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Sacred Valley

Coordinates: 13°20′S 72°05′W / 13.333°S 72.083°W / -13.333; -72.083
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Sacred Valley
Urubamba Valley
Sacred Valley of the Incas
Map showing location in Peru
Map showing location in Peru
Sacred Valley
Coordinates13°20′S 72°05′W / 13.333°S 72.083°W / -13.333; -72.083
RiverUrubamba River
The mountain Veronica looms over the Sacred Valley.
Sacred Valley of the Incas

The Sacred Valley of the Incas (Spanish: Valle Sagrado de los Incas; Quechua: Willka Qhichwa), or the Urubamba Valley, is a valley in the Andes of Peru, north of the Inca capital of Cusco. It is located in the present-day Peruvian region of Cusco. In colonial documents it was referred to as the "Valley of Yucay." The Sacred Valley was incorporated slowly into the incipient Inca Empire during the period from 1000 to 1400.[1]

The Sacred Valley is a major tourist destination. In 2019, 1.6 million people, the majority non-Peruvians, visited Machu Picchu,[2] its most famous archaeological site. Many of the same tourists also visited other archaeological sites and modern towns in the Sacred Valley.

Stretching from Pisac to Ollantaytambo, this fertile valley is irrigated by the Urubamba River. The Chanapata civilisation first utilised this area starting at around 800 BCE because of its rich soil used for agriculture. The Qotacalla civilization lived in the Sacred Valley from 500 to 900 CE. The Killke civilization then lived in the Sacred Valley from 900 until the Incan Empire took over the region in 1420. The Incan Empire ruled this area until the arrival of the Spanish.

Machu Picchu


Inca ruin and andenes (agricultural terraces) at Pisac.

The valley, running generally west to east, is understood to include everything along the Urubamba River between the town and Inca ruins at Písac and Machu Picchu, 100 kilometres (62 mi) distant.[3] The Sacred Valley has elevations above sea level along the river ranging from 3,000 metres (9,800 ft) at Pisac to 2,050 metres (6,730 ft) at the Urubamba River below the citadel of Machu Picchu. On both sides of the river, the mountains rise to much higher elevations, especially to the north where two prominent mountains overlook the valley: Sahuasiray, 5,818 metres (19,088 ft) and Veronica, 5,893 metres (19,334 ft) in elevation. The intensely cultivated valley floor is about 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) wide on average. Side valleys and agricultural terraces (andenes) expand the cultivatable area.[4]

The valley was formed by the Urubamba river, also known as the Vilcanota River, Willkanuta River (Aymara, "house of the sun") or Willkamayu (Quechua). The latter, in Quechua, the still spoken lingua franca of the Inca Empire,[5] means the sacred river. It is fed by numerous tributaries which descend through adjoining valleys and gorges and contains numerous archaeological remains and villages. The Sacred Valley was the most important area for maize production in the heartland of the Inca Empire and access through the valley to tropical areas facilitated the import of products such as coca leaf and chile peppers to Cuzco.[6]

The climate of Urubamba is typical of the valley. Precipitation, concentrated in October through April, totals 527 millimetres (20.7 in) annually and monthly average temperatures range between 15.4 °C (59.7 °F) in November, the warmest month, to 12.2 °C (54.0 °F) in July, the coldest month.[7] The Incas built extensive irrigation works throughout the valley to counter deficiencies and seasonality in precipitation.[8]



The early Incas lived in the Cusco area.[9] By conquest or diplomacy, during the period 1000 to 1400 CE, the Inca achieved administrative control over the various ethnic groups living in or near the Sacred Valley.[10]

The attraction of the Sacred Valley to the Inca, in addition to its proximity to Cusco, was probably that it was lower in elevation and therefore warmer than any other nearby area. The lower elevation permitted maize to be grown in the Sacred Valley. Maize was a prestige crop for the Incas, especially to make chicha, a fermented maize drink the Incas and their subjects consumed in large quantities at their many ceremonial feasts and religious festivals.[11]

Chicha has had a long historical significance. In times of warfare, the Incas would take the decapitated skulls of their enemies and turn them into drinking vessels for Chicha. This ceremonial process of drinking Chicha from the head of a foe symbolized the successful transformation from the disorder of warfare to the order of the Incan Empire.[12]

Large scale maize production in the Sacred Valley was apparently facilitated by varieties bred in nearby Moray, either a governmental crop laboratory[13] or a seedling nursery of the Incas.[14]

