Location: Cusco region, Cusco Province
Nickname: La Ciudad Imperial (The Imperial City)
Cusco (outside Peru usually Cuzco; Qusqu or Qosqo in
Quechua) is the capital of the region of the same name and of the
province of Cusco in the center of the Peruvian Andean highlands. It
lies at an altitude of 3416 m and had 111,930 inhabitants in the urban
area and 428,450 inhabitants in the metropolitan area in the 2017
census. It is the seat of the Archdiocese of Cuzco and a university. The
historical importance as the capital of the Inca Empire, the
pre-colonial and colonial monuments and sights in the city and its
surroundings and the location in the middle of the Andes make it an
attraction for many tourists.
In 1983 the Andean city was included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Cusco is also the starting point for excursions to the long-hidden Inca city of Machu Picchu, about 100 kilometers away.
The name of the city is Quechua (Qusqu, pronunciation:
['qos.qɔ]). The word is often given the meaning "navel of the world" or
"middle of the world". Possibly it originally comes from the Aymara and
is a shortening of the name qusqu wanka ("rock of the owl"). According
to one of the founding myths of the city, a winged creature settled on
the site where the city was later founded and was turned into stone
In Spanish, the name was spelled Cuzco or Cozco in the 16th century. The Quechua uvular /q/ was interpreted as the Spanish alveolar /k/, represented by "c", while in Spanish (Castilian) at the time the z for the dorsal sibilant [s] (like s in German and American Spanish), the "s", on the other hand, stood for the apical sibilant [ş] (as is still the case today in Castilian Spanish or in Greek, but not in American Spanish, there the same as z and c before e/i). Instead of the latter sound, "sh" (pronounced š like German "sch") is used in other Quechua variants (Chinchay including the Quechua of Lima documented in the early colonial period, as well as Yunkay and Waywash). Like Castilian, Quechua spoken in Cusco at the time apparently knew two distinct s-sounds. The linguist Rodolfo Cerrón Palomino, native speaker of Wanka-Quechua (Waywash), where z [s] and s [š] are still distinguished, therefore vigorously defends the spelling Cuzco with z.
On March 12, 1971, the Provincial Municipality of Cusco decided to officially change the name of the city from Cuzco to Cusco. At this point in time, American Spanish, but also modern Cusco Quechua, no longer distinguished between the two s-sounds. The Academia Mayor de la Lengua Quechua (AMLQ), according to Cerrón, an academy solely for the modern variant of Cusco-Quechua, was one of the forces, along with the American Art Institute (Instituto Americano de Arte), that had strongly pushed for this. In 1986 the Peruvian Ministry of Education also declared the form Cusco to be the official spelling. It is now the form most used in Peru.
On November 18, 1985, three-vowel alphabets were introduced in Peru as the standard for Quechua and Aymara (R.M. n° 1218). According to this orthography, Cusco is written in Quechua Qusqu. The AMLQ (as well as SIL International and most Quechua Bible translators) previously advocated and still advocate a five-vowel alphabet according to which Cusco is written Qosqo in Quechua. Both spellings compete to this day in the Quechua context. The Council of the Provincial Municipality of Cusco, when Daniel Estrada Pérez was mayor, decreed that the name Qosqo should be used in all municipal documents (Acuerdo Municipal n° 078, June 23, 1990).
According to legend, the first Inca Manco Cápac, the son of the sun, founded the city with his sister Mama Ocllo. The area is said to have previously been inhabited by the Tampu, a Quechua people. It definitely belonged to the sphere of influence of the Wari culture, whose center of power collapsed in the 11th century. Based on the traditional list of the 12 Inca rulers, the founding of Cusco was usually dated to the 11th or 12th century of the European era, for which there was no evidence other than the legendary traditions. Archaeologically, the development of the settlement into an outstanding urban center is dated around the time between 1250 and 1310, when a regional drought forced agriculture to be intensified and a strong population growth took place. Towards the end of this phase, the city had an area of about 50 hectares and was thus about five times larger than comparable settlements in the wider area. By this time at the latest, the expansion of the Inca Empire had also begun.
