Cusco, Crossroads of the Incan Empire

This morning, Palm Sunday, we awoke in our luxurious surroundings at the Belmond Monasterio, where we had a lovely breakfast overlooking the courtyard of the monastery. We left to tour the Plaza de Armas, which is the central plaza in Cusco, surrounded by fabulous Colonial-era buildings, including the Cathedral of St. Francis, which is a perfect Baroque building.  It’s bells were ringing constantly in honor of Palm Sunday.

Cusco 1

Cusco 2

Cusco 3

We met our bus at the plaza and rode to the outskirts of Cusco which is built around a bowl. We then visited another Incan ruin called Saqsaywaman, which was a giant Temple of the Sun and Moon site, and probably pre-existed the Incan empire. The intricacy of the stone work and engineering was amazing, particularly given the absolutely immense sizes of the stones they used!

Saqsaywaman 1

Sacaywamba

Sacaywamba

Sacaywamba

Saqsaywaman 5

Saqsaywaman 6

Our next stop was the weavers’ cooperative at  Awana Kancha. This was a really fun stop (not just for the shopping opportunities), because we got to see and feed alpacas, llamas, vicuñas, and they also raised guanacos. Then we got to see the collective members demonstrating all the steps in preparing and weaving the wool. They also had some fantastic and unique woven pieces for sale.

Awanakancha 1

Awanakancha 2

Awanakancha 3

Awanakancha 4

Awanakancha 5

Awanakancha 6

Awanakancha 7

Awanakancha 8

Awanakancha 9

Awanakancha 10

Awanakancha 11

Awanakancha 12

Awanakancha 13 Awanakancha 14

Awanakancha 15

We returned to town and proceeded to the Cathedral of St. Francis, now that it had emptied of the Palm Sunday crowds.  The glitter inside this church is gob-smacking, because almost every surface had been covered with gold and silver, entirely looted from the Incans. The thing I found most interesting about the church was that the priests had employed Incan artists to do most of the carvings and pairings in the church. Although they had nominally been “converted”, their artwork displayed that they were still following the Incan faith, as the images, particularly of the saints and madonnas showed Incan motifs. The best example of this was a painting of the Last Supper where the main platter showed not the traditional loaf of bread, but instead, what was clearly a roasted guinea pig!

Guinea Pig Last Supper

Jim and I wandered around the town a little more, and shared a glass of wine in a pub overlooking the plaza.  We finished the day by sharing a terrific meal at a fantastic restaurant called Chi Cha, which is one of the restaurants operated by the famous chef Gaston of the great Peruvian restaurants called Astrid y Gaston. Our friends, Scott and Liz, joined us for this adventure.

Tomorrow, we leave early for Quayaquil, where we’ll have a brief overnight before leaving for the Galápagos, which will be our next post.

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