Ancient Travel Photos: Machu Picchu

30 08 2012

 

The ancient Inca site of Machu Picchu needs no introduction…and you nearly didn´t get one – but then I remembered I need to for SEO!





Ancient Peru: An Interview with an Inca

16 08 2012

Mama Yupanqui is the last direct descendant of the Inca in Ollantaytambo

Ollantaytambo Ruins

On my way to Machu Picchu I stayed overnight in Ollantaytambo. Whilst I was there I met Paul, a local guide who suggested I might like to visit a Quechua settlement high in the mountains.  He said I would be able to meet a Shaman there.

Patacancha is a 6 hour hike so we took a taxi. Marco our driver was a master in Quechua and seemed to know everybody en route. Sometimes he would stop the car and shake hands, other times he would holler out the windows. On one occasion he stopped to pick up an old man who was hobbling slowly up a steep incline. The man was in his eighties.

“He has to walk to work,” Paul told me. “Three hours there, three hours back.” Today he got a lift most of the way.

It was rainy season and parts of the road was sodden with water and slush. Inevitably we got stuck. Paul and I climbed out from the back seat and pushed the car free. Before long we were stuck in another slush pit. This time there was no shifting the car. Marco revved the engine, but the wheels just spun and dug deeper into the mud.

On our hands and knees we set about scraping mud out from under the wheels and placing stones under the tyres for grip. That didn’t help so we dug deeper and threw gravel into the mud to dry it out. This time the car lurched forward before slopping straight back into another mud patch. I suggested we lay leaves down in the mud to soak up the wet ground then anchor them with gravel. This would give the tyres some leverage. Marco didn’t like the idea, but after another twenty minutes of shovelling gravel and getting know where I started breaking branches from the bushes and laying them on the ground. Paul followed suit. It was at least worth a try. The plan worked and we were on our way again.

Quechua Children of Peru in Willocq

By the time we arrived in Willocq, the first village on the way to Patacancha we had a flat tyre. One of the men in the village told Marco the conditions were even worse further up the mountain. It seemed I was not going to meet my Shaman today after all. Marco though knew a woman who was over a hundred years old; and she was a direct descendant from the Inca. I decided she would be good to speak to.

The Quechua kids and my guide Paul

On the way to Mama Yupanqui’s house we passed an infant school. Paul suggested we take a look inside. There was a classroom with the door open. We peered inside to find little children about seven years old dressed in colourful traditional clothes of Peru. They were learning how to speak Spanish. When they saw us a few of the boys rushed to the door and shook our hands. Their smiling faces literally shined with rosy red cheeks. I suggested we go to the shop and buy sweets.

When we returned with two large bags of fruit chews the children leapt from their seats and clapping their hands excitedly gathered round us. It was a special moment and the teacher had a difficult time to persuade them to return to their seats. Paul explained to the children in Quechua that I was from England and was interested in Inca culture – their ancestry. The children clapped. I’m not sure why.

I crouched down and offered the girl in the front desk the bag. She reached inside and took a solitary sweet.

“No,” I said, “take a handful.” She didn’t understand so I said, “Like this” and reached inside with my hand to grab a fistful of sweets. She smiled timidly and grabbed a handful. “Buenos,” I said ruffling her hair. All the other children followed suit. Some were not so shy and dived in two hands.

When the bags were empty we said our goodbyes. Paul asked if there was anything I wanted to say to the children. “Tell them when they are older, not to forget the ways of the Inca,” I said. Somehow I doubted they would even learn the ways of the Inca.

We found Mama Yupanqui sitting on some flattened hay outside her house. She was wrapped in woven alpaca blankets chewing coca leaves. Her head was bowed as if in prayer. When she heard us approach she lifted her head. Marco told us she was going blind. He spoke to the old woman in Quechua and told her who he was. She smiled and raised her hands to his face. She remembered him.

“Mama Yupanqui is a descendant of the Tupac Yupanqui,” Paul told me. “The Inca King who saved Cusco.” This old woman had history.

Tupac Yupanqui should never have actually taken the throne of the Inca. That right had been reserved for his brother once their father died. However, when Chanca warriors threatened the Inca realm, Tupac’s father and brother fled the city and abandoned the throne. They would have left their subjects to die or be enslaved by the Chanca, but Tupac couldn’t stand back and let that happen. He stayed to defend the city.

Tupac’s father Pachacuti Yapanqui was the first Inca King to have the vision of expanding the Inca Empire from a small rural settlement that would eventually reach as far as Ecuador in the north and Argentina in the south. Before the retaliation of the Chanca his armies had already conquered much of the surrounding areas including Ollantaytambo where Mama Yupanqui would grow up four centuries later.

The Road to Willoq

Mama Yupanqui wears her hair tied into platts behind her ears and her dark eyes had sunk so far into her skull you couldn’t see them. “Ask her how things have changed in the village since she was a child,” I said to Paul.

