After a breakfast of eggs at the homestay we say goodbye to our hosts and make for the Parque Arquelogico of Raqchi. This is our first major encounter with the Inca civilisation and it’s an impressive start.
But first I need to make this ‘Inca’ thing clear. The word Inca means ruler. This civilisation was reaching it’s peak around 1400 AD. They had no written language so no one knows what this tribe of people called themselves. We only have observations made by some of the Spanish invaders plus archaeological detection and hypothesis. So, for convenience, I’m going to talk about Inca Culture. I had got the impression on Titicaca that there was some pride and identification about being ‘Inca’ emerging but Angela tells me this is not the case. It’s a long and complicated story as empire and the legacy usually are. As invaders themselves, the people of the Inca were not generally liked and as already mentioned, there were plenty of similar civilisations in South America at the time of the Inca rise. The people of the Inca were dark and short and their empire revolved around food production. They expanded not so much by brute force but by stealth and innovation.
They had an advantage in that most of the other tribes were also sun worshipers so changes in religious practices would not have been huge – unlike the swich to Christianity – aka Spanish Catholicism. The Inc people were also very good at taking the ideas of others and making them better, developing systems and procedures, so that conquered people could see that they were better off. Here at Raqchi, we find an irrigation system still flowing and there is the remains of a huge temple.
Behind this are scores of round stone walls, the remains of food storage buildings that once would have had steep thatched roofs. They were very well ventilated to keep piles of corn and potatoes cool. This was one of the food stores built to feed the empire. The Incas (rulers) understood that well fed people are more content.
However, the diet of carbohydrates meant that life expectancy was about forty and a seventeen-year-old could find himself as an Inca. Because the culture took the long view, projects begun by one Inca were expected to be completed by subsequent Incas. None of this modern-day cancelling by the next ruler that impedes progress.
The astonishing thing about Inca construction is that no mortar was used. Stones were fitted closely together and tied in. The granite stones were painstakingly hewed using harder stone tools – they didn’t have steel. The huge blocks were smoothed using sand mixed with Agave to give an ultra-smooth surface and the joints were so aligned, that you can’t even get a credit card between the blocks. The longer the wall took to build the higher the class of building. Time was no object.
Our next stop of the day is at Andahuayli-llas to see the so-called Sistine Chapel of The Americas. It is nothing like the Sistine Chapel of The Vatican. The biblical paintings are unremarkable – not even close to the brilliance of Michael Angelo, and hung in frames along the nave.
However, there are several important features which makes this church worth a visit. The painted wooden roof beams are beautiful and a reminder of other mediaeval cathedrals – you just need to block out all the gilt and glitter from the tasteless shrines dotted around. These colourful and overly decorated pieces are typical of Catholic churches here.
What is most important are the examples of how the Peruvians smuggled their own culture past the Spanish Catholic authorities. Images of Christ are darker than their European counterparts and often clothed in bright Peruvian colours. Imagine my surprise on seeing my patron saint carrying the Christ Child – both dressed in high-viz green.
Christ on the cross is often depicted with a bright red skirt (Inca style) instead of the standard loin cloth. In some cases, the church chose to ignore such travesties so that some of the ancient culture today co-exists with Catholicism. The people switch to whichever practice suits their purpose.
We arrive in Pisaq at our hacienda- type hotel in time to check in laundry and to get a private view of the attached botanical gardens. The grandfather of the current owner of the hotel was a botanist and created this amazing and wild garden. The cacti collection is amazing and there is a collection of potato varieties. Peru boasts over four thousand different potatoes. The garden is alive with birds and if you are lucky, you might just get a glimpse of a hummingbird. My hotel window looks out over this garden.