The Incas : Peru - The Lost Civilizations

The Incas : Peru - The Lost Civilizations

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In terms of the mythological foundations of the Inca Empire, the two key figures are Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo, who legend has it, came from Lake Titicaca. Manco Capac is a legendary Inca who appeared out of the waters of Lake Titicaca. According to legend, he carried a golden staff. The place where that staff planted itself into the earth would be the ideal location for founding his empire.

Legend has it that he set out with his sister, Mama Ocllo, and some of his people toward the land that would later become Cuzco. Having arrived at Cuzco after a few months or years, we don't know since we have no exact chronology, his golden staff planted itself in the ground, so he founded the town of Cuzco in that place. It has to be said that the Incas had real political genius because, at the high point of the Inca Empire, their territory stretched from the south of Colombia to the center of Chile. An enormous area, even by today's standards. They were able to maintain that territory without the use of written language as we know it, without horses for transport and without any form of cart.

Given that they had not yet discovered the wheel. Everything was organized through a network of foot soldiers, and you can imagine the distances. [French spoken audio] Conquests were not always won by means of combat and warfare. In fact, fighting was avoided where possible. There was a good reason for that.

For the Incas, what mattered was not only acquiring territory but also expanding their workforce. That workforce consisted of the resident population who submitted of their own accord and integrated into the empire's ranks. The Incas had a very intelligent diplomatic strategy. They constantly offered their neighbors opportunities to join the empire, either by accepting proposals of marriage between local princes or chiefs and noble women from the Inca Empire or by offering them gifts of desirable goods such as cloth, cereals, potatoes and, of course, cocoa. [French spoken audio] They also offered them a high level of security because once a people became a part of the Inca hegemony, they were protected by the Incas. The stone architecture was already present during the Wally period, which preceded that of the Incas in the form of large stone buildings.

The Incas developed their own techniques, creating bossage walls, where the stones are selected to fit into one another so perfectly that there was no space for a razor blade to slide between them. The only element which contrasted with the beauty of the walls was the straw roof because they hadn't developed techniques for building arches to complete the roof. The stones were extracted from quarries. They were dragged or rolled on wooden beams to transport them to the construction site. Then placed onto earthen platforms, laid out on a slight slope, and they were either dragged or rolled into place.

It needed an enormous amount of manpower, but it was perfectly doable. The terraces were occasionally used for agricultural purposes, but more often for the cultivation of the ceremonial corn to make chicha, the ceremonial beer, which was distributed on festive occasions as a symbol of Inca power. In these rainy areas where the mountainsides are very steep, unless you flatten the land into terraces, all the good soil is washed away to the bottom of the valley by the rainwater. It was this system of colonization of the agricultural landscape that enabled the Incas to use the land. As for Machu Picchu, for many years, was thought to be a mountain stronghold designed to protect access to the Urubamba Valley from rebel tribes who lived down in the Amazon basin. [French spoken audio] The idea was to prevent enemies gaining access to the town of Cuzco.

Today, we know this was not the case because the Incas were already in control of these populations. The other apparent incoherence in the case of Machu Picchu is that they thought it was a citadel. If it'd been a citadel, there would be garrisons protecting it, and we haven't found any. When you look at the size of Machu Picchu and calculate the number of people who could have lived there, they can have been over 300, 500 maximum. That's a long way off the estimate that was made a few years ago of 3,000 to 4,000 people.

Today, many of the conceptions we had have changed. We've understood that sites at high altitudes were sacred. That they had a role in the rituals of mountain worship and, in specific, earth cults, and that Machu Picchu's function was similar to that of a modern-day palace, like a summer palace.

Who lived there? Obviously, the Inca lived here when he came from time to time for special occasions and to preside at ceremonies. There were priests who would've taken care of the organization of the ceremonies. Then there were servants, the yanas, who were in the service of the Incas and worked for them. [French spoken audio] There were only a few people, and this helps explain the type of architecture, which, though was local and rustic, was still designed to conform with the aesthetic and architectural norms of the ruling elite, so we know that the ruling elite was present.

The Incas wouldn't settle just anywhere. They would only live in places where they could be in contact with their divinities and in communication with their ancestors. They believed their ancestors lived at the top of the mountains.