Through Paul speaking Spanish to Marco and Marco speaking Quechua with Mama Yupanqui we were able to communicate. At first she answered my questions timidly, but after a little while it was difficult to keep her from talking. She told us she remembers how people used to pull together when she was younger. If anybody in the village needed anything doing they would seek help. The next day they would return the favour and help the other person. There was a real sense if community where everybody in the village worked towards the same purpose.

This system was known as Ayni and dates back to the Aymara people. It literally translates to “Today for you, tomorrow for me.” There was also another system called Minca which involved everybody in the community working together to build a bridge or a barn. I’d seen this system in an Aymara community in Puno where men and women were building a new road because the old one was flooded.

“When did the system change?” I asked

“People still help each other from time to time but the new generation are more interesting in looking for money,” Mama Yupanqui told us, “working as porters on the Inca trail or in restaurants and hotels in Ollantaytambo.”

Mama Yupanqui hits Marco on the arm and declares: “Like you.” Marco looked to the ground ashamed. Times change and people move forward, but a small community like Willocq, with its poverty and isolation can’t afford to lose its community. But the younger generation are not interested in farming the land to produce food. That’s why an 80-year-old man has to climb a hill for three hours to go to work. Mama Yupanqui told us the ground was much more fertile in the past and the quality of produce was much higher. “Because the quality of produce is not as good as it used to be, people use it as an excuse to look for a better way of living.

Quechua traditions are dying out

I asked her how she feels about Quechua traditions dying out. She said: “Time is coming to an end. The earth is not producing. We have made the God’s angry.”

I wondered whether the question and answer had got lost in translation but took her point. People today do not take care of the Earth. We are killing Pachamama and eventually she will need to cleanse herself. Mama Yupanqui doesn’t have TV, radio or internet. I doubted she knew of the 2012 prophecies or the increasing numbers of natural disasters the world is experiencing; yet she senses the world is coming to an end and that worried me. I asked her how she knows.

“The birds used to sing happy songs; now they sing only sad songs. They do this because they know it is the end of the world. There is too much hate in the world.”

I asked Mama Yupanqui if she remembers any legends or myths. She said her grandmother told her that small people live underground. I thought back to a tiny skeleton I had seen in the Natural History Museum. It was a fossil that was thought to be the form of early man. It is laid down in a glass cabinet in the vestibule of the museum and mostly goes unnoticed.

Mama Yupanqui told us: “In the underground world are beautiful towns where the dead live. This place is known as Uku Pacha.”

What does the future hold for Quechua traditions?

Uku Pacha is regarded as the world of the dead as expressed on the walls of the Temple of the Sun in Ollantaytambo.  Mama Yupanqui also said: “The upper world where the spirits live is also full of wonderful places. Because of the evil in this world, the spirits have returned to their homes and have left us alone to die.”

I wanted to know whether Mama Yupanqui thought the younger generations could learn anything from ancient cultures. She replied by saying, “Respect Pachamama.” In Inca times only the best animals were sacrificed, because it was believed more animals were born. Of course, this superstition could easily have been a coincidence that had no means of measurement, but it also fits the philosophy of you get what you wish for, which is becoming more popular today.

“People today are blind to the needs of the earth,” Mama Yupanqui says. “They do not look beyond their own reality. Because we have not shown mother earth any respect she is failing to produce the food we need to survive.”

When Mama Yupanqui was younger she didn’t have an education. These days all the kids go to school and are taught Spanish rather than Quechua and European traditions rather than those of their own ancestors. Quechua traditions are dying out completely. This is why the earth in Peru is not as healthy as it once was. I discovered the same thing in Bolivia. It could be the case for the whole world. And all because we have not looked after it properly.

When Mama Yupanqui was younger Quechua traditions had survived the onslaught by the Spanish. The land was owned by one person and easier to organise. “Life was happier back then,” she told us. “There was more unity.”

In modern times the influence of money is causing people to forget about their neighbours and think only for themselves. “Men and women have become lazy,” Mama Yupanqui says with a look of anger on her face. “The only tradition to survive from the times of the ancient Quechua is weaving.”

I left Mama Yupanqui and Willocq completely humbled. I was saddened by how much things had changed in the last one hundred years during Mama Yupanqui´s lifetime. Humanity is not developing, it is going backwards, and the small village of Willocq in the mountains of Peru is a prime example of how people are subjugated by a corrupt elite and the empty promises they make.





More Things You Don´t Know About Machu Picchu

14 08 2012

Are the Most Famous Ruins in Peru Older Than we are Told?

“Machu Picchu was built between the 13th and 14th century,” Ariel, my guide tells me.

Official views state the plans for the settlement began in the 11th century. Other mainstream archaeologists believe the city was built in the mid 15th century by Pachacuti Yupanqui, the ninth Inca King who was focused on expanding the empire all the way to what is now modern day Argentina at the tip of South America. Supporting evidence shows that building work was never finished which has lead some scholars to speculate the Inca was interrupted by the Spanish invasion in 1532.

