Sacsayhuaman is an iconic archaeological site located just outside of Cusco, the historic capital of the Inca Empire, in the Andean highlands of Peru. A testament to the architectural ingenuity of the Inca civilization, Sacsayhuamán is characterized by its colossal, intricately constructed walls and is a significant cultural landmark of Incan and Peruvian history.
Everything you need to know about Sacsayhuaman Fortress
Sacsayhuaman is one of the grandest buildings in the world. It is a citadel on the northern outskirts of Cusco, the historical capital of Peru. The Inca constructed the complex in the 15th century, particularly under the Pachacuti king and his successors.
Even before the 30,000-year-old writing was discovered, the architectural style was so mysterious that the Spaniards claimed it was a work of ghosts at first sight. The building consists of drywalls constructed with huge stones. It is rumored that more than 20 thousand men mined the stones from nearby quarries and carried them for about 20 kilometers to the hill of Cusco. Sacsayhuaman has sacred buildings, including; shrines, residential buildings, warehouses, towers, roads, and aqueducts. That is why the harmony of the landscape is similar to other sacred Inca places like Machu Picchu.
The archaeological site of Sacsayhuaman is located about 2 kilometers north of the Main Square of the Cusco. It is located about 3,700 meters above sea level. The site extends over an area of more than 3000 hectares on a hill surrounded by mountains. The place has beautiful landscapes with abundant vegetation and animals. Sacsayhuaman sits about 10 minutes from the Plaza de Armas of Cusco (by car) or 45 minutes walk. You can also opt to take a ‘City Tour.’ This includes transportation to the archaeological place. The entrance should be the Tourist Ticket of Cusco.
Archaeologists speculate that sections of Sacsayhuamán were initially built during the 15th century. The Imperial Inca expanded on this settlement by building dry stone walls constructed using huge stones. The stones used were amongst the largest ever used in any building in Pre-Hispanic America. They were precisely cut and fit so closely that even a piece of paper could not fit between most stones. The precision combined with the rounded corners of the blocks, the variety of their interlocking shapes, and the way the walls lean inward are typical of the Inca architectural style. It is thought to have helped the ruins survive devastating earthquakes in Cuzco. The established volume of stone is over 6,000 cubic meters. The estimates for the weight of the largest andesite block vary from 128 tonnes to almost 200 tonnes.
After Cusco was besieged, the Spaniards started to demolish the complex. They used the stones at Sacsayhuaman for building Spanish Cuzco. They destroyed block after block and used them as material to make the colonial city’s new Spanish religious and governmental buildings. The wealthiest of the Spaniards also used the stone to build their houses.
Only stones too big to be moved remain at the site today.
The most striking feature of Sacsayhuamán is its massive stone walls, built in a zigzag pattern that stretches over 540 meters. The walls consist of three parallel lines, reaching heights of up to 18 meters. The boulders used in the walls, some weighing as much as 200 tons, are a marvel of ancient engineering. They were cut and fitted together with such precision that no mortar was needed, and not even a knife blade could be inserted between the stones.
These walls are the largest structures in Sacsayhuamán, but the site also includes various other constructions, such as towers, gateways, and a large plaza. The towers once likely used for military and ceremonial purposes, have largely disappeared, with only their foundations remaining.
The precise function of Sacsayhuamán is still a topic of debate among historians and archaeologists. While often described as a fortress, given its strategic location overlooking Cusco and its formidable walls, it also likely served important ceremonial purposes.}
Today, Sacsayhuamán is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of Peru's most visited tourist destinations. It is not only a place to marvel at the architectural prowess of the Inca civilization but also to learn about their history and culture. The site offers stunning views over the city of Cusco and the surrounding Andean landscape.
Every year on June 24th, Sacsayhuamán hosts the Inti Raymi, or Festival of the Sun, a traditional Inca ceremony that has been revived as a major cultural event. This vibrant festival, filled with music, dancing, and processions, draws visitors from around the world and is a highlight of the cultural calendar in Cusco.
Despite the passage of time and the impact of both natural and human forces, Sacsayhuamán remains a powerful symbol of the Inca Empire's grandeur and a must-see destination for anyone interested in history, archaeology, or architecture.
What to See in Sacsayhuaman?
Aside from the fantastic view of Cusco, Sacsayhuaman has many other sights to offer;
The Inca throne
The Inca throne, or K’usilluc Jink’ian, is a stone structure as a bench. Polished symmetrically with great perfection, the dimension of ‘Throne’ was gained.
The towers Muyucmarca, Sallaqmarca, and Paucamarca are located on the walls in a zigzag style. It is known that this place had abundant water. Today, you can see the aqueducts going through.
The walls are perfectly fit with stones that are so precisely cut and matched closely that even a piece of paper could not sit. Historians believe the first Spaniards who saw these walls attributed their construction to demons. It is a mystery how such huge stones were fit so elaborately. The largest stone is said to weigh about 128 tons. That, among other complexities, makes Sacsayhuaman a top-tier mystery.
