Ollantaytambo, 60km northwest of Cusco, is the last remaining example of an urban planning from the Inca period.
The city with its still intact buildings, fortified walls, terraces, aqueducts and narrow streets was probably founded under the rule of the Inca prince Pachacuti (1439 – 1471). It is dominated by the terraced ‘fortress’ overlooking the headwaters of the Vilcanota River (Urubamba). Its strategic position at the north-western end of the so-called Sacred Valley of the Incas, at the mouth of Patacancha into Urubamba, enabled the troops around Manco Capac II, who had retreated here after the devastating defeat against the Spaniards at Sacsayhuamán, to defend the fortress against the Spaniards around Pizarro’s younger brother Hernando in 1537. The victory, however, proved to be transient and while Manco Capac II withdrew to the densely wooded area of Vilcabamba, Ollantaytambo fell to the Spaniards and was incorporated into the Encomienda (~ fiefdom) of Francisco Pizarros.
The name Ollantaytambo consists of the two Quechua terms ‘Ollanta’ and ‘Tambo’. Ollanta was the name of a commander whose camp site (~Tambo) was on this spot. At the foot of the ‘fortress’, which is wrongly called this way and was more likely a sacred district, lies the square Mayll´í Raqui. Here young warriors are said to have fought competitions in order to be accepted into the army of Ollantas. An aqueduct runs directly at the edge of the square, carrying the water coming from the mountains. A series of terraces leads up a staircase to the sanctuary of the “Diez Alacenas” (ten ‘closets’). From here you have the best view of the square below and its excellent construction of multi-surface, compactly joined stones of different sizes. Inside this complex, called ‘Inca Palace’, there are niches with window openings that served as lookouts.
Particularly impressive are the enormous walls of the Temple of the Sun, made up of megalithic blocks up to 4.55 m high and bounded by stone ledges. Access to Ollantaytambo during Inca times was only possible through one of the three fortified city gates Intipunku, Tiyupunku or Wayrapunku. The entrance of Tiyupunku, flanked in the south by a series of terraces and in the north by steep rocks, is still visible today. If one follows the old water channel behind the gate, one gets to the centre of the city.
One of the most striking features of Ollantaytambo is the intensive terracing of the lower slopes of the Urubamba Valley over almost 700 metres of altitude. The sheer size of the cultivated areas exceeded the immediate needs of the population by far, so that some researchers assume that the terraces also had a symbolic meaning.