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Cuzco the naval of the world

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BY OSWALDO CHANOVE
Cuzco has been called the Archaeological Capital of the. Americas, as nowhere else on this continent can boast such a collection of well-preserved ruins of a great civilization that are easily accessible. But Cuzco is also a city riddled with contrast between native styles and the Western World, historic and modern architecture which have lent the city a rare beauty.

Most visitors who set foot in Cuzco are keener to get to the citadel of Machu Picchu, a four-hour train ride away, but Cuzco as a city in itself is teeming with interesting spots to see. The first thing that stands out about this pre-Hispanic capital are its Inca walls, those enormous stones which were dove-tailed into a perfect fit, on top of which the Conquerors built a new Spanish city. Early chroniclers did not exaggerate when they showed their admiration for the size of these temples and palaces, as the wave of earthquakes that hit the city toppled the Spanish colonial architecture but left the Inca stonework intact.

Over the course of time, researchers found that the inclination of the stonework, which slopes inwards, and the Incas' fondness for trapezoidal doors and windows were not just a whim of decoration, but rather were features of antiseismic architecture, which matched the way the granite blocks were carved.

Today, what is particularly fascinating is the fusion between the indigenous base and later European art, an extraordinarily harmonious blend which is the root of the unique beauty of Cuzco. This can be most clearly seen in the religious buildings, above all the church of Santo Domingo, which was built on top of Qoricancha, the ancient Temple of the Sun. The site features a dramatic counterpoint between the lightweight Spanish construction and the somber granite blocks so venerated by the Incas five centuries ago.

Located at an altitude of 3,360 meters above sea level, Cuzco was built in the Urubamba Valley in the southeastern Peruvian Andes and called the Naval of the World by the Quechua tribes. The city has a long and rich history which according to some historians dates back to 1200 A.D, and linked to Inca ruler Manco Capac. However, Cuzco saw its halcyon days in the fifteenth century under the rule of emperor Pachacutec, who led an expansion drive that extended the Inca Empire as far South as Chile and Argentina and Ecuador and Colombia to the North. The rapid spread of the empire was halted only by the arrival of Spanish Conqueror Francisco Pizarro, who in 1534 added Cuzco definitively to the realms of King Charles V. The invasion opened the way to a cultural mix that left its imprint on every aspect of Peruvian culture, and especially in the ancient Andean capital.
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The traveler arriving in Cuzco will find there are key sites to be visited. The main square, the Plaza de Armas is the obligatory starting point, and a particularly attractive spot as it is surrounded, like a traditional retablo folk scene, by traditional neighborhoods which stud the rolling hills above. The magnificent view is heightened by the looming shapes of the church of La Compañía and the Cathedral. Here, in the early hours, one can hear the chimes of the Maria Angola, the famous church bell minted from an alloy that included gold and silver.

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