Looking up from almost anywhere in and around the city of Cusco, it is possible to see Christo Blanco and nearby, the sprawling ruins of Sacsayhuaman.
Historians can’t agree on the meaning of the name, some believe that it means satiated falcon, while other assert speckled head or city of stone. What we do know for sure is that it was Emperor Pachacuti who commissioned work on Sacsayhuaman in the 1440’s and that it took nearly 100 years to complete. Many diverse types of rocks were utilized in the construction, like diorite blocks in the outer walls, limestone in the foundations and andesite at rumicola for the towers and buildings within the walls.
Now a days, one can find the ruins of Sacsayhuaman filled with tourists ready to explore some history. For about 70 soles, one can explore the ruins the rest of the day, and perhaps get some pictures overlooking Cusco. Not far off in the distance is the grand Christo Blanco, quite a site around dawn when the sun begins to shine behind him, waking up the sleeping old city of Cusco with its light. One can find tourists, joggers, and the occasional mystic preforming a sun ceremony in and around the ruins. It’s even possible to explore some of the ruins around Cusco on horseback! But back to the history.
Sacsayhuaman was a highly protected area, one side had a great wall of enormous stone blocks like many other of the Incan sites, and the other side was a steep slope facing the city of Cusco. The construction of this fortress was an amazing task of architecture and will, being that the blocks could weigh much more than the men themselves. Even more impressive, the Incas made use of only the most basic of tools such as natural fiber ropes, stone hammers and bronze chisels. But upon completion of an Incan wall, a coin wouldn’t have fit between the stone blocks, that is how perfectly the blocks fit together. However, all of this carefully crafted stone couldn’t protect the Incan from the relentless assaults of the Spanish.
During the battle of 1536, Juan Pizzaro (Son of Fransisco Pizzaro, one of the first Spanish conquistadors to come to South America) was killed leading the charge during a surprise assault on the gates of Sacsayhuaman. The Incas fought valiantly, repelling many of the invaders. An unnamed Incan Nobleman particularly held the defense together, killing many of the Spanish with one of their own swords. However as the conquistadors continued to try and scale Muyu Marca the last of the towers left in Incan control, the advantage shifted to the Spanish and their sheer numbers and bloodthirsty will to conquer what was not yet theirs. The Incan Noblemen, sensing the inevitability of defeat, leapt down from the tower into the oncoming Spanish rather than surrender in defeat. There would be no dishonor on his conscious at the end.
Today all that’s left of Sacsayhuaman are of course, the ruins. However, even what is left behind by the Spanish is more than impressive, a testament to the architecture skills of the Inca. A dichotomy of emotions can emerge in the visitors of Sacsayhuaman. Standing in the ruins, it’s easy for the traveler to feel shame at something so beautiful and formally mighty, knocked down and reduced nearly to rubble but alternatively, feel awe that what was left behind remained for thousands of years. Even as a ghost of what once, the ruins are an impressive monument to the crafty Inca. On you trip to Peru, I highly recommend a trip up to Sacsayhuaman around dawn. If you stand quietly in the weak light, and look hard enough, you can perhaps picture the walls restored as they were in their glory days.