The city consisted of two halves, Upper Cusco (Hanan Qusqu) and Lower Cusco (Urin Qusqu). The first five Inca rulers, who bore the title Sinchi (“Warlord”, actually “strong”), ruled from Lower Cusco, the subsequent rulers with the title Sapa Inca resided in Upper Cusco. More precise records have only existed since the time of the 9th Inca, Pachacútec Yupanqui. During his reign, which is usually dated from 1438 to 1471 according to the chronology established by John Rowe in the 1940s, he expanded Inca territory in the central Andes from Lake Titicaca to Junín. The empire was divided into four parts according to the four cardinal points (in Quechua Tawantinsuyu, tawa - four, suyu - land), its flag was the rainbow flag (wiphala). Also in Cusco, the center of the empire, each of these parts of the empire corresponded to a district. This quartering may also have been represented in the Andean cross, the hole in the middle could represent the capital Cusco.
Pachacútec had agricultural terraces (Inca terrace) built in the area for the cultivation of corn in order to ensure the supply of the population. Canals to the Saphi (Quechua: "root") and Tullumayu ("bone river") rivers, which ran through the entire city, provided the residents with fresh water and kept the city clean. He also had the sun temple Inticancha built in Cusco as an imperial identification center, which was furnished with unimaginable amounts of gold jewelry.
As the 10th Inca, Túpac Yupanqui took over the rulership of the empire from his father. Under his leadership, the Inca Empire reached its greatest extent. Through various methods of incorporation, he was able to expand the empire in the north to Quito in modern-day Ecuador and in the south to the area of modern-day Santiago de Chile. East of the Andes, the southern quarter of the Inca Empire under his rule reached at least as far as the cult city of Samaipata in present-day Bolivia. Under him or his successor, the eastern quarter of the empire advanced as far as the Guaporé River in what is now the Bolivian-Brazilian border area. High dignitaries of the inferior ethnic groups were sent to Cusco and trained there. They were then entrusted with important administrative functions in their home regions, which contributed to the development and spread of a unified imperial Inca culture.
Huayna Cápac, the 11th Inca, took over the empire a few decades before the arrival of the Spaniards and drove expansion especially in the north. He stayed in Quito for a long time and made it a second capital rivaling Cusco. After his death (around 1525) his sons Atahualpa, who resided in Quito, and Huáscar from Cusco fought over the succession. In the years that followed, the conflict escalated into civil war. In 1532 Huáscar was defeated by his brother, who had the more battle-hardened troops from the northern territory and experienced generals at his disposal. Atahualpa, now the absolute ruler of the Inca Empire, stayed away from Cusco and installed his general Quisquis as governor there. Quisquis had Huáscar's entire family and much of the Cusquenian Inca nobility killed.
Colonial Era and Decline
On November 16, 1532, Francisco Pizarro captured Atahualpa in the so-called Battle of Cajamarca. To buy his freedom, Atahualpa had immeasurable amounts of gold and silver brought from Cusco to Cajamarca. Pizarro had him killed anyway and moved to Cusco. On November 15, 1533 he took the capital. Cusco initially remained largely undestroyed and was sacked by the Spaniards.
In 1535 Pizarro founded the city of Lima on the Pacific coast, which was much more convenient in terms of transport and was to become the administrative center of the colony. In the same year, the puppet ruler Manco Cápac II, employed by Pizarro, fled from Cusco and organized a large-scale uprising. With over 100,000 men he marched against Cusco and besieged the city for several months. The Spaniards only narrowly escaped the sinking thanks to the recapture of the fortress of Sacsayhuamán. During the siege, Cusco was mainly destroyed by incendiary bullets and was rebuilt in the colonial style in the years that followed, whereby the foundation walls from the Inca period and the old street layout were largely preserved. In 1536 Cusco became the seat of a diocese, the second (after Cartagena) on the South American continent.