Mainstream scholars also speculate that Machu Picchu was used as the retreat the Inca used to rebuild and plan a rebellion against the Francisco Pizarro’s conquistadores. The likelihood id the Spanish never found Machu Picchu, which is why it is the only ancient ruins in Peru that remains in a reasonable condition. The last Inca King, Tupac Amaru Yupanqui was not defeated until 1572.  If Machu Picchu had been the Inca hiding place they would have had time to finish building it.

That’s not to say that would have been the case. Contrary to popular belief the Inca were not great builders. They adopted techniques learned from other cultures and perfected them, but the only time the Inca tried to build something of their own, a boulder was dropped down the mountain and wiped out over 2000 workmen. The project was subsequently abandoned.

To build Machu Picchu, there is evidence to show the stones were taken from the site. Huge boulders within the grounds of the complex have clearly been stripped and researchers believe the fragments could only have been used to build the city. It is known the Inca had the techniques to carry out this type of work, but so did other cultures.

Rolf Muller, professor of Astrology at the University of Potsdam, found convincing evidence to suggest that the most important features of Machu Picchu possessed significant astronomical alignments that were attuned to the precession of the equinoxes. Given the positioning of these features Muller concluded the original layout of the site was therefore built between 4000BC to 2000BC.

Maria Schulten de D’Ebneth concurred with Muller’s finding and by also using mathematical methods established Machu Picchu was built before the time of the Inca. Based on her measurements she determined the city had been built in 3172 BCE.

Andean legends also talks about a place in the mountains known as Tampu-Tocco, the Haven of the Three Windows. It is here that Viracocha is said to have sent the four Ayar brothers and three of the brothers emerged through the windows to civilize the Andean region. One of the brothers, Ayar Manco, otherwise known as Manco Capac founded the Ancient Empire thousands of years before the Inca. According to Inca legends, Manco Capac was is the first Inca King.

Llamas at Machu Picchu

I´m lost…

Those of you already familiar with Inca religion will know the Llama was sacred to the Andean cultures and were often used as a sacrifice to Pachamama (Mother Earth). The Inca also used to bind their wooden store houses and thatched roofs with the skin of the Llama which is surprisingly coarse and strong, but firmer than a bit of old rope.

In honour of the Llama, the animal is represented at Machu Picchu today. In fact there are 16 Llamas living here and draw the attention of tourist’s cameras. They start the day on a patch of lawn at the far end of the settlement which would have originally have been used as a market place where the inhabitants of the city traded goods.

The Llamas though are unpenned and untied, left to roam freely as they wish. They are perfectly harmless and docile, but as the day wears on can be found just about anywhere; and in the most unusual places. Imagine my surprise to find one on the narrow path ¾ of the way up to the Sun Gate. It looked at me as if to say, “Hey, are you lost as well?”

Later that afternoon two of them forced me from my resting place in the shade of a overhanging rock. I was sheltering from the glaring heat of the sun jotting down notes and having both relieved themselves in front of a small group of American girls (which caused typical reactions of (disgust that I found amusing) they came over to where I was laid and started chewing the grass either side of me (the llamas, not the American girls). This was not so amusing, especially as they were so close I could still smell remains of deposits they had dropped off with the girls. It was a surreal moment and almost made me vomit. I thought I’d better move before they started chewing my jacket.

The Archetypes Designed in Machu Picchu

High in the Andes Mountains Machu Picchu would become known as the most famous Inca sanctuary. Designed by a team of architects made up of priests and astronomers the already impressive architecture is even more stunning when you learn of the archetypes you find in the building

Do you see the Lizard in the main settlement..?

work. From the panoramic angle, which is also known as the postcard shot, the settlement takes the shape of a lizard, representing Amaru Tupac, who was given the nickname “Flying Lizard.”

In the rock face of Wayna Picchu you can see the face of an angry Puma. In fact the whole mountain rock take the form of a gigantic Puma with its back curved and in a pose of attack. On top of the mountain the narrow terraces used as watch towers by guards and store houses for agricultural produce represent raised heckles.

Looking down on Machu Picchu from this standpoint you can see the city takes the shape of a condor which has lead some authorities of the Quechua language to speculate the original name of the complex was Machu Pichiu, which means “Old Bird.”

Just below Wayna Picchu is another rock formation which takes the form of a Condor. Whether this is natural or done by design is open for speculation, but, unlike many shapes cut into the rocks by the Inca archaeologists try to pass off as natural rock formations simply because they don’t have an answer for how the shape was carved, this one really does appear to be a natural formation. Perhaps even the reason why the Inca chose this site to build a city.

The mountain Condor at Machu Picchu

In the area known as the Hanan sector which was dedicated to government administration we also find the layout of a Puma, this time laid down in a state of relaxation. The entire city complex makes up the body of the animal whilst its head is seen in the green grass of high terraces at the far end. The terraces that cascade down the sides of the abyss to the form of its legs. Is this more evidence of space-age technology mainstream scholars deny was capable? It certainly shows an advanced ability for building – even for 15,000AD!

