The Riddles of Ancient Peru: The Inca Roads
The largest state of the New World, the Inca state, lasted just over 300 years. The imperial period when the Incas conquered almost the entire western part of the South American continent lasted even less – only about 80 years.
But in such a short time the Incas and their subjugated peoples created an enormous amount of unique material values. It seems improbable that from nothing, from a scattering of tribes there arose one of the great ancient empires, which stretched a narrow ribbon along the eastern coast of South America for 4000 km – from the Pacific coast to a plateau in the Andes, located at 4000 meters altitude.
The Incas, who at that time knew neither the wheel, nor iron, erected gigantic buildings. They created exquisite works of art, the finest fabrics, and left a lot of gold products. They harvested crops on the mountain heights, where nature is always hostile to the tiller.
Much of the Inca heritage, like their own, was destroyed by the Spaniards. But monuments of monumental architecture were not completely destroyed. And the surviving examples of ancient architecture not only inspire admiration, but also pose a number of almost insoluble questions to researchers.
The roads of the Incas
The second Southern expedition of conquistadors led by Francisco Pizarro deep into the unexplored continent was very successful for the Spaniards. After a trek through the wild jungle in search of new prey, in early 1528 they encountered a large stone city with beautiful palaces and temples, spacious ports, with richly dressed inhabitants.
It was one of the Inca cities of Tumbes. The conquistadors were particularly struck by the wide, stone-paved roads that stretched across the well-kept fields.
The Inca roads are still used by the locals to this day.
The territory occupied by the “sons of the Sun,” as the Incas called themselves, consisted of four parts, which formed the basis of the administrative division of the state and its official name, Tauantinsuyu, meaning “four connected sides of the world.
These four provinces were linked by road systems, one to the other and all to the capital city of Cuzco. The areas serviced by the Inca roads were truly immense – about 1 million km2 , or the combined territory of what is now Peru, most of Colombia and Ecuador, almost all of Bolivia, the northern parts of Chile and the northwestern area of Argentina. Approximately 30,000 km is the total length of the Tauantinsuyu roads that have survived to this day.
The best preserved sections of the road, 6,000 km. long in six countries, were inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2014.
The main highway network of the “sons of the Sun” was made up of two dominant highways. The oldest of them was called Tupa Nyan, or the Royal Road. It began in Colombia, crossed the Andes, passed through Cusco, skirted Lake Titicaca at an altitude of almost 4,000 meters and headed deep into Chile.
In the 16th century historian Pedro Soes de Leono one can read, in particular, the following about this road: “I believe that since the beginning of mankind there has not been such an example of grandiosity as on this road, which passes through deep valleys, majestic mountains, snowy heights, over waterfalls, over rocky precipices, and over the edge of monstrous precipices.”
Another chronicler of the time wrote: “…none of the most remarkable constructions in the world, about which the ancient authors tell, was created with so much effort and expense as these roads.
The second main highway of the empire – it was used by the first groups of conquistadors to Cuzco – stretched along the coastal valleys for a distance of 4,000 kilometers. Starting at the northernmost port – the city of Tumbes, it crossed the semidesert territory of Costa and went along the Pacific Ocean coast up to Chile, where it hooked up with the Royal Road.
This highway was named Huayna Copac-Nyan in honor of the Supreme Inca, who completed its construction shortly before the conquest of the country of Tahuantinsuyu by the “enlightened Europeans.
The main highway of the Inca Empire was Tupa Nyang, connecting the north and south of the empire through the mountains and considered, until the beginning of our century, the longest highway in the world. Had it been located on the European continent, it would have crossed it from the Atlantic to Siberia. These two main highways, in turn, were linked by a network of secondary roads, of which the remains of only eleven have been found.
Most strikingly, however, the majestic highways were intended solely for pedestrians and pack-transport. The unique highways were created by the Incas, who did not know the wheel and used to transport relatively small pack animals with llamas or dragged their loads on themselves.
The only means of transportation was the hand stretcher, which only the supreme Inca, members of the royal family, as well as some nobles and officials had the right to use. Lamas, on the other hand, were intended solely for the transportation of goods.
The “kilometer zero” of all ancient Peruvian roads was located in Cuzco, the “Rome” of the Incas, in its central sacred square. This symbol of the center of the country, called Capac urno, was a stone slab on which the supreme Inca sat during the most important religious ceremonies.
