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Sacsayhuamán, Cusco, Perú, 2015-07-31, DD 27.JPG
A section of the wall of Sacsayhuamán
Sacsayhuamán is located in Peru
Shown within Peru
LocationCusco, Cusco Region, Peru
Coordinates13°30′28″S 71°58′56″W / 13.50778°S 71.98222°W / -13.50778; -71.98222Coordinates: 13°30′28″S 71°58′56″W / 13.50778°S 71.98222°W / -13.50778; -71.98222
Part ofCusco
CulturesInca Empire
Sideways view of the walls of Sacsayhuamán showing the details of the stonework and the angle of the walls.
Close up of stone wall

Sacsayhuamán, which can be spelled many different ways[1][2][3] (possibly from Quechua language, waman falcon[4] or variable hawk),[5] is a citadel on the northern outskirts of the city of Cusco, Peru, the historic capital of the Inca Empire.

The complex was built by the Inca in the 15th century, particularly under Pachacuti and successors.[6] They built dry stone walls constructed of huge stones. The workers carefully cut the boulders to fit them together tightly without mortar. The site is at an altitude of 3,701 m (12,142 ft).

In 1983, Cusco and Sacsayhuamán together were designated as sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List, for international recognition and protection.[7]


Located on a steep hill that overlooks the city, the fortified complex has a wide view of the valley to the southeast. Archeological studies of surface collections of pottery at Sacsayhuamán indicate that the earliest occupation of the hilltop dates to about 900 CE.[8]

According to Inca oral history, Tupac Inca

"remembered that his father Pachacuti had called city of Cuzco the lion city. He said that the tail was where the two rivers unite which flow through it, that the body was the great square and the houses round it, and that the head was wanting."

The Inca decided the "best head would be to make a fortress on a high plateau to the north of the city."[9]: 105  Archaeologists have speculated that sections of Sacsayhuamán were originally built during the Killke period. During the 15th century, the Imperial Inca expanded on this settlement, buiding dry stone walls constructed of huge stones.

After ambushing Atahualpa during the Spanish Conquest of Peru, Francisco Pizarro sent Martin Bueno and two other Spaniards to help transport gold and silver from the Temple of Coricancha in Cusco to Cajamarca, where the Spaniards were based.[10]: 228–230  They found the Temple of the Sun "covered with plates of gold", which the Spanish supposedly ordered removed as payment for Atahualpa's ransom. Seven hundred plates were removed, and added to two hundred cargas of gold transported back to Cajamarca.

After Francisco Pizarro finally entered Cuzco, Pedro Pizarro described what they found,

"on top of a hill they [the Inca] had a very strong fort surrounded with masonry walls of stones and having two very high round towers. And in the lower part of this wall there were stones so large and thick that it seemed impossible that human hands could have set them in place...they were so close together, and so well fitted, that the point of a pin could not have been inserted in one of the joints. The whole fortress was built up in terraces and flat spaces." The numerous rooms were "filled with arms, lances, arrows, darts, clubs, bucklers and large oblong shields...there were many morions...there were also...certain stretchers in which the Lords travelled, as in litters."[11]: 45  Pedro Pizarro described in detail storage rooms that were within the complex and filled with military equipment.[12]

The large plaza, capable of holding thousands of people, was designed for communal ceremonial activities. Several of the large structures at the site may also have been used during rituals. A similar relationship to that between Cuzco and Sacsayhuamán was replicated by the Inca in their distant colony where Santiago, Chile developed. The Inca fortress there, known as Chena, predated the Spanish colonial city. It was a ceremonial ritual site known as Huaca de Chena.[13]

The best-known zone of Sacsayhuamán includes its great plaza and its adjacent three massive terrace walls. The stones used in the construction of these terraces are among the largest used in any building in pre-Hispanic America. They display a precision of cutting and fitting that is unmatched in the Americas.[14] The stones are so closely spaced that a single piece of paper will not fit between many of the stones. This precision, combined with the rounded corners of the blocks, the variety of their interlocking shapes, and the way the walls lean inward, is thought to have helped the ruins survive devastating earthquakes in Cuzco. The longest of the three walls is about 400 meters. They are about 6 meters tall. The estimated volume of stone is over 6,000 cubic meters. Estimates for the weight of the largest andesite block vary from 128 tonnes to almost 200 tonnes.[15][16]

Following the siege of Cusco, the Spaniards began to use Sacsayhuamán as a source of stones for building Spanish Cuzco; within a few years, they had taken apart and demolished much of the complex. The site was destroyed block by block to salvage materials with which to build the new Spanish governmental and religious buildings of the colonial city, as well as the houses of the wealthiest Spaniards. In the words of Garcilaso de la Vega (1966:471 [1609: Part 1, Book. Bk. 7, Ch. 29]):

"to save themselves the expense, effort and delay with which the Indians worked the stone, they pulled down all the smooth masonry in the walls. There is indeed not a house in the city that has not been made of this stone, or at least the houses built by the Spaniards."