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Visitors arriving at Machu Picchu from along the Inca trail will enter the site from the Sun Gate and be greeted by stunning views overlooking the city and surrounding areas. If you enter through the tourist’s reception by bus at the bottom, you can still make the climb along the narrow path up to the Sun Gate in about 45 minutes. It’s worth the effort for the view, but the Sun Gate is also the original entrance the Inca used to enter the site.

Since 2011, travellers hoping to tackle the Inca Trail may have trouble securing a permit due to new regulations imposed by the Peruvian government. Permits used to be issued on a first-come first-served basis, but tour operators are now being asked to stagger orders throughout

View from the Sun Gate

February and March. This could pose a problem to anybody thinking of a late booking at the back end of the year.

The regulations limit up to 500 people a day to walk the trail and with such fierce competition for permits, holidaymakers are advised not to leave it too late to confirm their booking or they are likely to miss out. Tour operators have bemoaned the new system as unfair and say it offers priority to individual tour operators at random.

I missed out on a permit, but only wanted to walk the last day anyway. I’m glad I did. At the sun gate I met an experienced climber from Australia and he said, even for him, it was a difficult hike, particularly the second day. The path is also very narrow in places and steep drops can put people off. If you don’t have a head for heights it’s not an ideal route to get you to Machu Picchu.





Things You Don´t Know About Machu Picchu

13 08 2012

There is More to Machu Picchu than Beautiful Scenery

You don’t need me to tell you that Machu Picchu is Peru’s biggest tourist puller. So forget I said that; this blog post is about things you probably don’t know. From its desertion to its discovery, and a contentious theory to dispute orthodox teachings thrown in to boot, it’s not just the scenery at Machu Picchu that holds you spellbound.

Andean cultures had a profound understanding of cosmic concepts and believed Nature and Time is alive. Mainstream historians don´t tell you that, but the clues the Inca left in their architecture do! Subsequently, our ancient ancestors believed they received beneficial gifts through nature and the spirits of the mountains, otherwise known as the Apus. And this is why we see such amazing settlements built in breathtaking mountain surroundings like those you find at Machu Picchu.

In short, the ancient idea is the same message that is repeated by the so-called New Age Movement. You might have heard the expression, the “law of attraction,” whereby if you long for something and believe in it, your dreams will come true. It is also where we get the expression, “Be careful what you wish for!” Except, it´s not quite as simple as many so-called spiritual “gurus,” lead you to believe. But we will discuss that in more detail at a later date! For now, let´s concentrate on Machu Picchu.

Getting to Machu Picchu

If you’re planning to make your way to this esteemed World Wonder, you’ll probably stay over in Cusco; though Pisac is also a good option – it’s quieter than Cusco, less touristy and offers amazing scenery. I would recommend you do both. Either way, unless you are taking one of the alternative Inca trail routes you will have to make your way to Ollantaytambo before heading out to Machu Picchu. I would also recommend you spend a couple of days in Ollantaytambo (see previous posts).

Inca Rail Class

To get to Machu Picchu I travelled with Inca Express, a luxury executive train with plush leather seats, finely crafted folding tables and excellent hospitality. Drinks, snacks and a traditional Peruvian chocolate sweet are included in the $55 fare and they give you a little goody bag with some handkerchiefs and mosquito repellent.

The train leaves from Ollantaytambo at 6.40am, 11.35am or 4.36pm and drops you off in Aguas Calientes from where you catch a bus up to the Machu Picchu ruins. To get the most from your visit to Machu Picchu I would also recommend you stay the night in Aguas Calientes. It’s a quaint little town and if you are prepared to get up early enough you will see the sun rise in Machu Picchu.

Upon arrival in Aguas Calientes you will need to purchase a ticket from Centro Cultural. It’s not difficult to find. From the train station go through the market, veer left at the far end, down a ramp and over the bridge. (Just down the hill from there is where you catch the bus). From the bridge go straight on passed some cafes and shops and turn left. Centro Cultural is on your right hand side about 200 yards further down. If you come to a statue of an Inca warrior you’ve gone passed it.

The entrance ticket to Machu Picchu is 126 soles, about 35GBP and also includes access to Wayna Picchu – the tall mountain peak in the background you will recognise from the postcard shot. If you want to climb Waynu Picchu and see the stunning views from up there, you need to be there early – hence why you will need to stay over in Aguas Calientes.

The snag is, you need a permit to climb Waynu Picchu and only 400 are issued on any one day. The first 200 people go between 7am-8am and the second 200 go between 10am-11am. If you’ve not got your ticket before 8am at the latest they will all be gone. And tha´s another good reason to stay in Agua Calientes.

Busses up to Machu Picchu leave from the main road as you exit the market by the train station. Just follow the sound of the raging Urubamba River and you’ll see a queue of busses. It’s a dead give away! The current in the river is so strong, water explodes violently like spontaneous detonations in a sewer, which is fascinating to watch but you wouldn’t want to go for a swim. The buses leave every 5 to 10 minutes before making the winding journey up the mountainside. The scenery is so stunning I was getting aroused.