Immediately following the crushing of the Inca rebellion, civil war broke out among the conquistadors as both Pizarro and his partner Diego de Almagro laid claim to the city. In the course of the conflict, both Almagro and his son of the same name (executed in Cusco in 1538 and 1542 respectively) and his adversary Francisco Pizarro (murdered in Lima in 1541) lost their lives. Gonzalo Pizarro, who had led a rebellion against the Spanish crown, was also executed in Cusco in 1548.
With the reorganization of the colony under royal administration after the civil wars, Cusco finally ceded its former importance to the capital Lima and the neighboring port city of Callao and became a secondary colonial city. Nevertheless, the historical buildings that still characterize the old town today, including numerous churches, were built during this time. The Spanish chronicler Pedro de Cieza de León published the first authentic information about the city and its inhabitants in his book Crónica del Perú (1553). The illustrations in this book, however, are unrealistic fantasy representations.
In Cusco in 1572, on the orders of Viceroy Francisco de Toledo, the last Inca king, Túpac Amaru, was demonstratively beheaded in front of an indigenous audience to discourage the former Inca subjects. Also in Cusco in 1781, after a failed uprising, the Indian rebel leader José Gabriel Condorcanqui, who had become known as “Túpac Amaru II.”, was quartered.
In 1650 Cusco was devastated by an earthquake, but the foundations of the palaces and temples built by the Incas, which had already withstood the destruction of the war, also withstood the earthquake.
In 1692 the University of Cusco was founded, one of the oldest universities in Peru.
In 1820, during the War of Independence, Cusco became the capital of the last Spanish Viceroy, José de la Serna, while Lima was already under the Republic. After independence, Cusco, which is said to have had around 40,000 inhabitants before 1820, increasingly became an insignificant provincial city, as the Spanish and Creole upper classes emigrated. In 1876 only 18,370 inhabitants were counted; after the catastrophic outcome of the Saltpeter War in Peru in the 1880s, the population continued to decline.
When the city of Machu Picchu, hidden on a mountain, was discovered in 1911, the meaning of the city changed. Cusco became a center of renewed interest in the Indian past. At the same time, Cusco developed into the largest tourist center in Peru.
Another earthquake in 1950 destroyed the rebuilt churches and houses. Cusco was 90% destroyed. The preserved Inca ruins and the city center with its colonial buildings were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1983.
Cusco Cathedral - It was built between 1560 and 1654 on the foundations of the palace of the 8th Inca Viracocha.
La Compañía de Jesús – The Church of the Jesuits was built between 1552 and 1668 on the foundations of the palace of Huayna Cápac. It surpasses the cathedral in splendor and beauty, which at the time led to a church dispute.
La Merced - The monastery church was built between 1540 and 1600. Here is the 22 kg golden monstrance, which is decorated with 1,518 diamonds, over 600 pearls and countless rubies, emeralds and other precious stones.
San Francisco - A church with a carved choir and paintings.
San Blás - A church with a carved pulpit. The most beautiful wood carving in Cusco.
San Sebastián - A baroque church with a rich ornamental decoration of the interior.
Santo Domingo – Inside, the Coricancha Sanctuary was uncovered by the 1950 earthquake.
Callejón de Siete Culebras – The Alley of the Seven Serpents. Some stones are decorated with snakes, which were a symbol of wisdom for the Incas.
Calle Hatunrumiyoc (hatun rumiyuq: "with the big stone") - The wall of the former palace of the ruler Inca Roca. It is an example of the technique of seamless blocking of huge stones. The most famous stone has 12 corners.
Sun Sanctuary Coricancha (Qurikancha) – In the Inca sun temple there are sloping walls with trapezoidal niches and a 20-sided stone.
Museo Inka - fabrics, ceramics, jewelry and utensils, as well as mummies and trepanned skulls from the Inca period are on display here.
Museo Regional - The museum is housed inside a 17th-century palace.
Museo de Historia Regional – Pre-Columbian objects and ceramics from the Chavín, Mochica, Chimú and Nazca cultures are on display here.