Today, only the stones that were too large to be easily moved remain at the site.[14]

On 13 March 2008, archaeologists discovered additional ruins at the periphery of Sacsayhuamán. It has been theorized that they were built during the Killke period, which preceded the Inca. While appearing to be ceremonial in nature, the exact function remains unknown.[17]

In January 2010, parts of the site were damaged during periods of heavy rainfall in the region.[18]

Plan of Sacsayhuamán.

Modern-day use[edit]

Peruvians continue to celebrate Inti Raymi, the annual Inca festival of the winter solstice and new year.[19] It is held near Sacsayhuamán on 24 June. Another important festival is Warachikuy, held there annually on the third Sunday of September.[20]

Some people from Cusco use the large field within the walls of the complex for jogging, t'ai chi, and other athletic activities.

Panorama of Sacsayhuamán

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Diego Gonçález Holguín. Vocabulario de la Lengva General de todo el Perv llamada Lengva Qquichua o del Inca. Lima, imprenta de Francisco del Canto, 1608. p. 26f.: La fortaleza del Inca en el Cuzco era Çaçça huaman y Çaççay huaman significa "Águila real la mayor" y no halcón satisfecho como se ha interpretado generalmente. p. 75: Çacça huaman pucara. Vn castillo del Inga en el Cuzco. Çacçay huaman, o anca. Aguila real la mayor.
  2. ^ Cusco Info - Saqsaywaman
  3. ^ Diccionario Quechua - Español - Quechua, Academía Mayor de la Lengua Quechua, Gobierno Regional Cusco, Cusco 2005
  4. ^ Teofilo Laime Ajacopa, Diccionario Bilingüe Iskay simipi yuyayk'ancha, La Paz, 2007 (Quechua-Spanish dictionary): waman - s. Halcón. Ave rapaz diurna.
  5. ^ Diccionario Quechua - Español - Quechua, Academía Mayor de la Lengua Quechua, Gobierno Regional Cusco, Cusco 2005: waman. - s. Zool. (Buteo poecilochros Gurney) Aguilucho cordillerano. Orden falconiformes. Familia accipitridae. Ave de color gris– plomo, con áreas ferruginosas, blancas, negras y cafés. SINÓN: wamancha.
  6. ^ World History Encyclopedia: Sacsayhuaman
  7. ^ "City of Cuzco - World Heritage Site". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved 19 July 2020.
  8. ^ WorldByIsa: Things to do in Cusco
  9. ^ de Gamboa, P.S., (2015), History of the Incas, Lexington, ISBN 9781463688653
  10. ^ Leon, P., 1998, The Discovery and Conquest of Peru, Chronicles of the New World Encounter, edited and translated by Cook and Cook, Durham: Duke University Press, ISBN 9780822321460
  11. ^ Pizzaro, P., 1571, Relation of the Discovery and Conquest of the Kingdoms of Peru, Vol. 1–2, New York: Cortes Society,, ISBN 9781235937859
  12. ^ Pizarro 1921:272–273
  13. ^ Stehberg Ruben, "La Fortaleza de Chena y su relación con la ocupación incaica de Chile central." Occasional publication N ° 23, História Natural's National Museum, Santiago, Chile, 1976.
  14. ^ a b Brian S. Bauer (2010). Ancient Cuzco: Heartland of the Inca. University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0-292-79202-9.
  15. ^ Seventy Wonders of the Ancient World, ed. Chris Scarre, 1999 pp. 220–23
  16. ^ Readers Digest: "Mysteries of the Ancient Americas: The New World Before Columbus", 1986, pp. 220–21
  17. ^ "New Discoveries at Sacsayhuamán", CNN, 15 Mar 2008, Retrieved 16 March 2008.
  18. ^ "Heavy rainfall in Peru", BBC News, 26 January 2010
  19. ^ "Stonehenge y Cuzco, dos destinos unidos por el culto al sol". La Vanguardia. 20 June 2017.
  20. ^ "Fiesta del Warachikuy" (in Spanish), accessed 26 February 2014

External links[edit]