When we look at the example of the Vilcabamba Cordillera, the site of Machu Picchu is surrounded by massive peaks, snow-topped mountains and glaciers, where the ancestors were thought to reside and which were also the projected image of certain constellations. They were protected by these constellations and also by the mountains. All the buildings at Machu Picchu were oriented towards specific peaks and mountains. It represents the central square of Cuzco. The starting point of the four roads. The Arcopata is also where the Incas came together on special occasions to worship the Inca or to listen to him speak.

Although there were many other monuments, one other was of particular importance. It was known as Inti Wata. It's a miniature replica of the larger mountain opposite called Huayna Picchu.

It's an exact copy of the peak standing on a platform. It is believed that during certain ceremonies the structure was used as a sundial. Another sacred place, the Sun Temple, is the only circular building in the town. This tower might have been used to study the stars. Underneath is a natural cave, which was probably a royal tomb. It contains an altar in the form of a staircase and several beautifully carved sacred niches.

The Incas were certainly the world's greatest experts in Lithic architecture. In ritual terms, the emperor himself was the representative of the sun, Inti. He presented himself as such, and at the same time, all golden objects thought to come directly from the sun, also came from the Inca himself. He was linked to his sister-wife who emanated from the moon. In every province, there was an Inca governor who ruled over all four regions, the four suyus.

In each suyu or in each major city, there was also an official representative. This official delegate of the Inca would, in turn, command a series of local lords whose lands were subdivided into administrative districts. It was a sort of grid system in which everyone had their place. Paying tribute was obligatory.

They made no exceptions. Every year an inspector would visit each province to collect the tribute. A bit like our tax inspectors, they had long knotted cords, which were known as quipus.

Each knotted cord was organized into a decimal system. A bit like the Chinese abacus. The system worked on much the same principle. They had designed a combination of knots, twisted fibers and colors from which they could decipher a wide range of numerical information.

It was based on a system of units, tenths, hundreds, thousands, etcetera. It was used to record information about a population distribution within a territory or a part of a territory. Other information, such as the amount of produce that could be stored in the state storehouses known as colcas, as well as a number of other numerical records, were also kept using these knotted cords.

Most of the tribute was paid in manual labor. It could be in goods, bags of cocoa, for example, but mostly in labor. A number of tributaries were sent to Cuzco to participate in major construction projects, join the army, build roads, and generally contribute to the upkeep of the state. In terms of administration, the Inca organization was perfect. We know that the Incas had a certain number of private residences their palaces or royal estates.

There's the site of Pisac in the Sacred Valley, which was a palace and a ceremonial center divided into several areas, including a citadel in the northern section. The sacred part with the Sun Temple. This is where we find the Intihuatana, the mounted stone, with its midline oriented towards the sun.

All around, there are meeting places known as kayankas. These were large buildings where crowds gathered when the Inca came or when the governor organized official festivities. One characteristic feature of Pisac is its many terraces, most of which are ceremonial terraces. The terraces are often connected to the production of corn. The corn was reserved for the production of chichas used for the libations, drunk at important celebrations.

The chichas libations were offered by the Inca as a testament to his power. All of these terraces, and yet they were not used to grow foodstuffs such as potatoes and neither did they contribute to feeding the population. The cultivated land was, in principle, divided into three types. One part was for the Inca or for his representatives, for example, the political elite. One part was designated for the cults, and one part was left to the community.

Their territory consisted of a whole series of microclimates from an altitude of 5,000 meters down to warm tropical climates. It's interesting that they had defined three large geographical regions with different production methods, different territories and different eco-zones. Ever since ancient times, long before the Incas, the resident populations had been making use of these eco-zones. With the colonial system and the dispatching of colonialists into the different regions, they were able to gain access to a wide range of produce, most of it which would be donated by local leaders as tribute.

What did they cultivate in the Altiplano? Lots of potatoes. There were about 440 different types of potatoes. Potatoes are useful because they can provide nourishment for larger numbers of people.

