Peru has a rich and mysterious history. With extant indigenous groups such as the Uros, Quechua, Aymara, and the Jivaro, which are known for their head-shrinking techniques, and historical populations like the Wari and the Chancay, known for their amazing mask-making skills, Peru is an anthropologist’s dream. Some of the ancient Peruvians were wiped out when the Inca invaded, and others moved out into Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake, never to return. The Inca built (or at least added to pre-existing) large, enigmatic structures, such as Machu Picchu, located just outside of Cusco, the axis mundi of the Inca.
View of Machu Picchu buildings and Wayna Picchu mount (left) and Cusco (right), Peru
The Monumental Sites of Cusco
Outside of Cusco are other amazing sites, such as Tambomachay: a huaca (holy building) perched upon a sacred, natural spring, which the Inca likely used for ritual ablutions, and the Incan fortress of Sacsayhuaman. To reach this expansive site, you climb up a narrow, winding dirt road. It is built of enormous limestone, andesite, and diorite stone blocks, the largest is 361 tons, and it is unknown how they were able to transport such blocks from the quarry nearly five miles away to their present resting place.
The Mighty Temple of the Sun, Koricancha
The amazing Temple of the Sun, Koricancha (also spelled Qoricancha), which means “golden courtyard” in Quechua. Initially called Inti Wasi, the Inca dedicated it to the sun god Inti, and as is the case with many temples dedicated to sun deities throughout the world, they adorned it with gold.
At the height of their power, this temple was one of the most important in the entire empire. The Inca used large stones, similar to those used in the construction of Machu Picchu and Sacsayhuaman, to create the walls. Then, they inserted golden plates, and decorated the temple with golden vases and statues. The mummified bodies of deceased Incan kings were also placed inside, and the Inca likewise honored them with royal clothing, headdresses, and golden ritual objects. These mummies, while certainly not alive, were not considered dead, and the Aclla Cuna (Virgins of the Sun) cared for them. Other important artifacts were in Koricancha. Life-sized golden statues of deities and deified ancestors were in the courtyard, and golden altars were the stage upon which the Aclla Cuna prepared ritual foods and offerings. Among all of the sacred artifacts, however, one in particular was revered: a sun disk made of pure gold.
Koricancha, originally called Inta Wasi
Key to the Gate of the Gods
According to legend, this disk was more than an ornamental or even ritual object. It was the key to a sacred doorway called La Puerta de Hayu Marca, or the Gate of the Gods. It is said that the first Incan priest-king Aramu Muru took this golden disk to the site of an ancient, spiritual city in which the inhabitants could commune with gods. Readers may find this idea strange, but even in modern times, legends from worldwide cultures relate that ancient, even antediluvian civilizations were in contact with gods. In the Christian tradition, God became angry and decided to kill all humans save Noah and his family and friends, and He tasks him with saving two of each species. The Sumerian, Akkadian, and more than 500 other traditions have similar accounts of a great flood and divine beings reaching out to assist a select group of sentient beings. Even in modern times, Mahayana Buddhists meditate upon Bodhisattvas, savior deities who supposedly assist humans. Catholic and Orthodox Christians likewise pray to saints, deified human beings who are closer to divinity. While such saints are alive, they are similarly thought to have the ability to commune with God. Therefore, when Incan legends speak about an ancient city in which its inhabitants were closer to Inti, this is universal and unceasing nomenclature, and the tale should not be dismissed outright because of it.
Worldwide myths and legends generally spring from something, some fraction of truth that storytellers elaborate upon throughout the centuries. Good questions to keep in mind are, “What is the real truth?” and “What is the real history?”