Guided Tours at Machu Picchu

To get the most out of your Machu Picchu experience it is recommended you get a guide otherwise you just roam around aimlessly taking pictures of old bricks and mountains. You can easily find a guide outside the entrance wearing a beige jacket with “Guia” written on the back. If you want a private guide for a full 4-hour tour you’re looking at paying 100-150 soles, about 30GBP, though you can go in a group for a superficial chat for about 20 soles £5. Once inside the settlement you can ink your passport with the official Machu Picchu stamp of admission.

Machu Picchu is on the fringes of the Sacred Valley, the divine home of what used to be the Inca Empire. Some commentators say it was built as a fortress, though there is evidence to prove it was much more than a hangout for Inca warriors. In fact, the soldiers spent most of their time in the guard posts way up in the rocks of Wayna Picchu.

Contrary to its popularity and importance today, Machu Picchu was not as important to the builders as many other settlements in the Sacred Valley, though still took them 100 years to build the city. However, much of the later building work was expanding the boundaries of the original foundations.

As with most Inca cities, evidence of agriculture is prominent here and great importance was placed on the cultivation of crops. Built into the mountain side visitors will see stepped terraces, lush green grass packed into small round stones that circle the whole city. The amount of terraces is immense to look at today, but even more were found buried beneath the thick foliage very recently. Also uncovered was a staircase of 1000 steps that leads from near the original entrance of the city and goes right down to the river.

The Discovery of Machu Picchu

The discovery of Machu Picchu is accredited to Hiram Bingham in 1911. Everybody knows this, and it’s true that whilst the privileged professor from Yale University unveiled the ruins to the world, the ancient city had been discovered by locals much earlier.

Bingham Pillaged the Inca site

A local mestizo stumbled across the ruins in 1850 before two local peasants came across the site 44 years later. They moved their families into the lower parts of the ruins and lived there quite happily until the arrival of Bingham and his crew. A hundred years on and their ancestors still live at the foot of the complex.

Bingham, a Yale professor, not trained in archaeology is said to have accidently discovered Machu Picchu, but he was in fact taken there by the sons of the local peasants. He was actually in the mountains on Peru on a treasure hunt in search of gold. Inca legends talk of a hidden  city of gold at Villabamba where it is believed Tupac Amaru, the last king of the Inca retreated to avoid capture from the Spanish. Tupac however, was hiding at Machu Picchu before being lured out of his hiding place by his brother. His brother betrayed him and handed the Inca King over to the Spanish who executed him Plaza de Armas in Cusco.

Bingham didn’t find his treasures of gold, but instead unearthed a wealth of ancient artefacts that belonged to a lost civilisation. He looted the hundreds of valuable items from the site and had them shipped back to the USA where they were displayed at Yale University. It wasn´t until 2011, almost 100 years later that the stolen property was returned to the Peruvian Government – and only then because the administrators of Yale were ordered to by a high court injunction.

The Desertion of Machu Picchu

It is known that Machu Picchu was suddenly abandoned; though nobody knows the reason why. Some historians put this down to the invasion of the Spanish, but realistically that can’t have been the reason as the desertion of the city occurred 100 years before their arrival.

Other historians speculate it was due to in-fighting amongst the indigenous tribes which is a more likely theory. In 1471, Cusco was attacked by the Chanca warriors and Inca Pachacuti fled Cusco in terror. His second son, however, Tupac Yupanqui stayed behind to defend the city and its people. He secured victory and was named Inca king. So, if that is the case why would Machu Picchu, an Inca “fortress” (but with rooms for royalty) have been deserted?

Even the llamas did a runner

There’s no doubt that the disruption weakened the Inca Empire, but in my mind it is doubtful this would have prevented the Inca from abandoning the settlement and leaving it unfinished. The alleged “facts” don’t add up.

Before I went to Machu Picchu this was an interesting point that had fascinated me. Nothing I had read about it had concluded with a satisfactory explanation. But at the site, it was my guide, Adriel, that opened the door to a potential reality.

“During the time of the Inca the area was rife with yellow fever,” he told me. “176 skeletons were found here.”

“Where were they found?” I asked.

“All over. They had not been buried.”

Nor had they been prepared for burial, and mummification was, as I had learnt on several occasions, something the Inca were very focussed on as this was an important ritual to prepare the soul for its passage into the next life.

“Do you think it is possible that Machu Picchu was deserted because of an outbreak of yellow fever,” I asked Ariel. He looked at me for a moment, slightly taken aback by the question.

“Nobody knows why the Inca left here.”

I had become familiar with this type of standard answer. Guides have a script and tend to falter if you step outside their realm of knowledge and understanding. I didn’t question anymore, but it seemed to me that a debilitating disease the Inca had no cure for could have been the reason for them to leave the city. It would be interesting to know if there was an outbreak anywhere else.

But of course, this is just a theory, and like so many other theories about our ancient past cannot and will not be proven. However, it is not the only theory that has some shred of plausibility, and more than a slither than the morsels offered by orthodox scholars. And there´s a lot more that scholars don´t know about these ancient Inca ruins. Find out what else in Machu Picchu Part II tomorrow.





