The Navel of the World

Sunrise over Lake Titicaca, Peru.
Inti, the sun decided to civilize the peoples of the region who, naked and sheltering in caves, lived like wild beasts.  He sent his son Ayar Manco and his daughter Mama Ocllo to build his empire, and out of the waves of Lake Titicaca, the children of the sun rose carrying with them Inti's golden staff, which they must sink into the earth to find supple ground.  Northwards they marched, thrusting the staff in the unyielding land along their path, until they found a beautiful valley surrounded by mountains; here the soil was soft and the golden staff sank gently into the earth.
Ayar Manco turned to the men of this land and taught them how to farm, hunt wild beasts, and build houses; Mama Ocllo turned to the women and taught them how to cook and weave the wool of llamas into clothing, and together Ayar Manco and his sister-consort Mama Ocllo built the city of Cuzco, center of the Tahuantinsuyo, and navel of the world.
Plaza de Armas in Cuzco, Peru.
My father, the professor, taught me history and folklore in the guise of bedtime stories, and I traveled to Cuzco in his words and in the hazy memories of my childhood.  Fairy tales set high expectations which reality sometimes cannot surpass, but Cuzco did not disappoint, its exuberant Baroque churches and stoic Inca buildings were every bit as beautiful as I had imagined. 

Capilla del Triunfo at Cuzco's cathedral.

Cuzco was founded in the 13th century by the Inca rulers of Peru and in the 15th century became the capital and administrative center of the Tahuantinsuyo (the four regions), the vast empire that encompassed Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Bolivia, and northern Argentina, and in the 16th century it was invaded by the Spanish Francisco Pizarro, who waged a bloody campaign of conquest against the Incas. 

The Amaru Qancha (left) and the Aqllawasi (House of the Chosen Women) which was transformed into the convent of Santa Catalina. Cuzco, Peru.

Cuzco, like Rome is a city of architectural layers, with vestiges of Inca achievements surprising the visitor at every corner.  The 1536 siege of Cuzco (in which the deposed emperor Manco Inca Yupanqui, marched into the city in an effort to expel the Spaniards) may have burned the thatched roofs of the capital, but the stone precincts (Qancha) that made up its temples and palaces remain, witness to the genius of the Inca civilization.

The Archbishop's palace, formerly the Hatumrumiyoc, residence of Inca Roqa.
The 12 angle stone at the Hatumrumiyoc.  For scale comparison, my height is 5'-4"

The Monastery of Santo Domingo is built on the foundation of the Qorikancha, (or Golden House) temple of the Sun. 

Conquest and colonization gave birth to what Peruvians call "sincretismo", that is the union of two ideologies, two styles, two races.  This union can be experienced in the religious fervor that holds in equal value the reverence of the ancestors and the spirits of the land with the cult of christian saints; or in the daily exchanges conducted in Quechua and Spanish, or in the cyclopean walls that lend Inca gravitas to the Spanish Baroque.

Calling the winds at Saqsayhuaman.  Cuzco, Peru.
Quechua visitors at the Plaza de Armas.  Cuzco, Peru.
Calle de las siete culebras.  The street of the 7 snakes and the corner of the Convent of the Nazarenas.  The Snake in Inca mythology is a totemic representative of the underworld.
Cuzco's beauty moved me, and the visit brought me such finally see with my eyes what I had "seen" in my father's words.  Rome, AthensGranada, Mycenae, and now Cuzco.  To my father's memories John and I now add our own. 

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