Old meets new in the Inca’s holy city
At 3,400 meters, walking a few steps uphill in Cusco tires me immediately. But it's worth getting lost in its maze of streets to stumble on treasures both old and new.
When visiting Cusco’s Santo Domingo church you are transported back several centuries. From when the legendary Maco Cápac founded this Inca city to when the Conquistadors discovered its unbelievable wealth.
Most of Cusco’s churches are built upon Inca ruins. The Spanish missionaries, on discovering the city, decided that replacing Inca temples with Catholic churches would make it significantly easier to convert its citizens.
The most prominent example was Santo Domingo Church, built on the ruins of Qurikancha, translated as Temple of the Sun. For the Incas, Cusco was the center of the world, a place of worship and pilgrimage.
Santo Domingo took a century to build but an earthquake in 1950 damaged it badly, while revealing the Inca remains beneath. Building without mortar, the ancient people had fitted massive blocks of stone into intricate shapes that resisted the power of nature and still stand today.
The temple itself was lost but I cannot help but think the old religion lives on when I see the offerings of gold and images of the sun that decorate the city’s Catholic churches. Like Europe’s cathedrals or the Buddhist temples of Asia, Qurikancha held an almost unimaginable wealth of offerings, to which the European Conquistadors helped themselves. Qurikancha’s walls were believed to be covered in sheets of solid gold.
“There was a garden in which the earth was lumps of fine gold,” described Spanish chronicler Cieza de Léon upon discovering the temple. “It was cunningly planted with stalks of corn that were of gold – stalk, leaves, and ears. There were more than 20 llamas of gold with their young, and the shepherds who guarded them, with their slings and staffs, all of this metal. There were many tubs of gold and silver and emeralds, and goblets, pots and every kind of vessel of fine gold.”