The Importance of the Andean Cross to the Inca

9 08 2012

The Andean Cross is found in many structures of ancient Peru

The Andean Cross was Everything to Ancient Cultures of Peru

To the Inca and other ancient Andean cultures before them, the Andean Cross, otherwise known as the Southern Cross or the Chakana was not just a sacred symbol that reflected the constellation of the stars, but represented the entire conception of life on Earth. It is also sometimes referred to as the Inca cross, though this is wrong, given that it was used much earlier by other Andean cultures.

According to mainstream historians, it´s earliest known use was found in a temple at the settlement of Ventarrón in the Lambayeque Valley which dates back some 4000 years, though the symbol of the Andean Cross was built on top of the Akapana Temple at Tiwanaku, a little known ancient ruin that probably dates back to around 15,000 BCE.

The Chakana, or Southern Crux, is a four-star constellation which gives the Andean cross its roots in astrology and the principle of how the symbol came to be used in the spiritual traditions of ancient Andean cultures. Each star in the constellation represents the four points of the compass and thus lends itself to the four sides of the cross, each representing the four directions together with the four elements; earth, water, air and fire. The South represents fire, the West is earth, the North is air meaning to know, and the east is water – like keeping the brain still during meditation.

An interpretation of the Chakana inside the Southern Crux constellation

Each corner has a three step platform which is often found in Andean architecture. Corresponding to Andean mythology they represent the three worlds of the Universe, Uqhu Pacha – the Underworld and the land of the dead; Kay Pacha – the material world and land of the living;  and Hanan Pacha – the celestial world of the Gods. In turn these are identified with the three archetypes; the snake representing the Lower world and wisdom; the Puma representing the material world and strength; and the Upper World representing the Condor and spiritual consciousness. The circle in the centre is the metaphorical bridge from which you transcend into the cosmic vault of the other realms (like the bridge in the film, Thor). In the time of the Inca it also represented Cusco which the Inca believed was the centre of the Universe and was originally named, Qusqo, Quechua for naval of the world.

The three peripheral points in each of the four corners mark the twelve months of the year. Geometric lines that run vertically through each point of the cross represent the inter-connectivity between the three worlds while the horizontal lines are the bonds that unite the people inhabiting the three worlds; therefore we have the dead, the living and the gods. Through meditation people on the physical realm can traverse worlds into the Upper realms or land of the dead in the Underworld.

The Chakana in Andean Architecture

Visit Peru and you will find the Chakana, or parts of the Andean Cross in much of the architecture. The best example is perhaps the stone of the Banos de Nusta in the ruins of Ollantaytambo, the example you see featured in the photograph at the top of the article. Other famous carvings you will most likely see and should look out for if you ever visit the Andean region are Machu Picchu, Chavin de Huantar, Chan Chan and Q’enko.

Semi-Andean Cross at Machu Picchu

You will note the stone at Machu Picchu in the photograph to you right is only half the Chakana, but on the solstices the sun cast a shadow on the ground that makes it complete. We find the same impressions at Chan Chan, and in the temples of Chavin de Huantar. The doorways in the labyrinth of Chavin de Huantar and the staircase leading up to the altar in Q’enko are both places where Inca High Priests used to conduct ritualistic ceremonies and sacrifice animals dedicated to the Gods.

You can still find the Andean Cross all over Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia and in the northern climes of Argentina where the Inca Empire conquered at the height of its power. Even the angles of the symbol work out to a scale of 23.5 degrees which is the same inclination as the tilt of the planet. How did the Andean cultures know this more than two thousand years ago? They had a deep understanding of astronomy and celestial events which are reflected in the ancient structures we find standing today – and the in Peru and Bolivia especially, the Andean Cross is at the very heart of architectural designs and modern day culture.





The Ancient Ruins of Ollantaytambo

8 08 2012

Ollantaytambo – the sibling of Machu Picchu

Built on approximately 600 hectares, the ruins of Ollantaytambo is one of Peru’s finest archaeological sites. During the time of the Inca it was more important than Machu Picchu built high up in the mountains 50km away. And just as with its more prominent sibling, the building work at Ollantaytambo stopped abruptly – and nobody seems to know why.

Dominating the hillside around the quaint village of the same name, the impressive settlement of Ollantaytambo served as a religious, agricultural, administrative and urban complex. The surrounding areas, rich in fertile soil meant the area was held with high regard by the Inca and subsequently reserved for agriculture and livestock. Yet the most important – and impressive – functions of the ruins are its astronomical features.

You have to look very carefully, but once you know they are there you can see several archetypes designed into the structure of Ollantaytambo. The least obvious is perhaps the llama, considered a sacred animal to the Inca and one they identified with in the Milky Way. My guide, Walter, traces it out for me. With its head at the Sun Temple, the terraces stretching along the side of the hill forms its body. The steps form its legs.

