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Cusco HighlandsCusco is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the Western Hemisphere and was the capital of the Incas. It has a population of over 400,000 people, many of whom live in the highlands surrounding the city center. At over 11,000 ft, altitude sickness is a common problem for tourists visiting the area. By the time we arrived in Cusco, we had somewhat adjusted to the altitude after visiting the Urumbamba Valley and Machu Picchu which were only at 7-9000 ft above sea level. Also, it was suggested we drink coca tea or suck on coca candies or the coca leaves. Coca leaves comes from the same plant that produces cocaine. It did seem to help as only a few of our group developed altitude problems. Hotel MonasterioWe stayed at the Monasterio Hotel which was built in 1592 as a seminary to train Catholic priests. It was turned into a hotel in 1965 and is run by the Orient Express. Unfortunately, the very beautiful chapel was closed to visitors due to a seminary meeting. The Monasterio offers piped in oxygen to the rooms and some of our group said it helped them sleep. I guess we are more accustomed to the thinner air as we live at 8,000 ft in Colorado.

Fields in Cusco HighlandsThe main occupation in Cusco is copper mining and agriculture. In the highlands the main crop is potatoes and fava beans. They grow over 300 varieties of potatoes. Guinea pigs are raised on the farms to provide fertilizer for the fields as well as for food (it is on the menu in restaurants). Land is often communal and families get parcels at various altitudes. Bulls are used for plowing the fields. Stairways lead from the city up the hills to the suburbs. The houses are adobe with tile roofs.Andean woman and children Obviously, the people living in Cusco are very fit.



Street in Downtown CuscoThe city of Cusco is a fascinating mix of Inca and colonial Spanish architecture. Almost every central street has remains of Inca walls, arches and doorways. And the perfect Inca stonework now serves as the foundations for more modern dwellings. The heart of the city, as in Inca days, is the Plaza de Armas. Around it are colonial arcades and four churches.


Cusco CathedralWe visited the main cathedral which is actually 3 churches in one. The main church in the center was built in the 17th century, while the 2 churches on either side were built in the 18th century. All are very ornate and contain over 400 paintings done by local artists. The natives copied the paintings of the Italian masters but added some Inca details to them. Inca Last SupperFor example, the Last Supper, as seen on this postcard of the painting, has a guinea pig in the center of the table (a main course at Inca feasts) and Pizzaro (the conquerer and betrayer of the Incas) has replaced Judas at the right end of the table. Angels are often painted with feathers out of their heads. The choir has full carvings of all the male saints on the seats, with busts of the female saints above them and on the arms, naked women in a position for delivering babies. Mirrors, a holy Inca symbol, can be found on the walls, even though they were not allowed by the Catholic Church. These Inca insertions were allowed by the Spanish in order to appease them and get them to go to the Catholic Church.


SacsayhuiamanJust outside the city of Cusco is the Inca fortress of Sacsayhuaman. This was an Incan place of worship. The limestone walls at this fortress are hugely impressive; the masive rocks weigh up to 130 tons and are fitted together with absolute perfection.Huge rock at Sacsayhuaman The zig zag walls were built to offer earthquake protection. After the Spanish conquered the Incas, they pillaged the stones from the fortress down to Cusco to reuse for their buildings. Silver and gold idols were melted down and made into coins by the conquering Spanish Catholics. During recent excavations at the site, a mummy was found.

Santo Domingo MonasteryWe visited the Santo Domingo Monastery, built in the 17th century on top of the walls of the Inca Koricancha Temple of the Sun and from its stones.Curved Walls of KoricanchaBeneath one of its cloisters, workers unearthed four of the temple's original Inca chambers as well as the baths. The walls of this most sacred Inca sanctuary were stripped of gold by Francisco Pizarro's men in 1534, its gold artifacts melted down and shipped to Spain.






To view additional photos from the Cusco area, go to Cusco Photo Gallery.




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