Each door at Sacsayhuaman has its name: Ajawanapunku, T’iopunku, and Wiracochapunku. They are designed in a trapezoidal shape and serve as entrances to the tower area.
Group of Enclosures
These are rooms supported on the hill a short distance from the towers. They face the Plaza de Armas of the city of Cusco. Trapezoidal doors interconnect them.
The ‘chincanas’ are tunnels or underground caves in Sacsayhuaman. There are two, the most miniature measuring around 15 meters, which is an excellent distraction for many travelers. The large one is found north of the complex. According to tales, many people tried to find the end of the most extensive tunnel and failed. This tunnel is believed to lead to the Coricancha (Temple of the Sun). The entrance to this Chicana is currently closed.
Where to eat in Sacsayhuaman?
The Laguna Azul
The Laguna Azul "Blue Lagoon" restaurant is on the edge of the great Inca complex. It has a massive zigzag wall and sits in a different complex that attracts tourists of different ages. Its adobe walls and tile roof may look old to an outsider, but this follows modern trends that have spread through Peru like a hurricane from the coast.
It shares its name with an old movie, an old film of teenagers coming of age while stranded on an idyllic Pacific atoll. Still, locals call it the "piscigranja" or "fish farm" because its artificial pond roils with trout.
The restaurant serves ceviche and "fresh fish" and has beautiful scenery, a garden around the pond, and an inside dining space. Ceviche is a top dish nationwide and increasingly a symbol of national identity. Despite the increased air transport, fresh fish is not readily available in the country's highlands.
The Peruvian culture is one for the museum, each city explicitly with a rich history. The tale of how Sacsayhuaman came into existence belongs in fantasy novelty. The friendly nationals make for a great ecstasy as you roam the streets, making the trip a worthwhile memory to tell.
Other restaurants in Cusco City
Chicha by Gastón Acurio:
One of Peru's most famous chefs, Gastón Acurio, runs this restaurant and offers a gourmet take on traditional Andean and Peruvian cuisine.
Morena Peruvian Kitchen:
Known for its innovative interpretations of classic Peruvian dishes, this restaurant offers a diverse menu in a stylish setting.
This high-end restaurant offers a fusion of Andean and Mediterranean cuisine. It's a tapas and wine bar highly recommended for its delicious food and extensive wine list.
Located in the San Blas neighborhood, this restaurant is famous for its cuy (guinea pig) and other traditional Andean dishes, which you can enjoy in its lovely courtyard.
An excellent option for vegans and vegetarians, this restaurant in the San Blas area serves various tasty and creative plant-based dishes.
Overlooking the main square, or Plaza de Armas, Limo offers a mix of Peruvian and Asian cuisine, with excellent ceviche and pisco cocktails.
Sacsayhuaman Fortress Frequently Asked Questions
Where is Sacsayhuamán located?
Sacsayhuamán is located just outside of the city of Cusco in Peru, the historic capital of the Inca Empire. It's situated on a steep hill overlooking the city.
What is Sacsayhuamán?
Sacsayhuamán is an ancient Inca complex known for its massive, intricately constructed stone walls. While it's often referred to as a fortress due to its fortified appearance, the site also likely served important ceremonial and possibly administrative functions.
How were the massive stones at Sacsayhuamán transported and put into place?
The stones were likely quarried from nearby areas and transported using a system of ropes, ramps, and possibly rolling logs. As for how they were put into place, the Incas were master stonemasons and used a technique known as ashlar, in which stones are cut to fit together without mortar.
When was Sacsayhuamán built?
Construction of Sacsayhuamán began during the reign of the Inca emperor Pachacuti in the mid-15th century and likely continued over several subsequent reigns.
Can I visit Sacsayhuamán?
Sacsayhuamán is open to the public and a major tourist attraction. There's an entrance fee to visit the site, and it's often included in city tours of Cusco.
What is the Inti Raymi Festival at Sacsayhuamán?
The Inti Raymi, or Festival of the Sun, is a traditional Inca ceremony that has been revived as a cultural event. It takes place annually at Sacsayhuamán on June 24th and includes music, dancing, and processions to honor the Inca sun god.
How do I get to Sacsayhuamán from Cusco?
Sacsayhuamán is just a short distance from Cusco's city center. You can reach it by foot but be prepared for a steep climb. Alternatively, you can take a taxi or join a guided tour.
Do I need to worry about altitude sickness at Sacsayhuamán?
Cusco and Sacsayhuamán are at a high altitude, over 3,400 meters (11,200 feet) above sea level. Some visitors may experience symptoms of altitude sickness, such as headaches or shortness of breath. Taking it easy for the first few days to acclimatize, stay hydrated, and eat light meals is recommended.
What should I bring when visiting Sacsayhuamán?
Bring water, sun protection (sunscreen, hat, sunglasses), and comfortable walking shoes. Also, remember to dress in layers, as the weather can change quickly.
Are there guided tours available at Sacsayhuamán?
Yes, guided tours are available and can provide valuable insights into the history and architecture of the site. Tours can be booked in Cusco or in advance online.
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