Intentional damage to roads and bridges was unconditionally treated by Inca laws as an enemy action, a grave crime deserving the harshest punishment. The so-called mita, or labor duty, was unavoidable: every subject of the empire had to work 90 days a year on state construction projects, primarily in the construction of roads, streets and bridges. At that time, the state took full care of the food, clothing, and housing of the recruits, who were often forced to serve their mita far from home.
The impressive success of the Incas in road building can be explained by the pedantic, fanatical fulfillment of all duties and the skillful state mechanism. Although the roads were built with the most primitive tools, the impeccable organization of the work predetermined the “road miracle” created by the “sons of the sun. Tauantinsuyu road builders did not stop at mountain ranges, viscous swamps, and red-hot deserts, each time finding the best technical solution.
At dizzying heights near the giant peaks (at Mount Salkantai the Waina Kopak road runs at 5,150 meters above sea level) there are steep, lingering gradients. Among the swampy swamps, the ancient Peruvian engineers raised the road by pouring a dam or dike for this purpose.
In the sands of the coastal desert, the Incas bordered their roads on both sides with meter-long stone berms that protected them from sand drifts and helped the soldiers keep their lines straight. A medieval chronicle helps us learn what the Inca road looked like in the valleys:
“. on one and the other side of it ran a wall larger than a good height, and the whole space of this road was clear and lay under trees planted in a row, and from these trees on many sides their branches, full of fruit, fell on the road.”
The people who traveled on roads of empire Tauantinsuyu, could have a rest, meal and a night on located through each 25 km road stations tambo where there was an inn and warehouses with the supplies. The tambos were maintained and supplied by the people of the surrounding villages, the Ayllus.
“The Sons of the Sun could also build underground communications. Proof of this is the secret passage connecting the capital city with the fortress of Muyak-marka, a kind of military headquarters of the head of state, located in the mountains above Cuzco.
This underground winding road consisted of several passages that resembled intricate mazes. Such a complex and unusual structure was created in case of an invasion by the enemy. At the slightest threat, the rulers of Tauantinsuyu, along with the treasury, would enter the impregnable fortress unhindered, and enemies, even if they managed to penetrate the tunnel, were very likely to scatter, lose their way and hopelessly wander away. The exact route in the labyrinth was a closely guarded secret that only the supreme rulers of the Tauantinsuyu possessed.
Cult roads played a role in Inca life that corresponded to their fanatical piety. Each such ceremonial road had its own architectural uniqueness. Capacocha, the “coronation road,” led to the outskirts of Cuzco, to Mount Chuquicancha.
Two hundred carefully selected children without a single speck or mole on their bodies were taken to its summit. The prince touched the clean skin of the children several times, after which he could rule the empire. The children, after being drugged, were sacrificed to the gods.
Secret cult roads of the “sons of the sun” are interesting, such as the tunnel carved in the rocks not far from the royal baths (Tampu-Muchai) to the underground caves consecrated to the cult of the Jaguar. Along the walls of the tunnel at the time of the sacred rituals set the mummies of the famous Incas, and in the depths – sat the Supreme Inca himself on a two-meter throne carved in the monolith.
The Incas gravitated to the underground roads not only for the military and strategic reasons, but also because of the beliefs of the ancient Peruvian population. According to the legend, the first Inca, the ancestor of the great dynasty, and his wife walked from the Bolivian Lake Titicaca to the place of the future Cuzco underground.
In the area of this lake, the largest in Latin America, traces of a highly developed civilization – Tiahuanaco – have been found. In an area of 500 thousand km 2 there were about 20 thousand settlements, connected with each other by bulk roads, diverging from the capital of Tiahuanaco on agricultural district.
Aerial photography revealed roads two thousand years old. The images captured stone paths up to 10 km long, probably directed toward the main highway that encircled the lake.
These are convincing arguments to the hypothesis that the great Inca civilization did not arise from nothing and that the road builders of Tahuantinsuyu learned from their predecessors, the Moche, Paracas, Nazca, and Tiahuanaco cultures, who in turn created an excellent road network.
