Cusco, called “the navel of the world” by the Incas, was designed by its ninth ruler – Pachacútec Inka Yupanqui – in the shape of a puma, which was already a symbol of divine and military power in the Chavín culture.
The head of the Puma was formed by the massive fortress of Sacsayhuaman in the north, 255 meters above the city center, with its tail (Pumac Chupan) today marked by the converging Avenidas El Sol and Tullumayo. The body was formed by the huge ceremonial square Huacaypata, which the Spaniards later divided into several parts for their own urban planning, including the Plaza de Armas and the Plaza San Francisco.
To today’s visitors, Cusco appears as a monument to the Spanish Conquista turned into stone. The mighty, artfully carved stones from the Koricancha of the Inca Empire have disappeared into the foundations of the churches and palaces of his conquerors and yet remain omnipresent. Colonial Cusco became the first bishop’s seat south of Panama. The church orders built impressive churches and monasteries, and the wealth of the Catholic Church attracted many important artists of the time who tirelessly created paintings, statues of saints and altars. The colonial city suffered a severe setback in its development with the devastating earthquake of 31 March 1650, which destroyed large parts of the newly built Cusco. Its frightened inhabitants went through the streets in processions with the image of the Crucified One, to whom they attributed their survival and whom they worship since then as “Señor de los Temblores” (“Lord of the Earthquakes”). Every year on Easter Monday, the image is carried through the city in a procession that bears clear features of the participants’ syncretic faith. Just like the image of Christ today, the mummies of the Incan rulers were once carried through the streets, and the flowers of the scarlet sage, sacrificed to the gods Kon and Wiracocha in the Incan times, are now woven into the crown of thorns as a symbol of the Blood of Christ.
The most striking architectural remains of the Inca culture can be found in the centre of Cusco in the narrow Calle Hatun Rumiyoc with the famous dodecagonal stone in the outer wall of the former Inca Roca Palace, in the Calle Loreto (Intikijllu) with the longest preserved Inca wall and especially in the remains of the Coricancha, the ceremonial complex of the Inca consisting of several rectangular buildings and inner courtyards. The interior of the Temple of the Sun and other buildings were plundered by the Spaniards and badly damaged by earthquakes, but the foundations and retaining walls of the enormous complex have been preserved in their original splendour.