Inca rope bridge

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Inca Rope Bridge
The annually reconstructed Q'iswa Chaka ("rope bridge") in the Quehue District is the last of its kind.
Ancestor Rope bridge
Related None
Descendant Simple suspension bridge
Carries Pedestrians, livestock
Span range Short
Movable No
Design effort Advanced for its time
Falsework required No

Inca rope bridges are simple suspension bridges over canyons and gorges and rivers (pongos) constructed by the Inca Empire. The bridges were an integral part of the Inca road system and exemplify Inca innovation in engineering. Bridges of this type were useful since the Inca people did not use wheeled transport - traffic was limited to pedestrians and livestock - and they were frequently used by Chasqui runners delivering messages throughout the Inca Empire.[1]

Construction and maintenance[edit]

The Incas used natural fibers found within the local vegetation to build bridges. These fibers were woven together creating a strong rope and were reinforced with wood creating a cable floor. Each side was then attached to a pair of stone anchors on each side of the canyon with massive cables of woven grass linking these two pylons together. Adding to this construction, two additional cables acted as guardrails. The cables which supported the foot-path were reinforced with plaited branches. This multi-structure system made these bridges strong enough to even carry the Spaniards while riding horses, after they arrived. The design naturally sags in the middle.

Part of the bridge's strength and reliability came from the fact that each cable was replaced every year by local villagers[2] as part of their mit'a public service or obligation. In some instances,[citation needed] these local peasants had the sole task of maintaining and repairing these bridges so that the Inca highways or road systems could continue to function.

Repairing these bridges was dangerous, as those performing repairs often met death. An Inca author praised Spanish masonry bridges being built, as this rendered the need to repair the rope bridges moot.[3]

Famous examples[edit]

The greatest bridges of this kind were in the Apurímac Canyon along the main road north from Cusco;[4] a famous example spans a 148-foot gap[5] that is supposed to be the inspiration behind Thornton Wilder's 1928 Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927).

Made of grass, the last remaining Inca rope bridge, reconstructed every June, is the Q'iswa Chaka (Quechua for "rope bridge"), spanning the Apurimac River near Huinchiri, in Canas Province, Quehue District, Peru. Even though there is a modern bridge nearby, the residents of the region keep the ancient tradition and skills alive by renewing the bridge annually in June. Several family groups have each prepared a number of grass-ropes to be formed into cables at the site; others prepare mats for decking, and the reconstruction is a communal effort. The builders have indicated that effort is performed to honor their ancestors and the Pachamama (Earth Mother).[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Brown, Dale (1992). Incas: Lords of Gold and Glory. New York: Time-Life Books. p. 98. ISBN 0-8094-9870-7. 
  2. ^ Squier, Ephraim George (1877). Peru: Incidents of Travel and Exploration in the Land of the Incas. New York: Harper Bros. p. 545. Each bridge is usually kept up by the municipality of the nearest village; and as it requires renewal every two or three years..." 
  3. ^ Brown, Dale (1992). Incas: Lords of Gold and Glory. New York: Time-Life Books. p. 68. ISBN 0-8094-9870-7. 
  4. ^ Leonard, Jonathan Norton (1968). 'Ancient America', Great Ages of Man Series. Time/Life Books. p. 185. 
  5. ^ Squier, Ephraim George (1877). "The Great Hanging Bridge Over the Apurimac". Peru: Incidents of Travel and Exploration in the Land of the Incas. New York: Harper Bros. 
  6. ^ Foer, Joshua (February 22, 2011). "The Last Incan Grass Bridge". Slate. 


  • Chmielinski, Piotr (1987). "Kayaking the Amazon". National Geographic Magazine. 171 (4): 460–473. 
  • Finch, Ric (2002). Keshwa Chaca: Straw Bridge of the Incas. South American Explorer. Ithaca, NY. pp. 6–13. 
  • Gade, D. W. (1972). "Bridge types in the central Andes". Annals of the Association of American Geographers. 62 (1): 94–109. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8306.1972.tb00846.x.  Showed the bridge at Huinchiri and predicted the art of building it would be lost within another generation, which proved untrue.
  • Hurtado, Ursula (publication date unknown). "Q'eshwachaka: El Puente Dorado". Credibank. Peru). pp. 22–23.  Describes the documentary film directed by Jorge Carmona.
  • Malaga Miglio, Patricia, & Gutierrez, Alberto (publication date unknown). "Qishwachaca". Rumbos. Peru. pp. 30–34. 
  • McIntyre, Loren (1973). "The Lost Empire of the Incas". National Geographic Magazine. 144 (6). pp. 729–787. 
  • McIntyre, Loren (1975). The Incredible Incas and Their Timeless Land. Washington D.C.: National Geographic Society. 
  • Roca Basadre, David & Coaguila, Jorge, eds. (2001). Cañon delApurimac, La Ruta Sagrada del Dios Hablador. Lima: Empresa Editora ElComercio. p. 78. 
  • "Secrets of Lost Empires: Inca". Nova. PBS. 1995. 
  • Von Hagen, Victor (1955). Highway of the Sun. New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce. p. 120. 

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