5 unusual mysteries of Peru
One of these mysteries can rightfully be considered the city of Machu Picchu, hidden from prying eyes at the top of the mountain. For many centuries, neither Spanish conquistadors nor other conquerors suspected about it. Only in 1911, American archaeologist Hiram Bingham found the mysterious city, lost in the Andes. Numerous stone temples, wells, terraces and “administrative” facilities suggest that the city was an important part of civilization. Its appearance from above resembles that of a condor. According to the extant information, not everyone was allowed to enter the city. Only nobility, priests, craftsmen and attendants of the cult of the Sun god Inti could enter the city.
The peculiarity of the construction of the city is the absence of any binding substance. Like the Egyptian pyramids, in Machu Picchu everything is held on the calculations verified to the millimeter and thanks to the gravity of the stone slabs. The temple building can be distinguished from the residential one by the special finishing of the stone, and the stepped terraces that served as vegetable gardens have survived almost unchanged to this day.
The City on the Rock is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, testifying to its immeasurable importance in the evolution of all mankind, and perhaps of the entire Universe…
The second Peruvian “wonder” is the city of Cuzco. It was the capital of the Inca empire and bore all the features typical of a major city: numerous dwellings, temples and palaces. But, unfortunately, the Spanish conquest changed its appearance considerably. A small part of the ancient buildings that have survived to this day is still admired! For example, located on the outskirts of the city – the fortress of Saksayhuaman. Masters built it like a construction set, combining plates of different shapes and weights. Special notches and cutouts on the weighing plates allowed the blocks to be securely joined, which gave additional stability to the construction. The stone slabs found in the old quarries, apparently, served as grinding tools, but how the builders could raise the heavy blocks to the proper height is still unexplained. Jean-Pierre Protzen, a researcher of Peruvian architecture, tried to explain this through experiments. Having mastered the technique of processing stone monoliths, the American scientist still could not explain the mechanism of lifting the plates. Perhaps the genius of the ancient architects was inextricably linked to the intervention of heavenly forces!
To the northeast of the city of Cuzco is another Peruvian curiosity: the Kenko temple complex. It consists of two parts: an amphitheater carved into the rock and a system of inner corridors that lead to the place of sacrifice. In Quechua, Cuzco means “labyrinth” because of its intricate galleries, hidden passages where the sunlight never reaches. The entrance to the temple is dominated by a boulder, on top of which a ray of sunlight falls on the summer solstice.
There is a version of the medical purpose of this place: the smoothly polished boulders look like operating tables, and found on a high pedestal bones of many frogs may speak of chemical experiments – experiments on obtaining anesthetics.
When the spirits of the ancient masons and healers have lifted the veil of their secrets a little, we can try to learn about how the Incas related to… water. They considered water to be a deity on a par with the Sun, and dedicated another stone complex – Tambomachay, popularly known as the Inca Baths. It got its name because of the intertwined system of aqueducts, wells, canals, fountains, and ritual pools. According to one version, this ancient spa complex was the resting place of the Chief and his family. However, the special ceremonial treatment of the stones testifies to the religious importance of the place. Slightly removed from the hiking trails, Tambomachay carries the peace and tranquility so needed after a long journey. A small market offers tourists a variety of souvenirs, and the natives will demonstrate, for example, how to make real yarn from alpaca wool right in front of your eyes.
The ancient Incas had a tradition to give each city in the form of an animal. But the most famous place of accumulation of giant “drawings” is the Nazca Desert. It can rightly be considered a mystery not only of Peru, but also of the world archeology as a whole! The area of the desert stretches over 500 square kilometers and is a “canvas” for hundreds of giant drawings. They are made in an amazing technique – a single line, without interruptions and intersections. Among the huge number of geometric shapes and lines, whose length sometimes reaches 8 kilometers, there are very impressive drawings of animals, people, stars, flowers and trees.
The earliest lines appeared in the desert around the 6th century BC. They are called “geoglyphs”, i.e. lines, patterns or shaped drawings drawn on the ground and visible only from a bird’s-eye view.
The purpose of these lines is still unexplained. Scientists have not been able to come to a common denominator. The most popular version is the statement of Swiss researcher Erich von Daniken that the drawings are a message to extraterrestrial civilizations. Some consider them marks for the convenience of aeronautics, something ancient civilizations may well have succeeded in. But perhaps mankind will never be able to figure it out completely.
It is understandable why illusionists find it so difficult to reveal the secrets of their mysteries, because there is nothing more boring than a solved mystery. Part with their secrets is not in a hurry and the ancient Inca civilization, leaving descendants inexhaustible material for research, debate, and possibly the Great Discoveries …