The Plaza de Armas is home to the Cathedral and Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus, built on the remains of the Inca temple of Huayna Cápac. The construction of the Jesuit church began in 1571, and it was already clear then that Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus would become the most beautiful church in Cusco. The bishop feared that the Jesuits would surpass his cathedral and turned on the pope in Rome to freeze the building. The Pope ordered the construction freeze but until the post came from Italy to Cusco, the church was already finished.
In an earthquake in 1650, the Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus was destroyed, but the church was immediately rebuilt. The Baroque façade is surpassed in the interior by elaborate ornaments and the huge altar. Spain banned the Order of the Jesuits in 1767 and in 1768 the Jesuits had to leave Cusco. At that time the Jesuits were considered power-hungry and greedy. They were also banned in Portugal and France.
The Plaza Mayor is the typical main square of Spanish colonial cities in South America. The place is called the official Plaza de Armas (Square of Arms). At the time of the Incas there was the place Haukaypata. In the middle of the square is a fountain with the Inca king Pachacutec, the world changer. On September 24, 1572, the last Inca ruler Túpac Amaru was beheaded here. Every year on the square the "Inti Raymi" (Festival of the Sun) is celebrated.
In addition to the first church of Cusco Iglesia del Triunfo, which was built directly after the victory over the Incas, built in 1560, the cathedral. It was built on the foundations of the Inca temple Huiracocha. The Cathedral of Cusco Santo Domingo was inaugurated in 1654. The Renaissance facade of the cathedral looks neither elegant nor well proportioned. Among the attractions of the cathedral are the paintings of the School of Cusco (Escuela Cusqueña), the main altar of silver, the chapel of Jesus, Mary and José and the black Jesus "El Negrito".
The sun temple "Qurikancha" or in Spanish spelling Coricancha was the most important Inca temple in Cusco. The Coricancha was built in 1438. After Francisco Pizarro had conquered the city in 1533, he destroyed the temple. The remains were overbuilt in 1650 by the monastery of Santo Domingo. As a result, you can not see much of the former Coricancha Temple of the Incas today. Since Cusco was then the capital of the Inca Empire, the sun temple was the highest place of worship in the country. All important events took place here, such as coronations, weddings, burials or religious ceremonies. The Sun Temple was the sanctuary of the highest priest, the Villac Umu. In addition to the sun god, the moon goddess Mama Killa was also worshiped here. The sun was depicted with a large gold disk. The moon goddess with a silver disc. Gold was considered by the Inca as sweat beads of the sun and silver as tears of the moon. In the sacred garden "Jardin Sagrado" were life-size sculptures of gold of humans, plants and animals. The semicircular temple complex had terraces that descended to a square. The curved shape of the wall remains to recognize this. In the interior of the monastery are still well-preserved parts of the Sun Temple to see.
When Pizarro conquered Cusco on November 15, 1533, he had the temples destroyed to erect Christian churches on them. The perfectly nested walls used the Spaniards for their new city. As a result, one sees in the center of Cusco again and again remnants of walls from the Inca period. Here is a photo from Calle Hatunrumiyoc.
The Museo de Arte Religioso is located in the former Episcopal Palace of Cusco. The spacious building has a very beautiful courtyard and cedar wood ceilings. The Museum of Religious Art is famous for its paintings of the 17th century Cusco School. In the basement you can still see remnants of the former Inca palace, which was built for the 6th Inca king.
If you walk from the cathedral to the Museo Inka and then follow the little lane further north, you will reach the Plazoleta Nazarenas. The pretty little square with a few trees is dominated by the Capilla San Antonio Abad. The baroque church was commissioned in 1598 by Bishop Antonio de la Raya. The place looks so harmonious, because all house facades are white and have something the same height. Even the bell towers of the chapel of San Antonio Abad are taken up at the next house in the same way. This house was the former seminary of the monastery and has now been converted into the luxury hotel Belmond Palacio Nazarenas. Another important building on the square is the Museo de arte Precolombino, which depicts Peruvian art before its conquest by the Europeans.
The llamas are still a popular beast of burden, the rural population of the Andean highlands. For the Inca, the llama was the most important farm animal. It could carry loads and provided the population with wool, for clothing. When the Spaniards conquered the country they brought their own pets and the number of lamas dropped by about 90%. In Cusco you can still see llamas as a photo opportunity for tourists.
The Pukamuqu (Red Hill) is a famous lookout point in Cusco. On the 3,600 m high hill stands a white Jesus statue. Since Cusco itself is already at around 3,400 m, the difference in altitude is only about 200 m. But the view from the Cristo Blanco on the city is still breathtaking. One sees exactly on the center with the cathedral and has in the background the large mountain panorama of the Andes.
Sacsayhuaman was the Inca fortress of Cusco. It was planned together with the city in the 11th century. Cusco's plan looked like a puma and Sacsayhuaman was the head. Striking are the three terraces with zigzag walls. The fortress is 300 m long and consists of up to 5 m high granite blocks which fit together exactly. The fortress also served as a refuge for the population, and ceremonies were held on the Explanada plain in front of the castle. Opposite of Sacsayhuaman is the hill Rodadero, here was a chair-shaped building of which most likely the ceremonies were conducted. The Spaniards conquered Sacsayhuaman in 1536. Thereafter, the fortress was used as a quarry for the reconstruction of Cusco.
Welcome to Cusco
Cusco is the capital of the eponymous province with around 350,000 inhabitants. Cusco was founded in the 11th century as the capital of the Inca Empire. The great Inca temple was overbuilt by the Spanish conquerors, but you can still find the precisely crafted Inca stones everywhere in the center. The center of Cusco is at an altitude of 3,416 m. The city is located about 560 km as the crow flies from Lima. But a bus trip from Lima to Cusco takes several days, because the Andes have to be overcome. The airport of Cusco is just a few kilometers from the center. The pretty town lies in a valley and serves most tourists as a stop on the way to Machu Picchu. In 1983, Cusco was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Best time to visit Cusco
Since Cusco is near the equator, the seasons are not as pronounced as ours, yet there are differences. Due to the altitude, the temperatures in Cusco are relatively low and fluctuate between 18 to 22 degrees in the monthly mean. The warmest is between September and December. The rainiest months are between December and March. Between April and October it is rather dry with very little rainfall. The best time to visit Cusco is in September and October, with pleasant temperatures and few rainy days.