Tambomachay to Sacsayhuman, Peru

27 07 2012

Duality fountains, Tambomachay

Four Ancient Archaeological Sites for the Price of One

“There are two theories about Tambomachay,” David Choque, my guide tells me.

We are at Tambomachay near Cusco, Peru, the first of four sites you can visit by following the winding path down the mountain and ending at Sacsayhuaman. Most people just visit the latter as it is the most impressive and thus the most well-known. But it doesn´t cost any more to visit the other three and with the right guide, you will discover much more things of interest than you can find at Sacsayhuaman alone.

The first theory about Tambomachay is that the site was used by Inca kings to bathe after hunting. In the time of the Incas the surrounding hills were abundant with wildlife and it is thought the Inca Kings came up here to hunt. The steep terrain would have meant it was tiring work and with all the running and climbing the hunters would have been ready for a bath and somewhere to relax. In Quechua, Tambomachay literally means, “resting place.”

The other theory is this was the site of a temple dedicated to the water God, Pariacaca. The creator God Virococha is also looked up as the God of water, together with the God of rain and fertility among other things.

The water at Tambomachay has flowed at the same consistency for as long as anybody knows, presumably since the day it was built and plumbed in. The water is fresh, most likely from a natural spring, yet nobody knows where it stems from.

Tambomachay is an Inca Mystyery

One thing scholars do agree on is that the site would have been used exclusively by Inca nobility and religious leaders. The water displays are a profound example of that. One in particular is known as the fountain of life. It flows down in a single current before separating into two chutes at the bottom.

Like many things in the Inca world, the fountain of life is a symbolic display of duality. Nothing can exist without an opposite; night and day, man and woman, life and death. It is the same principle as Ying and Yang in ancient Chinese philosophy – yet another example of similarities from cultures half a world apart, despite according to mainstream historians, the peoples of South America and Asia had never met.

Shelter for the Dead

Another re-occurrence I noticed at Tambomachay was the niches I had first seen at El Fuerte in Bolivia and again on the Isla del Sol and at the Wiracocha Temple at Raqchi on the way to Cusco. By now I knew they were called Chullpas and represent the womb.

“They were used to keep mummies of the deceased in,” David tells me. “Each mummy would be looked after by an assistant who would feed them and take them outside for a sun-bath. To the Inca the mummies were considered living people. Servants would even cook for them and feed them.”

To the ancient Andean cultures the niches represented the woman’s womb and the dead are buried in the feotal position – like the mummies we have seen in the Wiracocha Museum on the way to Cusco. With their dead the ancients buried possessions that were considered sacred to the deceased. The whole ceremony was to prepare the soul for the next life. The Incas believed that death was a continuation of this life.

Puca Pucara Inca Check Point of Cusco

We made our way down the hill to the next ancient site, passing Queuna trees along the way, natives of Peru. Across the road from Tambomachay is Puca Pucara, believed to be a check point to count the number of people coming in and out of Cusco, as well as a resting place for messengers on their way to Cusco.

In its prime Puca Pucara would have been an impressive sight. Built in full view of the surrounding hills the four-tiered complex would also have been used as a look-out post.

Historians are certain that Puca Pucara was used as a watch tower because of its defensive wall and its name; in Quechua the meaning translates to red fortress, so called because the minerals in the stone magically change to a reddish colour in the sunshine.

Inca design double jam doors indicate nobility

The doorways were considered sacred and evidence of a double jam structure can be found all over the site suggesting a particular importance was attached to the site. At the back of the complex the smooth walls and skilled stonework is a clear indication that nobility stayed in that portion of the complex. It seems more likely that together Tambomachay and Puca Pucara was a sort of weekend retreat for the Inca hierarchy to relax and play.

At the entrance of the fortress you find rooms where travellers and messengers would have rested before continuing their journey to Cusco another 2km down the hill. Evidence has also been found that the site was used as a large storage facility for produce.

Another mean feat of engineering, the Puca Pucara complex was built on top of natural rocks, believed by the Inca to be the safest foundations.

The outcrop rocks are still in reasonably good condition, much better than the decaying stone underneath.

“That’s because the Inca deemed them to be sacred,” David tells me. “The Inca believed the spirits of deities lived in them.”

The Inca were very in tune with nature, much more so than we are today. Before they slaughtered an animal they would ask the spirit of the animal for its consent to kill it. They believed that without the agreement of the animal the food would be bad. It was a sign of respect for every living creature.

Inca Sacrifices at Q´Enqo

Continuing downhill we grabbed a taxi to drop us of at Q’enqo. For a couple of soles it saves a lot of time and energy.

Q’enqo is a fascinating place. Used as a religious complex, man-made corridors have been carved out of dense rock, and in a tunnel an altar was built for the purpose of performing ritual sacrifices on animals.

At one time of day this labyrinth of corridors was visited by priests and other high ranking religious members from the surrounding areas who would to come pray to their own deities.

Sacrificial Slab at Q´enqo

Although the Inca had conquered much of the Andean region, to show good faith to the occupied cultures they allowed them to continue worshipping their own gods without discrimination. Though some deities changed slightly from one culture to the next the practice of prayer and offering gifts was principally the same. And every culture shared the idea of one Goddess, that of Pachamama, Mother Earth.

As Dr. Valencia had explained a few days earlier, to offer a gift to Pachamama the priest would wrap gifts of corn, textiles, llama fat, cotton and other important products they considered important in paper and burn it. As a result, the high volume of visitors to Q’enqo on a daily basis would cover the place in ash from their burnt offerings. Renowned for the strength of their economy however, the Inca would not even allow ash to be wasted so it was gathered up and scattered on the fields below to ferment the land.

Q’enqo was a very important site for priests. It was here they would conduct ceremonies to pray to the Gods for a good harvest. On special occasions, usually a full moon or the solstices and equinoxes, a ceremony would take place in which an animal would be sacrificed. For the important dates this would be a black Llama, black as this was much rarer and considered more sacred.

The ceremonies always took place in secret and at night and were performed by the High Priest and a close confidante. The priest would perform the sacrificial ritual then tear the heart out of the Llama. The priest is said to have been able to predict how that year’s harvest was going to do by the way the heart came out. Because he was second only to the King in the hierarchy, whatever he said was believed and obeyed.

What Did the Number 19 Mean for the Inca?

As we were leaving David told me something I found very odd. Near the entrance of the Q’enqo complex are 19 small niches. These types of niches are used by priests to place their idols in when they are praying. They can be found in every Inca site still standing. Yet curiously, David tells me this on the way out:

“Nobody knows why there are 19,” he says.

My initial thought was why would anybody even question why there are only 19? Why has the question been raised? It was not until I visited the Inca Museum that I realised there may be some significance in the number after all!

Our last stop is Sacsayhuaman, the formidable fortress looking out over the city of Cusco. Sacsayhuaman represents the head of the Puma whilst the city is laid out in the shape of it body, and you can read more about the symbolism and mystery of Sacsayhuaman in another post.