Sacsayhuamán is one of the most amazing Incan constructions for tourists. Its Quechua name means "satisfied falcon", it was the falcon that guarded the capital of the empire, since it was possible to overlook Cusco from the hill in where it was erected. If, as it is known, Cusco was designed with the shape of a lying puma, Sacsayhuamán would be its head, and the Coricancha would correspond to the feline's genitalia.
It is said that the work was started by Pachacútec and continued by Túpac Yupanqui, even though some chroniclers state that it was Huayna Cápac who gave it the final touch. Inca Garcilaso de la Vega says that Apu Huallpa Rimachi was the main architect, and that Inca Maricanhi, Acahuana Inca and Calla Cunchuy successively took control of the works.
Its construction took over seven decades and required the work of 20,000 men approximately, both for the foundations and hewn stone works, the transportation of materials, carving and stones setting. Hewn stones could have been located at Muina, Huacoto and Rumicolca, 20 kilometers away from Cusco, and at closer places such as Sallu, Rumi, Chita, Curovilca and Viracocha. Some of its external walls exceed the 9 meters of height and 350 tons of weight.
Spectacular fortress built with huge carved rocks jointed with absolute accuracy, this astounding sample of the Incan military architecture is, undoubtedly, the greatest architectonic work of the Tahuantinsuyo. But, in addition, it proves the undeniable firmness of the great administrative capacity of the empire and its powerful logistic system capable of mobilizing and organizing such a work.
It is located 2 km away from the city of Cusco, that is, 10 minutes by car. As of the Spaniards arrival its aspect has changed a lot, since this fortress was used as a hewn stone to build the colonial Cusco.
The architectonic complex occupies the edge of the northern slope of the city of Cusco. The southern side of the building was enclosed by a polished wall of almost 400 meters long. The eastern and western borders of the temple were delimited by other walls and cultivation terraces. The main front of the building faces the north and is protected by a formidable system of three cultivation terraces. They are supported by zigzagging walls constituted by large stones that amazed their first visitors and which even now surprise us. According to Inca Garcilaso, these walls were constructed to demonstrate the Incan power.
From Sacsayhuamán, it is possible to obtain a spectacular view of the Sacred City and its surroundings. Besides, you will be able to distinguish summits such as those from the Ausangate, the Pachatusán and the Cinca, places that are believed to be inhabited by apus or powerful spirits that govern the mountains.
Sacsayhuamán is usually described as a fortress because it is practically enclosed by three slopes. However, the fact that the Incas constructed a fortress in that place is unusual, since at the moment of its construction they did not face major threats. Its shape and location would have responded to other principles, such as the harmony between architecture and landscape. Current investigations suggest that it must have been a temple devoted to the worship of the Sun, for which both the construction and the surrounding landscape were important.
The main wall is formed by stones that reach the 5 meters of height and 2.5 meters of width and that can weight between 90 and 125 metric tons. Moving these stones was a real feat, as well as the perfect adjustment among them and the attention given to the bosses' curvature.
There were several doors communicating the different levels through staircases. Garcilaso had left the names of three of them. The Tiupunco door (tiu means door) was placed at the wall with the largest stones, the second door was called Acahuana Puncu and the third one was Huiracocha Puncu (in honor of god Huiracocha). Juan Pizarro (brother of the conqueror Francisco Pizarro) died in one of these doors from a blow with a stone when the Spaniards attacked the rebel forces of Manco Inca at the enclosure of Cusco.
The main precinct is constituted by three large terraces, whose plots were leveled and flattened. Several buildings and three big towers were erected on these terraces. To the east side was located Paucar Marca (Precious Precinct), in the middle was Sallac Marca (Precinct with Water) and to the west we could find Muyu Marca (Round Precinct). The first two had rectangular floors. Today there are only a few slight vestiges of the first tower, and only the foundations of the second tower could survive. These remains indicate that it was a rectangular-floor construction. This tower ended up in a triangular ceiling with great slant.
Muyu Marca Tower - The tower of Cahuide
It is a cylindrical tower that, thanks to the excavations carried out and the information comprised in the chronicles, can be imagined. It would have been a building with 4 superposed floors. The first body would have had a square floor; the second would have been cylindrical; the third would have had also a cylindrical shape. The successive would have formed circular cultivation terraces with decreasing width, being the widest of 3.6 m and the narrowest of 3 m. The tower would have ended up in a conic ceiling. Muyu Marca must have reached a total height of 20 meters. It was as amazing work that generated the admiration of several chroniclers. The Spaniards destroyed it, in spite of the protests both from Cieza and Inca Garcilaso.
Not only was Muyu Marca a building with an exceptional design, but it also had a great historic value. It was the place in where took place the strongest indigenous resistance against the Spanish conquerors during the rebellion of Manco Inca. Titu Cusi Huallpa (also called Cahuide) jumped from its highest part in order to avoid being captured by his enemies.
Currently there are only a few remains of the ancient constructions erected on the terraces of the complex. Between the Muyu Marca and Sallac Marca towers there was an enlarged square from where, nowadays, there is a magnificent view of the city. On the highest terrace of the set there are a circular well that could have been a reservoir, and a one-door rectangular building. On the southeast end of the complex it is possible to see curve cultivation terraces and two alignments of colcas. In general, in the entire complex there are traces of an excellent system of water supply for its inhabitants, as well as a drainage system for rain water.