Do you see the Condor in the rock

A more noticeable archetype as you can see in the photograph to your left is the condor; it’s head and beak carved out of the mountainside and the plume of its colossal wings form part of the natural rock formation. Again once you know it’s there it is obvious to see. Walter points to an altar below the condors carved beak.

“This is where the Inca used to make sacrifices to Pachamama,” he tells me.  “In the shadow of the sun, the beak of the condor reaches down to the altar which is destined to serve him food.”

Walter is mild-mannered, in his early twenties and speaks with a pronounced accent. His dark, smooth skin sprouts strands of facial hair from his chin and upper lip and he wears a permanent smile. He parts his wealth of knowledge with enthusiasm and is clearly proud of his country´s heritage. And rightly so! The Inca and the Andean cultures that came before them had such a profound knowledge of astronomy they somehow measured to align it with their architecture.

Fountains and Astronomy at Ollantaytambo

It was no surprise for me to learn that the residents of the Ollantaytambo settlement were large numbers of high priests and other religious figures together with high-ranking administrative staff and nobility. As an astronomical centre we find exceptional displays of craftsmanship that highlights the Inca´s phenomenal knowledge of the Universe.

Water Temple and astronomical calendar

There are several key areas of the settlement that indicate the dates of the summer and winter solstices. This was the indicator for the Inca to plant their crops and when they were ready for harvest. A prime example of this is in the Water Temple, where a window has been built into the wall just above a solitary fountain.

“During the winter solstice on the 21st June, the sun shines directly on to the water,” Walters says smiling. “The Inca believed this would give the water fertility and flow into the field to help make the crops grow.”

The Ollantaytambo ruins are not just fascinating for its precision architecture, but also its sheer beauty. On first impressions it has the appearance of its famous neighbour, Machu Picchu. In addition, there are a series of fountains which served a number of functions; for bathing, cleaning clothes, and cleansing the body and mind.

A remarkable example of this, and one of the highlights at Ollayantambo, is the “banos de Nusta” – the purification showers where the King’s wife would have bathed. In the time of the Inca the area would have been private though is now out in the open, flowing uncovered with no apparent significance to its importance. Until you examine it closely and find the rock has the Andean Cross carved into its surface. Otherwise known as the Chakana, the Andean Cross is a very important symbol in Andean cultures and one which I will discuss in more depth in my next blog posting.

Also cut into the sides of the “Nusta” rock are two handles which would have allowed the Inca Queen to kneel in the fountain in a praying position. Andean cultures also used the four elements to help them meditate and water is deemed to wash away negative thoughts and restore balance to body and mind. Another interesting feature of the Queen’s fountain is you can slow down the flow of water simply by running your finger across the top edge of the stone. To increase the water flow, tap the middle of the stone. The engineering skills needed to perform such a feat is mind-blowing, but upon examining the edge, I could feel grooves cut into the edge of the stone which changed its course and made it appear as though it was flowing slower. A simple method, but how did the ancients discover they could do this?

The Nusta Bano with normal water flow…

..a quick tap of your finger and hey presto!

Space-Age Stone Technology

Like Tiwanaku, Sacsayhuaman and Hatun Rumiyoc, the ruins of Ollantaytambo raise major questions of how the ancients carried out the master stonemasonry and how they were able to transport colossal sized pieces of rock up a hill. Some of the stones used to build the Sun Temple near the summit of the settlement weigh between 70 and 80 tonnes. They were transported from the Kachiqhata stone quarry some 4km (2.5 miles) away.

“To get the stones from the quarry the builders would have floated them along the Urubamba River,” Walter says pointing towards the river that flows close by. “It is believed the rocks were heaved up the hill on log-rollers dragged using pulleys, leather ropes and levers. It would have taken hundreds of men to achieve this.”

There is not much doubt or dispute with how the ancients transported their stone, though the argument as to how they cut them is one of major contention. In their book, America’s Ancient Civilizations, A Hyatt and Ruth Verrill question mainstream thoughts that the rocks were shaped using stones or bronze tools. Yet some of the stones used in ancient stonemasonry, such as Tiwanaku and Hatun Rumiyoc were as hard as diorite, or like at Ollantaytambo, andesite. The authors write:

“Such an explanation is so utterly preposterous that it is not even worthy of serious consideration. No one ever has found anywhere any stone tool or implement that would cut or chip the andesite, and no bronze ever made will make any impression upon it.”

Echoes of Tiwanaku

Carved stones at Ollantaytambo resemble the Space-age technology of Tiwanaku

Tiwanaku has already been featured on this blog in some depth, and the name keeps cropping up. At Ollantaytambo there was reason to recall it again. Strewn on the floor were stones cut with space-age precision just like the ones I had seen in northern Bolivia. Experts say these stones are difficult to replicate with today’s technology. It would have been impossible using other stones. But then there is Lindsay Hasluck’s ‘Percy Fawcett’ theory and the elusive plant acid that melts stones.

