Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Pre-Inca Site of Qorickancha

The name of the ancient city of Cuzco in the native Quechua language was Aqhamama, which was changed later by the Inca to Qosqo, and then by the Spaniards to Cuzco. Long before the Inca arrived in the valley, there were temples and plazas built there by an ancient culture, with the most important ones the Temple of the Sun and the smaller Temple of the Moon.
When the Spaniards arrived, they tore down these ancient buildings and used the foundations to build their own structures. Over the area of the ancient Temple of the Sun they built a Baroque church of Santa Domingo.

Koricancha (Qorickancha), the Temple of the Sun, a Baroque church of Santa Domingo in Cuzco, pales in comparison to the fine masonry (bottom right) of an earlier people. Attributed to the Inca by unknowing historians, the fine stone curved wall is reminiscent of the stonework of Sacsayhuaman above the city built long before the Inca came to power. Beneath this Spanish Church lies the old Temple of the Sun which predates the Inca empire
Two types of construction can be seen on the Church of Santa Domingo today, first, the base that was originally built by an ancient culture, with the smooth, rounded stones reminding one of the stonework on the cliff over looking Cuzco known today as Sacsayhuaman, another structure built by an ancient culture.
The other noted stonework on the Church seen today is what was built by the Spaniards, who forced the Inca to do the building. That stonework is nowhere near as professional in appearance and purpose as the foundation and stone walls below. The original structure was called Qurikancha in Quechua, Quri Kancha, "Enclosure of Gold," and was made of polished stones and fitted perfectly. When the Inca moved into the valley, they changed the name to Inti Wasi, "Sun House" and performed numerous rituals and offerings to the sun god, which they worshiped.
Note the dark stonework in the middle of the image—work done by an ancient culture and not duplicated by the Inca work (yellowish brick) of the walls around it or the church on top of it
The Spanish called it Coricancha  (courtyard of gold), which lies now in the Old City beneath the Church of Santa Domingo, but one can still see portions of the extraordinarily crafted Temple of the Sun (Templo del Sol) wall that surrounds the base of the Spanish church. Qurikancha was the most extravagant temple built that pre-dated the Inca Empire, but the Inca used it, having some 4,000 priests and their attendants once living within its confines. Qurikancha also served as the main astronomical observatory for the pre-Incas who built it.
According to several Spanish chroniclers who came with or right after the Conquistadors, there were hundreds of gold panels lining the original temple’s interior walls, and there were life-size gold figures, solid-gold altars, and a huge golden sun disc. The sun disc reflected the sun and bathed the temple in light. During the summer solstice, the sun still shines directly into a niche where only the Inca chieftain was permitted to sit. Other temples and shrines also existed for the worship of lesser natural gods during Inca times: the moon, Venus, thunder, lightning, and rainbows. Terraces that face the Temple of the Sun were once filled with life-size gold and silver statues of plants and animals.
Much of Qurikancha's wealth was removed to pay ransom for the captive Inca Atahualpa at the time of the Spanish conquest. After murdering Atahualpa, the Spaniards looted the temple and emptied it of gold. About all that is left of the original temple are the exquisite polished stone walls that were used as the foundations of the Dominican Convent of Santa Domingo, today forming perhaps Cusco's most jarring imperial-colonial architectural juxtaposition.
The ancient chroniclers Garcilaso de la Vega and Cieza de Leon described underground tunnels and a labyrinth of passage ways that led from the Sacsayhuaman citadel high on the cliff overlooking the Cuzco Valley to the Temple of the Sun below. In fact, Garcilaso claims to have actually played in these tunnels as a boy growing up in Cuzco, where he was born to a Spanish officer and an Incan princess. Anselm Pi Rambla, a researcher, explorer and internationally recognized expert in ancient cultures, and who has worked with the Peruvian government on important endeavors relating to preserving Peru’s national cultural heritage, claims to have found tunnels that may form part of a series of galleries, chambers, fountains and ancient mausoleums, which are thought to be under the city of Cuzco. He has provided ground-penetrating radar images (see previous post) that show the possibility of a subterranean tunnel that links directly to the Temple of the Sun or Qurikancha, with the Convent of Santa Catalina or Marcahuasi, with the Cathedral or Temple of Inca Wiracocha, with the palace of Huascar, with the Temple of Manco Capac or Colcampata and with the Huamanmarca.
Whether the Peruvian government will open the tunnels they have blocked off is unknown, and whether Pi Rambla’s claims will be shown to be correct, is also unknown. However, what we do know about is the enormous structures found in Cuzco and on the cliff overlooking the valley. We can also see where actual Inca work is far inferior to the polished stonework of the original Temple of the Sun in the valley and Sacsayhuaman on the cliff.
The height of the stone walls, so intricately cut and fitted, is remarkable, and there are three such walls surround the ancient structure of Sacsayhuaman, and inside, before the Spaniards destroyed it, were buildings built of these same stones so immense it could have held over 100,000 people, with round 5-story towers looking down over the valley below, an enormous temple, and numerous other buildings across this vast area
It is also very obvious that both these ancient structures were built long before the Inca arrived in Cuzco, and though mistakenly attributed to them by modern historians, the work predated them by more than a thousand years. The area is so large, the building so vast and immense, that a single picture, even a series of pictures, cannot do it justice. Only a personal visit can impress one with what was achieved here and the importance of the area, and how well it was structured to guard against an enemy from the south.
The workmanship of carving seats in solid stone is another remarkable fete accomplished by this ancient culture and reminds one of Nephi’s words, “And I did teach my people to build buildings, and to work in all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were in great abundance. And I, Nephi, did build a temple; and I did construct it after the manner of the temple of Solomon save it were not built of so many precious things; for they were not to be found upon the land, wherefore, it could not be built like unto Solomon's temple. But the manner of the construction was like unto the temple of Solomon; and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine. And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did cause my people to be industrious, and to labor with their hands” (2 Nephi 5:15-17)

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