Royal House of the Sun
There are abundant descriptions of the richness of the inner decorations, as well as of the high quality and the large amount of objects that were kept in the ancient stockrooms of Sacsayhuamán. This would confirm that it was a temple devoted to the sun worship or, as Cieza de León called it, a "Royal House of the Sun".
How to get there
You can go to the archaeological park both on foot and by car. If you want to get there on foot, journeys last 30 minutes approximately, whereas it will take you 10 minutes if you go by car. There are several routes. As of the Main Square it is possible to go up through Cuesta del Almirante, Plateros or through Suecia. All these streets end in the circumvallation that leads to Sacasyhuamán. Through it you will get directly to the entrance control booth of the archaeological park.
The route on foot
Through Cuesta del Almirante
If you go up through it, it is necessary to continue through Córdoba Street until the Small Square of Nazarenas, in this place you will take Nazarenas Street and then Pumacurco up to the end. Another possibility is to go through Cuesta del Almirante until Ataud Street and continue through this street and then all the way through Huaynapata. This route takes about 30 minutes.
Another pedestrian route starts in Suecia Street, turns in Huaynapata and follows through Resbalosa until reaching Circunvalación.
If you walk through it you must continue through Saphi and then take the steep Amargura slope that leads to Circunvalación.
If you rather go by car, you can take Suecia Street up to Salesiano School, turn to the right and continue through Circunvalación.
You can also start in Plateros, continue through Saphi Street and finish in the circumvallation.
A taxi to Sacsayhuamán, without including the tour, might cost 5 soles. If you prefer, you can take the buses of Puputi Street that go to the Sacred Valley, the ticket costs 3 soles.
The Fortress of Sacsayhuamán
One of the greatest lithic monuments of the Incan architecture was, undoubtedly, Sacsayhuamán, which was actually a Royal House of the Sun. In the Incan Cusco there were various Royal Houses of the Sun, Coricancha and Poquencancha were some of them.
The Royal Houses of the Sun were privilege complexes, like small cities inside the city of Cusco, in where people worshiped the general god, the Sun, as well as other minor and particular gods.
These worship centers had their own delimited territory domains, with water supplied through underground channels and lots of houses. Some writers suppose that they belonged to one or several lineages or royal Panacas.
Sacasyhuamán is composed of colossal stone blocks, prodigiously jointed, which guard the city of Cusco.
During that time, its immense stone walls amazed the Spanish conquerors that had just arrived, who called it "Fortress", according to their notion of cities and military constructions; however, for the Incas and their particular conception of the world, Sacsayhuamán was much more significant. The bastions, large fortified towers, houses, Indian temples, stockrooms, roads and aqueducts making up this impressive Incan construction constitute a proof of that.
Waldemar Espinoza Soriano, profuse investigator of the Incan society, says that Sacsayhuamán is popularly called "fortress" even though, as Cieza de León states, "it was a temple devoted to the worship of the Sun".
Among the chroniclers that describe Sacsayhuamán as Royal House of the Sun we can mention the following:
* Garcilaso de la Vega, who sates in his "Comentarios Reales" ("Royal Comments") that people from Cusco knew, from ancient times, that this architectonic complex was actually a Royal House of the Sun. In chapter VI of his Seventh Book he says: "…an Inca with royal blood left the fortress as a messenger of the Sun…he left the fortress and not the Temple of the Sun, because it was said that he was a messenger of war not of peace, that the fortress was the House of the Sun".
* Pedro Cieza de León, Spanish chronicler of the conquest times, states in his book "El Señorío de los Incas" ("The Incan Dominion") that the Royal House of the Sun was located to the north of the city of Cusco, within a collado."
* Martín de Murúa, also a Spanish chronicler, states that Sacsayhuamán "…was, at first, the House of the Sun, and nowadays it is only a witness of its ruin".
"It is undeniable that no other archaeological structure of America is as impressive as Sacsayhuamán. No matter how informed the visitor is, the scene always outshines the imagination". (Alden J.Mason).
Location, Geographic Aspect
Sacsayhuamán is an archaeological complex located to the north of Cusco's main square, 1 km away from the colonial parish church of San Cristóbal.
From time immemorial, the Valley of Cusco or Watanay, as it is also called due to the river with the same name that crosses the area, was not constituted by the fertile lands that would characterize it afterwards, instead, it presented three lakes successively distributed along 30 km.
For that reason, it has been determined that the geologic formation of Yunkaypata (where Sacsayhuamán is located) has 80 million years approximately and has a sea origin, since it has fossilized remains of sea urchins and other organisms of that habitat. The erosion and environment wore away the large masses of stone lime of the place. Precisely here there is a sort of granite slide called "Rodadero" ("Shaped to Roll"); whose polishing is a result from the seismic action of the fault in which it is located.
Rock types such as the andesite, which can be found in the constructions of Sacsayhuamán, does not belong to that place, but they were probably transported from Waqoto and Rumicolca, located at more than 38 km from there. Nonetheless, just as the Peruvian archaeologist César García Rossell states, it will always be an enigma to determine the place or places from which the huge stone blocks were taken to the top of the hill, and the technical means or the dragging equipments, cords, ropes and hundreds of arms used in this task.
Sacsayhuamán or Saqsaywaman is a compound Quechua word that derives from Saqsay: be satisfied or satiated, and waman: falcon. According to some researchers it means "Get satisfied falcon". The falcon is a bird of pray that abounds in that area, and it was the protector entity of the first Inca Manco Cápac.
Others state that the monument is actually called Saqsawaman, which means marbled falcon.