Or perhaps Swiss sensationalist Erich Von Daniken is right with his theory of ancient aliens passing their knowledge of building on to our ancestors, who in turn passed it down through generations until the secrets became lost when the Spanish conquistadors brutally ended the reign of the Inca. Comparing the building work in the village it is clear the Spanish, and therefore the Europeans, did not possess the same degree of knowledge. So where did it come from and how did the Inca incorporate it into Ollantaytambo?





Ollantaytambo, Peru

6 08 2012

Situated about 89km from Cusco, Ollantaytambo is a quaint and beautiful ancient Inca village. Most visitors stay here overnight as a go-through to Machu Picchu, yet in doing so are depriving themselves of a wealth of history and even more natural beauty. If you’re in Peru don’t overlook a day or three in Ollantaytambo.

To get to Ollantaytambo, get a collective – a minibus come taxi – from Paradero Pavitos in Cusco centre for around 35 soles. There is no timetable for departure, but the driver leaves as soon as the van is full. The journey takes about 4 hours.

The Sibling of Machu Picchu

When you enter the main square you are immediately confronted with the Inca ruins of Ollantaytambo. At first glance the site is an imitation and a prelude to its intact sibling in Machu Picchu. The resemblance of the architecture is striking, high terraces and broken temples built into the side of a mountain. But what most people fail to recognise is that during the time of the Inca, Ollantaytambo was actually a more important settlement than its more illustrious neighbour.

The village and surrounding areas of Ollantaytambo is rich with fertile soil and is the best region of Peru in which to grow corn. The Inca also appreciated this and designed the urban district in the shape of corn cob as a dedication to Pachamama (Mother Earth) to show their gratitude. The houses represented the grains of corn and the stalk ended at the banks of the Urubamba River. The Inca believed the sacred water of the river would feed the earth to help the corn grow.

Look closely and visitors will find original Inca stonework in the urban district. It can still be identified on most of the buildings. When the Spanish arrived however, they built a new main square with new houses in around it. Their intention was to hide the existing houses behind the facade of the village in an attempt to cover up the existence of former Inca residents to people passing through.

The Astronomical Calendar of Ollantaytambo

Ollantaytambo though is not merely a village built from man-made design, but in fact has astonishing natural designs that permit luminous effects in its surroundings. This unique site, with the mini-mountain of Pinkuylluna at its centre, helped the Inca determine when to plant their crops and when to harvest.

The winter solstice in the Andes marked the time when the sun was reborn and the world was revitalized. The summer solstice marked a time when the crops reached their maturity and were ready for harvest. This is also the time when young men are deemed to become of age a huge festival was held to celebrate the Empire. The festival known as Capac Raymi still takes place today on the grounds outside Sacsayhuaman.

In Ollantaytambo the sun sets to the left of Pinkuylluna to mark the winter solstice and rises between the hills of the valley to the right of the mountain to mark the summer solstice. The Inca used this to their advantage, not just in the layout of the settlement, but also in the layout of their fields.

One particular field was specifically designed so the sun would cast a ray of light across it in the shape of a triangular window. The illumination symbolised the union between the sky and the earth.

Pinkuylluna is also used as an astronomical observatory as the sun moved around it during the course of the year. Inspired by the fantastic images of Inca mythology the face of Viracocha is carved into the side of the mountain.

Myth is regarded as the living inspiration of the imagination in Andean culture and is taken much more seriously to indigenous Peruvians than those who are acclimatised to western values.

The Inca Face in Pinkuylluna, Ollantaytambo

Some archaeologists try to pass the “face” carved into the side of the rock as a natural formation. If it is, it is a truly remarkable one. And just a few metres away on the same mountain face you also find the carving of an Inca warrior – or perhaps that is a coincidental natural rock formation as well.

The Inca priests believed nothing in the world could be planned without time. They placed great importance on the movement of the sun and other celestial bodies. During the winter solstice the sun shines directly on to the carved face of the mythical creator God, Virococha. Stand with your back to the main square and look at the hill to the right of the urban district. This is Pinkuylluna and you can clearly see a face carved into the side of the rock.

Visitors to Ollantaytambo can climb a path the Inca carved into the side of Pinkuylluna. It leads up to yellow-bricked storehouses that still stand in the mountainside. Overlooking the village the climb offers some stunning views, but is not recommended unless you have a head for heights. Some parts are very narrow and, particularly on the descent, you are faced with sheer drops that are heart thumping. Imagine the Inca doing this in sandals with bags of grain on their backs. They certainly had a head for heights. I almost fainted!

The Inca built the storage houses at this height as it kept the produce fresher than it did at ground level.  Pinkuylluna in Quechua means flute, so called because the wind whistles around the rocks with a similar sound to that of the flute in the days of Inca.

When the Spanish invaded Peru they arrived at Ollantaytambo, but curiously didn´t destroy the religious site or the surrounding houses. Instead they built the Plaza de Armas and hid the small Inca houses behind them. The ruins though are still in reasonable condition and look very much like the famous remains of Machu Picchu. And I will tell you more about the ancient ruins of Peru in coming soon posts about Ollantaytambo and its famous sibling Machu Picchu.