Inca Civilization...
Greatest empire in pre-Columbian America

Inca civilization
Inca Civilization

Inca civilization's exact origins are unknown.
However, by year 1500, Tawantinsuyu - Inca Empire - was the largest and richest in pre-Columbian America.

Even though short lived - just shy of one hundred years - by the time of their surrender, Incas (Inkas) controlled an estimated population of twelve million people spread over 2,500 miles (4,000 km.) along the western coast of America, on the Andean range.

In fact, between circa 1428 and 1525 the Inca civilization expanded through Peru, Ecuador, and as far as the Ancasmayo river in Colombia, to the North, and Maule river - in Chile - to the south, including Northeastern Argentina.

Tawantinsuyo comes from Quechua language and means "Land of four Quarters". It's composed by "Tawantin", group of four, and "Suyu", region or province.

The four quarters of Inca civilization were...

  • Chinchaysuyo, to the North
  • Collasuyo, to the South
  • Antisuyo, to the East
  • Condesuyo, to the West

"The greatest and most splendid building erected to show the power and majesty of the Incas was the fortress of Cuzco...those who have seen it...imagine, and even believe, that it was made by enchantment, the handiwork of demons rather than of men".

Garcilaso de la Vega (1501 - 1536)

At its epicenter, was the city of Cuzco - the navel of the world, by Inca's cosmogony.

According to legend, Apu Inti (Sun God) ordered his children, Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo, to emerge from the depths of Lake Titicaca and found the city of Cuzco.

Inca's religion was based on sun worship- Apu Inti, the sun god.

Inca emperors were considered descendants of Apu Inti and worshiped as such.
They were the supreme rulers of Inca civilization together with their wives- Collas.
They also worshiped the Earth goddess- Pachamama.

The heart of Cuzco and of the Inca civilization was Coricancha - temple of the Sun.
Spanish built church of Santo Domingo over the ruins of Coricancha.
Some of its original walls were exposed due to an earthquake, in 1950.

Apart from the spiritual navel of the empire, Coricancha was an observatory of solstices, eclipses and equinoxes.
The biggest, most spectacular festivity carried out in Inca times was Inti Raymi (Sun festivity), to worship Apu Inti.

It was held at Cuzco's main plaza every year on June 21st., the winter solstice of the Southern Hemisphere.
Today it's recreated in Sacsayhuaman with about 200 actors.

To the north of Cuzco lies the fortress city of Sacsayhuaman, where the Incas were finally defeated.

Cuzco wall. Peru
Cuzco wall - © Mylene D'Auriol

Inca civilization left a superb legacy characterized by remarkable Engineering and stone building techniques.
Sacsayhuaman fortress-among other- shows massive blocks of stone, weighting up to several dozen tons each, that were put together with incredible precision.

They have built an amazing system of roads - over 14,000 miles - some of them still in use.
Roads were paved with flat stones, with stone walls to prevent travelers to fell off cliffs.
Every few kilometers, rest houses were built, for them to rest, cool their meals and feed their llamas.

Incas didn't have horses or wheels.
Alpacas and llamas were herded to carry goods, and to make their garments. The finest quality wool came from vicuña, they were set free after sheared.

Tawantinsuyo map
Tawantinsuyo Map

Their communication system was based on chasquis.
Chasquis were runners, trained from an early age, that would pass messages to the exact meaning over and over again, until the final destination was reached.

The secret of Inca wealth was based on the mita.

Mita worked on the assumption that every family needs about 65 days a year to farm for their needs, the rest of time was devoted to the Empire needs: building bridges, temples, roads, terraces and so on.

They worked the land cooperatively - organized in ayllus, clans of families who lived together supervised by a curaca or chief.
Potatoes and maize (corn) was in the core of their existence.

They grew over 20 varieties of corn and 240 varieties of potatoes. Even made chicha, a fermented corn-based drink.

They also mined for gold and silver, which ultimately brought the empire to an end, as Spaniards were eager to become rich for themselves and the Crown.

The collapse of Inca civilization came with Francisco Pizarro in 1532.
Inca emperor Atahualpa was kidnapped and killed after paying a huge ransom, and Pizarro with a group of mercenaries moved to Cuzco in search of more gold and power.

What killed the Incas wasn't much warfare in itself, even though they didn't have guns or cannons, but rampant disease that Spaniards brought along.
Spaniards brought Smallpox - among other diseases - the single most devastating loss of life int the New World Indian cultures, from Mexico all the way to the south.

Fortunately, they have never discovered Machu Picchu - Yale Professor Hiram Bingham did it, in 1911 - and thus, the lost city of the Incas remains with us forever as a magnificent jewel of Inca civilization...


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