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Enjoy a selection of our Peru articles written by our award-winning travel director.


Cuzco, Peru

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Located in the Huatanay River valley, the city of Cusco, originally named Acamama, was populated long before the arrival of the Incas. Its first inhabitants came there more than five thousand years ago and prospered as farmers and llama shepherds, circa 1000 B.C., when the Marcavalle culture ruled the lands around the Huatanay. Later, other ethnic groups flourished like the Huaru and the Chanapata, who were present in that region for a very long time. Thereafter came the Tiahuanaco-Huari tribes to dominate the area between the sixth and twelfth centuries A.D. until their expulsion by the Lucre in the year 1,100 A.D.

Free of the Tiahuanaco-Huari control, the local ethnic groups fought amongst themselves for domination and around 1200 A.D. the powerful Incan government was formed. Due to the fact that these cultures had no written languages, it is difficult to ascertain the exact origin of the Incas or the names of their first monarchs known as Sapallac Inca Cuna or Sapa Inca. Garcilaso de la Vega does resurrect two legends about the origin of the Tahuantinsuyu in his Royal Commentaries of 1609. The first makes reference to Manco Cápac and Mama Ocllo, children of the sun and brother and sister / husband and wife, who emerged from the waters of Lake Titicaca with the mission to found an empire; it is told then that as they were walking, Manco Cápac took his staff and jabbed it into the ground and the place where it embedded itself was where the kingdom was to be; this happened to be the hill called Huanacaure, close to Cusco, where they settled and instructed the men in the ways of agriculture and cattle raising. The other tale speaks of four brothers, the Ayar, and their respective wives, who left the caves of Paccaritambo with the purpose to establish a city.

After the mythical founding of the city, a line of rulers was established, known as the legendary Incas since their existence has not been irrefutably proven. With the arrival of Pachacútec in 1438, the Incas start their stage of known history. This government began the expansion of the territory, remodeled the city, and started a war in the south against the Chanca tribe, a powerful ethnic group that stopped the Incas advancement into new territories. From the beginning of Pachacútec's government until the arrival of the Spanish in 1535, the Incas managed to carve out an empire that extended from the central valleys of Chile in the south up to Ecuador and Colombia in the north. Making Cusco the center of their realm, the Incas divided their empire into four suyos or quarters: Antisuyo, Chinchaysuyo, Collasuyo y Contisuyo.

In order to govern such a vast territory, the Incas created a complex sociopolitical organizational system based upon duality and reciprocation. The monarchs were chosen for their capacity and not for being the first born son of the king, and it was common for there to be two contenders for the thrown, who then faced each other in ritual power struggles, as was the case with Huáscar and Atahualpa after the death of Huayna Cápac, which the historians called a civil war.

As with all Andean cultures, the main challenge facing the Incas was to increase the agricultural frontier in order to benefit everyone. To accomplish this, there was a complex land and labor distribution system that managed to generate excesses in production, something reflected in their capacity to mobilize a huge army. However, the Tahuantinsuyo was not sufficiently cohesive nor its alliances completely solid, as was the experience of the Spanish when they arrived in 1532 and found easy support from many of the ethnic groups that opposed the Cusco regime, especially those like the Chancas who had been won over through force.


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