Sacsayhuaman & nearby ruins
Visitors to this magnificent Inca fortress,
which overlooks the city of Cusco, cannot
fail to be impressed by the beauty and monumental scale of this important Inca construction. Sacsayhuaman can be variously translated as 'speckled falcon'
or 'speckled head'. The last interpretation refers to the belief that the city
of Cusco was set out in the form of a puma whose head was the hill of
Sacsayhuaman. The origins are uncertain but the fortress is generally attributed
to the period of Inca Pachacuti, the man who essentially founded the Inca
The main ramparts consist of three massive parallel
walls zigzagging together for some 400m, designed to make any attacker expose
his flanks. The massive blocks, the largest being 8.5m high and weighing nearly
300 tonnes, are fitted together with absolute perfection. The foundations are
made of Yucay limestone brought from over 15km away. The outer walls are made from
massive diorite blocks from nearby, and the inner buildings and towers are made
from dark andesite some of it brought from over 35km away. With only natural fibre
ropes, stone hammers and bronze chisels it must have been an enormous task. The
chronicler Cieza de Leon, writing in the 1550's, thought that some 20,000 men
had been involved in its construction: 4000 men cutting blocks from the quarries;
6000 dragging them on rollers to the site; and another 10,000 working on
finishing and fitting them into position. According to legend, some 3000 lives
were lost when one huge stone that was being dragged uphill broke free.
Sacsayhuaman played an important part in the final
defeat of the Inca Empire by the Spanish. Pizarro's party entered Cusco
unopposed in 1533 and lived there securely for more than two years before
finally being caught unprepared by the rebellion of Manco Inca in 1536.
troops took the fortress of Sacsayhuaman, overlooking the city, and used it as
his base to attack the Spanish. After weeks under siege in the city the Spanish
broke out and charged into the surrounding hills to the northwest above the city.
They then doubled back to capture the rocky outcrop opposite the fortress. From
this outcrop they made repeated attacks across the flat plaza against the walls of
the fortress. All the Spanish reinforcements on their way from Lima to Cusco had been
massacred, so if the Spanish failed to take the fort they
were doomed. In the evening, against all odds, the Spanish eventually broke
through the Inca defenses and scaled the walls of the fort driving the defenders
into the fortified complex dominated by 3 towers (foundations only remain
today). After two more days of fighting the Conquistadors finally overwhelmed
the natives, putting them all to the sword.
It was said that during the battle a leading Inca nobleman, armed with a Spanish
sword and shield, caused havoc by repulsing every enemy who tried to scale the
last tower left in Inca hands. Having sworn to fight to the death, he leapt from
the top of the tower when defeat was inevitable, rather than accept humiliation
more photos of
This is one of the finest examples of a rock artfully
carved insitu showing complex patterns of steps, seats, geometric reliefs and a
puma design. The rock is an excellent example of the Inca 'Rock Worship'. In Inca
cosmological beliefs the Incas held large rocky outcrops in reverence, as if
they possessed some hidden spiritual force. On top of the rock are zigzag channels which served to course chicha
(local maize beer) or sacrificed llama blood for purposes of divination; the speed and route of the
liquid, in conjunction with the patterns made in the rock, gave the answers to
the priest's invocations.
Inside the rock are large niches and a possible
altar. This may have been a place where the mummies of lesser royalty were kept
along with gold and precious objects.
more photos of Q'enko >>
Pucara (Red Fort)
Situated on a hill with superb views over the
surrounding countryside Puca Pucara was more likely a tambo, or kind of post
house than an actual fortress. Travelers may have lodged here with their goods
and animals before entering or leaving Cusco. An alternative theory is that it
served as a guard post controlling the flow of people and produce between Cusco
and the Sacred Valley.
more photos of Puca
Commonly referred to as the 'Baņos del Inca' or Inca
baths, Tambomachay was a site for ritual bathing. The excellent quality of the stonework suggests that its use was
restricted to the higher nobility, who maybe only used the baths on ceremonial
occasions. The ruins basically consist of 3 tired platforms. The top one holds
four trapezoidal niches that perhaps were used as seats; on the next level an
underground spring emerges directly from a hole at the base of the stonework and
from here cascades down to the bottom platform, creating a cold shower just high
enough for an Inca to stand under. On this platform the spring water splits into
two channels, both pouring the last metre down to ground level.
more photos of
Information for Visitors
The Inca ruins of Sacsayhuaman, Q'enko, Puca Pucara and Tambomachay are
situated quite close by to Cusco and can easily be visited in half a
day, either independently or part of an organized tour.
The ruins are located along the road to Pisac, with Sacsayhuaman being the
nearest ruin to Cusco. Entrance to the ruins is included on the Boleto Turistico
(tourist ticke) - see Cusco City information
for further details and prices. If you're
planning on visiting the ruins on your own then there are two interesting
1) The first is to take a bus from Cusco on its way to Pisac and get off at the furthest
ruin Puca Pucara. After visiting this Inca hillfort you can cross the road to visit Tambomachay and
then walk back
along the road to Q'enko and Sacsayhuaman. In the valley immediately to the left
of the huge Inca stones of Sacsayhuaman you'll find a small path leading down to Cusco.
(total walking distance about 8km). Instead of the hassle of catching a local bus you could take a taxi to
Puca Pucara for about $6-10.
2) Alternatively you could walk up to
Sacsayhuaman. From the Plaza de Armas just climb the steep street of
Resbalosa, past the church of San Cristobal and follow the well marked path up
to the ruins at the hairpin bend in the road. If you head to the left of the
huge white statue of Christ on the hill overlooking the city you won't go too
far wrong. It takes about 40 minutes from the
Plaza and it's a good test to see if you have acclimatized and are fit to
undertake the more difficult treks such as the Inca Trail. From Sacsayhuaman you can hire a horse and a horseman to take you on a round
trip of the other ruins (3-4 hours). The cost of hiring the horses depends on how many
there are of you (and how rich you look), but 2 horses plus a horseman to show you the route should work
out at about $6 per person.
Many tour agencies in Cusco offer an organized tour of the ruins. The
afternoon tour by bus accompanied by a guide usually includes a visit to the Cathedral
and the Koricancha (Temple of the Sun) and costs about US$15 per person (not
including entrance fees). Most travel agents have tours leaving daily at 2pm
returning to the Plaza at 6:30pm
Next >> Introduction to the Sacred Valley of