Architecture of Cuzco City – Trace of the Past

The most startling and curious characteristic of Cuzco at first glance is its architecture. Huge walls of intricately fit stone pay testimony to the civilization that over 500 years ago controlled much of the South American subcontinent. The Spaniards’ attempts to destroy every trace of the “pagan” Inca civilization proved too ambitious a task, and the Europeans ended up erecting their own buildings on the indestructible Incan foundations, often using the same huge rocks that had been cut by the Incas. The cathedral in Cuzco is made in part from stones hauled from Sacsay-huaman – the Inca fortress outside the city.

Cathedral, Plaza de Armas

To explore this intriguing city, the cathedral is a perfect place to start. It is located on the Plaza de Armas which in Incan times was known as Huancaypata and in addition to being the exact center of the empire was the spot where the most important religious and military ceremonies were held.  Although the most spectacular view of the cathedral comes after dark when its lights turn the plaza into a breathtaking sight, its interior can only be seen during the day – and you won’t want to miss it.

Built on what was once the palace of Inca Viracocha, the cathedral mixes Spanish Renaissance architecture with the stone-working skills of the Incas and took a century to build. Its Maria Angola bell in the north tower can be heard up to 40 km away. Made of a ton of gold, silver and bronze, the bell which is more than 300 years old, is reportedly the largest on the continent.

El Triunfo Church

El Triunfo Church, to the right of the cathedral, was built in honor of a Spanish victory over the Indians, who unsuccessfully tried to burn the thatched roof chapel that originally stood on the site.

Church of Jesus Maria

On the other side of the cathedral is the church of Jesus Maria. At only 250 years old, it is one of Cuzco’s “newer” structures. In a city with so many churches, it is an honor to be dubbed the “most beautiful” and that is exactly the title that belongs to La Compania de Jesus.

La Compania de Jesus

La Compania de Jesus, sitting on what was once the palace of Inca Huayna Capac on the main plaza. Construction of the church, with its intricate interior, finely carved balconies and altars covered in gold leaf, took nearly 100 years to complete.

Santo Domingo Church

The street to the side of the church leads to what was the most important place of worship in the Inca Empire. The Santo Domingo Church was once the Templo del Qoricancha – the Temple of the Sun – the most magnificent complex in Cuzco. Its walls where covered in gold and windows were constructed so the sun would cast a near-blinding reflection of golden light from the previous metals inside. Spanish chronicles describe the astonishment of the Europeans when they saw Qoricancha’s patio filled with life-sized gold and silver statues of llamas, trees, flowers and delicately had-crated butterflies.

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