The Inca customarily divided conquered lands into three more-or-less equal parts. One part was for the emperor (the Sapa Inca), one part for the religious establishment, and one part for the communities of farmers themselves. In the 1400s, the Sacred Valley became an area of royal estates and country homes. Once a royal estate was created by an emperor it continued to be owned by descendants of the emperor after his death.[15] The estate of the emperor Yawar Waqaq (c. 1380) was located at Paullu and Lamay (a few kilometers downstream from Pisac); Huchuy Qosqo, the estate of the emperor Viracocha Inca (c. 1410–1438), overlooks the Sacred Valley; the estate of Pachacuti (1438–1471) was at Pisac, and the sparse ruins of Quispiguanca, the estate of the emperor Huayna Capac (1493–1527), is in the town of Urubamba.[16] Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was built as an estate for Pachacuti.[17]

Agricultural terraces, called andenes, were built up hillsides flanking the valley floor and are today the most visible and widespread signs of the Inca civilization in the Sacred Valley.[18]

In 1537, the Inca Emperor Manco Inca Yupanqui fought and won the Battle of Ollantaytambo against a Spanish army headed by Hernando Pizarro. Nevertheless, Manco soon withdrew from the Sacred Valley and the area came under the control of the Spanish colonialists.[19]

Oral histories in the Quechua language suggest that the ancient Inca married Pachamama (Mother Earth) and produced human offspring. The Incas are renowned for their precision in stone masonry. The architecture was a means of bringing order to untamed areas and the people of the Andes region. Machu Picchu, located in the Sacred Valley, is an example of the Incas adapting building strategies that acknowledge the topography of the area. While other Pre-Columbian cultures constructed man-made mountains, the Incas emphasized the natural forms of the topography around them. The Sacred Rock, located in the Sacred Valley, is an example of a stone that draws attention to the horizon of the mountain range.[20]

The Sacred Rock at Machu Picchu

See also



  1. ^ Bauer, Brian S.; Covey, R. Alan (2002). "Processes of State Formation in the Inca Heartland (Cuzco, Peru)". American Anthropologist. 104 (3): 846–64. doi:10.1525/aa.2002.104.3.846.
  2. ^ Glazier, Elysia (2023-11-18). "How Many Tourists Visit Machu Picchu Every Year". TouristSecrets. Retrieved 2024-01-04.
  3. ^ D'Altroy, Terence N. (2003). The Incas, Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, p. 127
  4. ^ Google Earth. Another definition of the area of the Sacred Valley is that it is between Pisaq and Ollantaytambo, a distance of about 60 kilometres (37 mi).
  5. ^ "Quechua languages". www.omniglot.com. Retrieved 2024-01-04.
  6. ^ Covey, R. Alan (2009). How the Incas built their Heartland, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, pp. 43–44
  7. ^ Climate: Urubamba, https://en.climate-data.org/location/44993/, accessed 24 Dec 2016
  8. ^ D'Altroy, pp. 127–40
  9. ^ Alan Covey, R (2003). "A processual study of Inka state formation". Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. 22 (4): 333–57. doi:10.1016/S0278-4165(03)00030-8.
  10. ^ Bauer and Covey, p. 846
  11. ^ D'Altroy, p. 189
  12. ^ Dean, Carolyn (2007). "The Inka Married the Earth: Integrated Outcrops and the Making of Place". The Art Bulletin. 89 (3): 502–18. doi:10.1080/00043079.2007.10786358. ISSN 0004-3079. JSTOR 25067338. S2CID 194099969.
  13. ^ Earls, John (nd), "The Character of Inca and Andean Agriculture," pp. 18–19. http://macareo.pucp.edu.pe/~jearls/documentosPDF/theCharacter.PDF
  14. ^ Plachetka, Uwe Christian; Pietsch, Stephan A. (2009). "El centro vaviloviano en el Perú: un conjunto socio-ecológico frente a riesgos extremos" [The center Vavilov year in Peru: a socio-ecological set against extreme risks] (PDF). Tikpa Pachapaq (in Spanish). 1 (1): 9–16.
  15. ^ McEwan, pp. 87–88
  16. ^ Covey, R. Alan (2009), How the Incas built their Heartland, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, p. 217; Niles, Susan A. (1999), The Shape of Inca History, Iowas City: University of Iowa Press, pp. 133–53. Project Muse.
  17. ^ Rowe, John (1990). "Machu Picchu a la luz de documentos de siglo XVI”. Historia, 16 (1), pp. 139–54
  18. ^ Guillet, David and others (1987), "Terracing and Irrigation in the Peruvian Highlands," Current Anthropology, Vol. 28, No. 4, pp. 409–10. Downloaded from JSTOR.
  19. ^ Hemming, John (1970). The Conquest of the Incas, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, pp. 213–32.
  20. ^ Dean, Carolyn (2007). "The Inka Married the Earth: Integrated Outcrops and the Making of Place". The Art Bulletin. 89 (3): 502–18. doi:10.1080/00043079.2007.10786358. ISSN 0004-3079. JSTOR 25067338. S2CID 194099969.

Media related to Sacred Valley at Wikimedia Commons Sacred Valley of the Incas travel guide from Wikivoyage