On the surface, the Spanish seem to have left little of Imperial Cusco. Angela is taking us around the city. The main square is meant to impress with not just one, but two massive cathedrals. The Catholic one on the upper side and the Jesuit Cathedral to the right.
Because the Jesuits built a larger one, the Catholics built an addition to the side of their cathedral.
Many of these European style buildings have collapsed and been rebuilt in the same way after earthquake damage. The city boasts fine Spanish colonnades where tourists can shop or eat but Angela takes us to the heart of the old city of the Inca and suddenly, I realise that there are ancient Inca walls everywhere, beautifully tied in with no mortar and no room for even a credit card to slip between the stones.
The Spanish have built on top of these ancient walls which slope inwards to guard against the quakes. The Spanish walls rise vertically from on top. This whole block is where the main Inca palace was and there is a part remaining where we can enter as the late afternoon sun casts our shadows on the walls.
Windows align and huge corner-stones tie into surrounding stones creating incredible stability. Angela tells us that the walls of this palace were decorated with beaten gold and silver just as we might use wall-paper.
The Spanish were beside themselves with excitement and just grabbed as much as they could. What an interesting clash of cultures. One who venerated precious metals for their beauty and regarded them as sacred and the other who valued them for their economic value. I wonder how much original Inca gold lies in the darkness of European bank vaults, never to see the light of day except briefly to be transferred or sold.
Gold was associated with the sun as in the origin myth, so light coming into the palace would have been important. Angela shows us a remaining portal where the sun would strike on a particular day of the year and the shadows cast by protrusions carved into the rocks would have told the time. Imagine the dazzle of light reflected off the huge golden representation of the Sun which once hung here.
All that remains is a contemporary painting of what we call the Milky Way. The Inca believed that all the water that flowed in rivers was recycled via the Milky Way at night time. This ancient idea of the Water Cycle is not entirely wrong as the Inca might have had limited experience of Oceans. In Māori mythology, the separation of the Sky Father and Earth Mother by their children pretty much follows the ‘Big Bang Theory’.
On our last day, a group of us make our way back to the main square to find that a huge political parade is happening. Teams of people in different coloured uniforms are marching past dignitaries. It’s all very colourful and dominated by a golden statue of the Inca Pachacuti.
We find a coffee place just off the square and wait to meet up with Richard who is going to take us to market.
It’s a short walk to a vast covered area where just about everything is for sale. There are hats everywhere and I’ve seen a red one, like Paddington’s which would suit my neighbour in London but first we are treated to delicious fruit juices all freshly made on the spot. There is a huge area of food stalls where one or two at a time can sit and have an inexpensive meal. I spot another red hat, but it’s cash only here. I walk back to the shop where I saw the first one, but it’s not right, so I return to the market and part with cash. At this point it’s a balance to end the holiday with no left-over Peruvian Soule.