Cajamarca claims the dubious fame of being the historically most important city in South America since it was here that the Spanish “conquistador” Pizarro captured the Inca prince Atahualpa after an unprecedented slaughter.
Even today, the room that the prisoner promised to fill with gold and silver in return for his release is the most famous sight of the city, even though “El Cuarto del Rescate” is more likely the former prison of Atahualpa. After Atahualpa had fulfilled his promise, Pizarro had him executed as planned.
Today Cajamarca is considered one of the most famous tourist destinations in Northern Peru and belongs to the cultural heritage of the Americas. Among the most remarkable buildings of the city are the cathedral, the baroque church buildings of the Iglesia de San Francisco and La Recoleta. What they all have in common is that they were built from artistically handcrafted volcanic stones and their towers were once not completed in order to avoid a tax levied by Spain in colonial times. The Cathedral, also called Santa Catalina, has an impressive three-nave interior with a mighty brass altar completely covered in gold leaf.
Before the arrival of the Spaniards, Cajamarca (Quechua: Kashamarka, ‘land of thorns’) was inhabited by members of the culture of the same name, which in turn originated from the Chavín culture (ca. 500-1000 AD). When the Inca conquered Cajamarca around 1465, it became a strategically important post on the Inca road halfway between Quito and Lima, helping to consolidate the Inca rule over Peru’s north.
The sights outside the city also date from pre-Hispanic times:
“Cumbemayo” means “well-built canal” in the Quechua language. 20 km away from Cajamarca, about 700-1000 years ago, a straight aqueduct was cut into the rock on a 3400 m high mountain ridge, which was used for irrigation. An artificially hollowed rock in the shape of a human head, called Santuario, probably served as a burial place. Rock paintings have also been discovered in the surrounding caves. The Frailones (“monastery brothers”) also rise from the ground here. These pointed rock needles are indeed reminiscent of monks. The Ventanillas de Otuzco (“little windows”) are located about 7 km north of Cajamarca. The artificial rock niches served as rock tombs for the Cajamarca culture about 1400 years ago. In addition, drainage channels were added so that the caves were not flooded during heavy rain. In the volcanic thermal springs of Pultumarca, called “Baños del Inca”, located 6 km east of Cajamarca, Atahualpa is said to have bathed.