Museo de Historia Natural – A collection of objects from the local animal and bird kingdom can be seen here.
Museo Monasterio de Santa Catalina de Siena. It shows the culture of the convents in colonial Cusco and the economic autonomy and intellectual self-determination of the nuns in a male-dominated society.
Museo Machupicchu Casa Concha – A collection of objects from Machu Picchu
Sights in the vicinity
Sacsayhuamán, ruins three kilometers north on the mountains above Cuzco.
Tambomachay, water sanctuary where the water cascades down four terraced levels in canals; 8 kilometers north.
Puka Pukara, a small hill fort with towers, dwellings and stairs, at Tambomachay.
Qenko, a fairground with a huge, jagged limestone. A fissure leads to the inside of the rock, where dead people are believed to have been mummified. At the top a stone for observing the solstice. A snake-shaped gutter is said to have been used in religious rituals for libations of libations and blood.
Cristo Blanco, a white statue of Christ on the hill next to Sacsayhuamán.
Sights in the surrounding area
Chinchero - small town in the high plateau NW of Cusco. Colonial-era church built on Inca ruins. On Sundays there is an indigenous market in Chinchero.
Tipón - Inca ruins with wide terraces and functioning water channels to the east of the city, near the village of Oropesa.
Pikillaqta - Ruins from the Wari culture, located east of the city of Cusco on a protruding range of hills at a narrow point of the Urubamba River (near the confluence with the Río Sapphi), which was a strategically important place as a natural pass.
Valle Sagrado de los Incas (Sacred Valley of the Incas) - fertile valley in the north of Cusco, an area characterized by flat alluvial plains a few kilometers wide between steep rock faces, small towns, Inca ruins and surrounded by high snow mountains. Special sights are:
Urubamba – capital of the province of the same name. The river Urubamba forms the so-called Valle Sagrado in this valley area.
Písac - A former Inca city about 30 km from Cuzco with ramparts, gates and bastions, a huge cemetery, countless terraces and a 16 m long underground passage.
Ollantaytambo – A fortress of great religious importance about 70km from Cuzco. The fortress was not completed until the arrival of the Spaniards. This is evidenced by six huge red granite monoliths weighing up to 50 tons.
Machu Picchu - The Hidden City - The most visited attraction in Peru.
Circles of Moray - large circular agricultural experimental complex of the Incas, where, among other things, seeds from the Amazon region were found.
Modern Cusco likes to present itself as a tourism metropolis. In fact, tourism is the largest source of income. The city administration is making enormous efforts to create the necessary infrastructure and to keep the negative effects as low as possible. The architectural city center has hardly changed in the last few decades. Folk performances and the original way of life can be experienced in many events and restaurants.
For the safety of visitors, a separate tourist police force has been introduced, which also patrols at night.
Tourists reach Cusco through the airport or by taking the numerous intercity buses that stop at Terminal Terrestre.
The city has had a railway connection since 1908. There are two railway stations: The
the Estacion del Sur Wanchaq, in which the standard-gauge line Cusco-Puno railway line ends, which also allows traffic to the Pacific coast via the subsequent Mollendo-Juliaca railway line. In terms of passenger transport, however, only tourist offers such as the Belmond Andean Explorer operate here.
the Estación San Pedro for the narrow-gauge railway line Cusco-Quillabamba, on which, among other things, Machu Picchu can be reached. There are several daily connections there, which are also primarily used by tourists.
Sports and culture
In addition to various cultural events specifically related to tourism, there are various events for the population: in addition to religious holidays (Señor de los Temblores - Lord of the Tremors, Christmas market, carnival, Easter and Corpus Christi - Corpus Christi) also musical ones (e.g. Festival de la Cerveza) and Sporting events, whereby the most famous local football club Cienciano del Cusco has increased in recent years (since 2001) to an internationally renowned club (winner of the Copa Sudamericana 2003). Cusco has football stadiums and a closed Colosseum for sporting and cultural events.