Pisac & Ollanyatambo Inca Sites | Peru

At Pisac, our guide shared with us some history of the Incan empire. First off, he clarified that calling the indigenous people Incas was a misnomer because there was only one Inca and that was the king. It is more accurate to call the indigenous people, “the Andean people” in referencing the Andean mountains. He explained that while the Incan empire did not have any written documentation of their history, modern archeologists and anthropologists have made educated guesses as to what the purposes of each of the ruins were that have been rediscovered.

Like many other ruins, Pisac sports majestic terraces up an entire mountainside. There were three different uses for these terraces: 1) agriculture, 2) decoration, and 3) foundation for other structures. At Pisac you can see that the terraces were used for each of these purposes.

As their main food staple, the Andean people grew corn, potatoes, and grains. We were told that the Peruvian corns have much larger kernels than the ones in America because they are cultiavted at high altitudes. The Andeans did not need to build an elaborate irrigation system because the crops were watered naturally by the jungle rain and morning mist. And storehouses were built on the tops of the mountains because the wind and cold temperatures acted as natural refrigeration. Talk about being green and eco-friendly!

Another interesting feature at Pisac are the graves that were carved into the mountainside. The graves face the east so that when the sun rises each morning, the dead would be purified by the sun as they journey into the afterlife. Our guide explained that when someone died, they would be buried in these mountains adorned with gold and jewels. Unfortunately, when the Spaniards conquered Cusco in 1533, they pillaged these graves for the precious metals and jewels.

After taking in the majestic views, we ventured down the mountain to Parwa Restaurante, another Planeterra-supported project for lunch. Everything we ate was ridiculously tasty and it was nice to know that we were supporting the local women.

Next we headed to our last Inca ruin for the day at Ollantaytambo. Honestly by this time, I was so exhausted and grouchy from the jam-packed schedule, I wanted to lie and say I had altitude sickness and go back to the hotel to take a nap. But alas, I did not; and I’m really glad I didn’t because I learned so much more about the significance of yet another extraordinary site.

At the base of Ollantaytambo, there is a fountain in what appears to have been a temple. Our guide explained that the Incas were very keen on the changing seasons and movements of the sun. They created this place such that on every summer solstice, the entire room would be filled with the sun’s beams and at one specific time on that day, the sun would be reflected off the edge of the water.

Our guide pointed out that on the Pinkuylluna mountain, there are two faces. One was a man-made carving of Wiracochan, the creator of civilization and the other was a natural rock formation of an Inca’s profile. Can you see the faces?

We also learned the significance of the number 3. We had already discussed how the world was divided into three parts: the upper, middle, and underworlds; and discussed the three animals representing those worlds: the condor, puma, and serpent, respectively. Our guide explained that these two sets of threes represented the top two sides of the Andean cross, which has 3 steps on each of the four sides. He pointed out that on the 4th stone to the left on the Wall of the Six Monoliths, you can see the beginnings of the Andean cross being carved into the stone. As we discussed the significance of the number 3 and the remains of the Sun Temple, the sun began to set into the valley on the west, casting an ominous shadow on the town.

After an exhausting long day filled with Incan sites and history, we retired to our hotels for one last night of luxury before our 4 day trek on the Inca Trail.


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