which can be seen from both inside and outside Santo Domingo. Unlike much of the Spanish architecture, the Inca wall has withstood all of the major earthquakes that have rocked Cusco.In the center of the courtyard is a structure which was once covered with 55kg of gold. On the sides of the courtyard are small Inca rooms that visitors can walk through. The smooth gray stones and sharp angles of the Inca ruins are a stark contrast to the rounded arches and Spanish architecture which surround the courtyard.The remains of the Coricancha Temple were left to the Dominicans by Jaun Pizzaro, brother of Francisco Pizzaro and the church of Santo Domingo was constructed in the 17th Century. It was almost destroyed in both the 1650 and 1950 earthquakes, and damaged against most recently in the 1986 quake.
Walking through the narrow streets of Cusco next to the ancient Inca Walls is like walking through an outdoor museum. These Inca ruins are the foundations of the city of Cusco as it exists today. Although these foundations can be found all over Cusco there are a few areas which stand out more than others.Some of the best areas to see Inca Walls are along the streets of Loreto and Hatunrumiyoc. Inca walls line both sides of Loreto, which runs southeast from the Plaza de Armas. The south wall is from Amarucancha, site of the Palace of Huayna Capac. On the north side of Loreto is the wall which belonged to the Acllahuasi and is one of the oldest walls in Cusco. Hatunrumiyoc runs northeast from the Plaza de Armas. This pedestrian only street is famous for the 12 sided stone found along the east wall. To find the stone look for the souvenir sellers which set up regularly directly across from the stone.The Church of Santo Domingo, which is also the site of Coricancha is another great example of Inca stone work. A curved, 6m high Inca wall lines one end of the Church of Santo Domingo and can be seen from the street or inside the church.
The Museo Inka is the best museum in Cusco for those interested in the Incas. Housed in the ornate, 16th Century Spanish style Admiral's House, the building itself is worth the visit. The house first belonged to Admiral Francisco Aldrete Maldonado and was built, like much of Cusco, on Inca foundations. It sustained considerable damage in both the 1650 and 1950 earthquakes but has since been repaired and is now one of the most impressive colonial houses in Cusco.The Museo Inka focuses on the Incas from the rise of the Inca culture to the Conquest and its impact on Peruvian cultures. On display are ceramics, textiles, metal and gold work, jewelry, and mummies. Of particular interest is a collection of carved and painted wood queros (cups). In all there are some 450 pieces making it the largest collection of queros in the world.
Pre-Columbian Art Museum
The Museo de Arte Precolombino (Pre-Columbian Art Museum) was opened in Cusco in 2003. The collection, which contains approximately 450 pieces, was taken from the storage rooms of the Larco Museum in Lima. On display are jewelry, ceramics, metal works, and other artifacts from the Nasca, Moche, Huari, Chimú, Chancay, and Inca cultures. In addition to this is a room dedicated to paintings from the famous Escuela Cusquena, and a hall of wooden sculptures. The museum has a relatively small collection but the pieces are well chosen and well displayed.The building which houses the Museo de Arte Precolombino was formerly the mansion of the conqueror Alonso Díaz and later the residence of the Earl of Cabrera. The structure was built on the ruins of an Inca ceremonial court. It is located on the Plaza de las Nazarenas.
San Francisco Church and Monastery
San Francisco Church and Monastery in Plaza San Francisco, is a large 17th century church which takes up one entire side of the Plaza. While the church itself is somewhat less than spectacular it does contain a good collection of colonial art, with works by Marcos Zapata and Diego Quispe Tito. A giant 12m by 9m (39ft by 30ft) painting by Juan Espinoza de los Monteros, which shows the genealogy of the family of St Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan Order. There is also a series of paintings around the cloister with scenes from St. Francis' life. On a more morbid theme, there are two crypts with human bones arranged in a display.The San Francisco Church and Monastery is located on the Plaza San Francisco, a few blocks southwest of the Plaza de Armas.
The San Blas section of Cusco is on the hill, northeast of the Plaza de Armas. The area is known for its cobbled, narrow streets and small art galleries and artisan workshops. This area of the city comes to life in the evenings when the shops and restaurants open, and can look somewhat deserted during the day.The San Blas Plaza is a nice open area, which is rare in the San Blas district. The two main attractions on the Plaza are the church of San Blas and the fountain on the northeast wall, which is lit up at night. The area above the fountain is also a good place to take advantage of the view out over Cusco and the tiled rooftops.
Santa Catalina Convent and Art Museum
The Monasterio y Museo de Arte de Santa Catalina (Santa Catalina Convent and Art Museum) was opened in 1610, founded by Lucia Isabel Rivera de Padilla. It is still an active Dominican convent. It was built on the Inca ruins of Acllawasi, where chosen Inca women would dedicate their life to teaching, weaving Inca ceremonial robes and sun worship. Today the Monastery houses a religious art collection, including paintings from the famous Escuela Cusqueña.The Monasterio y Museo de Arte de Santa Catalina has an impressive interior, with high painted arches, and a beautiful capitulary room.