The southeastern Peruvian city of Cusco was once the capital of the famous Inca Empire, from the 1200s until the arrival of the Spanish explorer Pizarro and his conquistadors in the 16th century. Before the arrival of the Incas in the area, it was also the home of the Killke people, whose cities and religious sites the Incas built their own structures upon. After the Spanish conquest, the city became the heart of European expansion in the area, and later an important administrative sector when Peru declared its independence in 1821.
As you would imagine of a site with this much history, Cusco is home to many great historical sites and places of interest. For the traveller interested in learning more about the history and culture of Peru, Cusco is an essential stop.
The Sacred Valley
Also known as the Urubama Valley, the Sacred Valley of the Incas was the agricultural heart of the Inca Empire. Unlike the standard terrain in the Andes region, the Sacred Valley has both a temperate climate and fertile soil, making it an obvious choice for growing maize and other crops that the Incas required in large quantities to sustain themselves. The valley also served as a buffer between Inca population centers and the Antis, another local tribe that would conduct raids on Inca territories.
Before the Inca made Cusco their capital the Killke people called the area their home, and the stone fortress at Saksaywaman is one of the few remaining pieces of their history. Although expanded upon by the Incas and then the Spanish after their respective conquests of the area, some of the original stone structures built by the Killke still remain standing, and provide an interesting glimpse into Peruvian prehistory.
The Cusco Cathedral
The Cusco Cathedral, or the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin, took nearly one hundred years to build, and remains the home of the Archdiocese of Cusco to this day. Formerly the site of an Incan temple, the cathedral was built after the Spanish tore the temple down in order to build their own church, and was largely constructed of stones taken from the old stone fortress at Saksaywaman. The church is an impressive display of the Gothic architecture of the time, and also features some of the religious symbolism of the Incas incorporated into its design, such as the jaguar head carved into its doors, that were added by the native laborers who constructed the building.
The San Blas neighborhood is home to many of Cusco’s local artisans and craft shops, as well as plenty of restaurants, bars, and hotels. Located a few blocks from the Plaza de Armas, Cusco’s city center, San Blas is located on steep hills that provide a beautiful panoramic view of the city. Featuring many pedestrian-only streets, old Spanish buildings, and other tourist-friendly attractions, San Blas is also home to the oldest church in Cusco, the Templo de San Blas.