[French spoken audio] Obviously, there was corn that grows in the warmer valleys, like Qukay and Pisac in the sheltered valleys. Corn was very important because it was the basic ingredient for the famous corn beer, which was used for the libations to the sun and to the Inca. There was also cocoa. I don't classify it as a foodstuff.

because the cocoa, which grew in the warmer regions, was in high demand as a divinatory and medicinal plant. It was used to treat a range of aches and fatigue. Two kilometers from Cuzco, the ruins of a massive military camp, the largest in the area, housing up to 5000 warriors.

Sacsayhuamán means satisfied Falcon in Quechua. The ninth Inca, Pachacutec, who envisioned Cuzco in the shape of a puma, built Sacsayhuamán as the animals head with the 22 zig-zag walls representing its teeth. What techniques they used to transport and build such enormous structures is still a mystery to us. Bear in mind that they hadn't yet discovered the wheel. Three towers once rose above the walls, but today only the foundations remain.

One of the last battles of the Spanish conquest took place here. and it is remembered particularly for the heroic story of the Inca Kahawid. When the Spanish were attacking the tower where he had retreated with his men, he threw himself to his death from the tower rather than give himself up.

There were many languages within the Inca Empire. The most important were the different varieties of Quechua. [French spoken audio] One of the strengths of the Inca regime was that they created a general language, the lingua generale, which was used to communicate between distant communities. It was the lingua generale that was conserved because the missionaries learned it and passed on by them.

It became the common language for a large portion of the South American continent. Moray, a circular terrain, which we think was probably used as an agronomical observatory. There were different crops associated with different eco-zones because the terrain covered several ecological zones.

The terraces of Moray cut into this deep amphitheater are an incredible site. This archaeological site is made up of concentric terraces rising over different levels, all cut into a huge clay basin. Each level appears to have a unique microclimate, with the layers descending over a depth of 150 meters. The different levels are accessible via an ingenious system of steps integrated into the walls themselves and irrigation canals carry water from one level to the next through gullies dug through the stones.

The differences in temperature and humidity between each layer enabled them to test plant growth according to climate and altitude. When it came to communication, the Incas took on a massive communication network that existed prior to their arrival. They developed it even further. They maintained and extended the roads that had been built by the Walis.

These roads have been compared to Roman roads. The Spanish who've used them even noted that they were of considerably better quality. They had an information system which was very advanced for its time. A system known as Chasquis, the messenger system.

These roads were used by people who were running on foot. You can imagine what that meant. They ran relatively short distances, and they relayed one another.

In just one day, from relay to relay, they could obtain information from people living on the coast. The Incas, unlike other cultures that we find in Europe, had not yet discovered the wheel, nor did they make use of animal labor. The only pack animal native to the Andes is the llama. All the transportation, of both material goods and people, was done using caravans of llamas. The Spanish described caravans of 3,000 and even 3,500 to 4000 animals.

That means you could watch one-and-a-half to a two-hour procession of llamas. These llamas belonged to different communities who'd offer their animals to the Inca for use in the transport of all products. You have to bear in mind that Europeans arriving by boat in Panama would travel for up to a year before they reached Peru. We are talking about a period in history where time traveled more slowly, and so in some ways people could do what they wanted. At Maras, we find an impressive number of salt ponds.

These are community terraces that today are run by a local cooperative. The salt comes from a small saltwater source. The site has been in use since pre-Inca times, apparently, as far back as the so-called early intermediate period. They realized that when they poured the salt water over the terraces and left it to evaporate all day under the hot sun, a layer of salt was left on the ground.

The Incas took advantage of this system to obtain salt. Salt was essential both for ritual and daily life. For example, during certain festivals, people abstained from salt, and in others, salt was used to ward off evil spirits. They also used salt for washing. Salt had a fundamental role, and since it was a basic foodstuff, the community farmed it. Cuzco is located in a very prosperous region.

It is close to the famous Sacred Valley, the Valley of Yucay, which is an extremely beautiful area. Progressively, Cuzco was established as the capital of the Inca Empire. It was here that the four major routes started and then gradually branched out. They delimited the four main territories, which together made up Tawantinsuyu, meaning the four-part empire with the northern, southern, eastern and western zones.

Who lived at Cuzco? Essentially, Cuzco was inhabited by the chiefs, the ruling elite's members. Each conquered population would have representatives living in or near the city of Cuzco. It was a sort of centralization of power. Cuzco means the navel of the world, which gives us a good idea of how they conceived of the city as the very heart of the empire. One other element reinforced this sense of center. In the center of Cuzco was the Sun Temple, known as the Qorikancha.

Qori means gold in Quechua. The sun is the ancestor of the Incas, or at least, so they claimed. In the Sun Temple, they stored the Inca mummies, the ancestors of the Incas. There were also other astrological symbols as well as a series of objects generally found in gardens, which were golden replicas of animals and plants. Today, only the basic outlines remain of what was once the most luxurious temple of the Inca Empire. In its day, the walls of Qorikancha were covered with 700 gold leaves, each weighing almost two kilos.

We can still admire this stellar plaque made of solid gold showing Mother Earth and the Incas. Only four rooms of the ancient temple still exist. The walls built on a slight angle are made with perfectly fitted stone blocks. The trapezoid doors and niches are typical of the Pachacutec Inca architecture. We believe that the two larger rooms were the temples of the moon and the Venus and Pleiades. Their walls would've been covered in silver.

The two smaller rooms were probably dedicated to worshipping rainbows and lightning. Before entering the temple, people would fast. They came barefoot carrying a weight on their back as a sign of humility. The most important ceremonies of the Inca sovereigns took place in the Sun Temple, weddings, coronations, and funerals. This was where the mummies were conserved. Sala golden thrones.

Everything here was covered with the precious yellow metal, symbol of the sun. Even the famous internal gardens contained golden sheaths of corn and fruits. We know that the site at Ollantaytambo was an Incan palace and a ceremonial center, because above the Inca Temple, there's a Sun Temple. It was obviously never quite finished. These stones are unique to this site, and they have elements which look almost like porphyry. In fact, it's not porphyry, it's a perfectly polished rock, which must have been difficult to transport all the way here.

There's a whole system of terraces and strongholds around the city for protection, but all the central area is ceremonial and the lower parts too, because the irrigation network we find here suggests that these are ritual terraces used to grow corn for libations rather than for agricultural purposes. In the lower part, we find the cajanka, one of the large buildings with many wide open doorways, that were used by the Inca and his armies to hold important meetings or for festive gatherings. In the Andes, textiles were like a language to themselves. Unlike in the Mesoamerican cultures of Central America, where we find dated steels, in the Andes, there was no written script.

The equivalent of writing was textile, a whole different type of language. The way the threads were laid out, the warp threads in relation to the weft in a textile could represent special configurations. That means when the weave is laid out on the floor, the weaver conceives of the pattern in three dimensions, as he would today. Records show that in Pachacutec, the Incas gave a textile to one of the ambassadors from the Qullasuyu region. The textile was in the form of a map showing a part of the territory. It's important because in some ways, these are the precursors to the road maps which we use to get around today.

Tambomachay, as its name suggests, is a relay post. The road from Cuzco to Sacred Valley is dotted with different sites. Some were temporary residences, others were tambos, buildings which were used by the armies. They would've served both as meeting places and as resting spots for the army. This was the case at Tambomachay.

Not far from Tambomachay, there was a ceremonial temple and a natural water source. The name is often translated as the House of the Virgins. The site is the center of a large irrigation network with a sacred fountain, as well as a number of monuments reserved solely for women. In general, an Inca who went to the site would not have been allowed entry because it was a sort of monastery reserved solely for women. Inca gold, we often hear talk of it, but we see very little evidence of it because almost all of the Inca gold was seized by the Spanish, and most of the objects and gold were quite simply melted down, whether they were works of art, tableware, or ornaments. The Spanish melted it down because for them, it had no aesthetic value, nor did it have symbolic power, so they had no reason to respect the objects.

They simply wanted to obtain gold bullion and pieces of gold. What's interesting is that the majority of the goldsmiths that worked for the Incas were not actually Incas themselves. They came from the north of Peru, from the famous kingdom of Chimu.

The Incas took the goldsmiths from Chimu and transported them to Cuzco so that their skills would be put to the service of the Inca Empire rather than the Chimu kings. It's a fortified stronghold, an army control point. The remaining traces are sufficient to give us an idea of where the forts stood and how they controlled the access to the Sacred Valley on the other side in Pisac. Amongst the relics found in the excavations of the Little Red Fortress, so-called because of the pink color of its stones, were a number of fragments of red ceramic. Opinions about them vary, one can but imagine. The mummies are treated, but they don't look like the Egyptian mummies who were embalmed and placed within a sarcophagus.

Here, they were dried and then covered with the most valuable pieces of cloth. The mummies were equipped with their belongings. They had servants and women, a full courtly following. They were venerated and carried in possessions. An official from each clan would bring out the Mummy, which was carried with full pomp and pride in and around the square of Cuzco to be worshipped. We're essentially talking about the descendants of the Inca and members of the elite because common people were not allowed access to this sacred area.

They ate. They would sit the mummies on a sort of throne and offer them corn beer and other delicacies. To an extent, they were seen to be alive.

Once the Inca mummies had their fill of all the energy that they could receive in the form of offerings, then they would return to their residence where they were preserved in this way indefinitely. Like other Andean societies, they did practice human sacrifice. The Mochicas, for example, sacrificed human beings, as did the Chimu. It was once thought that the Incas didn't, but that was probably because of Garcilaso de la Vega, who tried to present them as a very cultivated rational people. Even so, there were sacrifices.

They're are even mentioned in 16th-century sources. They were different from the ancient Mexican peoples, the Mayas or the Aztecs, because they tended to sacrifice mostly children or young people and only on specific occasions, special events like the birth of an heir and weddings. A variety of different occasions which were of general interest. Each community was asked to give up the most beautiful child.

As a general rule, the victims were the most beautiful. These children were treated with great consideration and were sacrificed in the mountains. That is where they were discovered in the 20th century, using new methods of archaeological research. It was right in the summits, in the glaciers, that we found the remains of children. This discovery corresponded to the 16th-century records we had. In Chinchero, the market square is surrounded by a massive Inca wall decorated with ten trapezoid niches.

With its ancient temple and palace, the town of Chinchero protected the entrance to the Sacred Valley. Here, we get a clear sense of the sacred nature of the Inca constructions and even of the terraces, some of which are still cultivated today. Chinchero is another palace.

It too was a temporary residence with a whole series of ceremonial terraces which spread out behind it over different levels. On two of the levels, we find these miniature models of the mountains that you can see on the horizon, which are characteristic elements of Inca rituals. They were like little reproductions. It appears that the Incas considered the mountains to be sacred and they drank libations while standing on these models because they could not access the mountains themselves. The Spanish arrived at a time when a civil war was being fought by two Inca brothers. The North was under the control of Atahualpa and the South, including the town of Cuzco was controlled by Huascar.

They were half brothers, but they aimed to kill each other. At the moment of the Spanish arrival, Atahualpa had won a great victory and had had his brother killed. He also put to death all the families of his brother's allies in Cuzco, a group of several hundred people. We know, for example, that the mummies of Pachacutec and Tupaq Yupanqui were burned at that time, despite their being the founders of the Inca Empire.

Only Atahualpa remained, and he was the Inca of the North and vitally of the town of Cuzco, which he had helped to found. He was controlling a huge territory containing a large number of rebellious areas which the Inca struggled to bring under control. It came to a point where it was impossible.

If you have an empire that extends over 3,000 kilometers from north to south, it's impossible to send an army to a location 2,000 kilometers away because the only transport is by foot and it would take several months. Then if a second rebellion breaks out in the south, you need another army, but there are no longer enough men. Pizarro and his men arrived just at that moment and marched up to Cajamarca. The situation worked in favor of the conquest, as did the fact that many of the people who had been subjected to Inca rule seized this opportunity for change. Much has been said in favor of the Incas, but they were nonetheless an important and military people. For those who had been subordinated, the arrival of the Spanish was an irresistible opportunity to be finally rid of Atahualpa.

When the Spanish arrived, they quickly understood that an empire like this, with its pyramid-shaped political structure and sole sovereign leader, cannot survive once that leader figure has been removed. [French spoken audio] That's exactly what Pizarro did. He took several years to carry out his explorations. Then in 1532, he landed on the Peruvian coast in northern Peru. He swiftly set out on the route of the Sierra, heading for Cajamarca, where he met the Inca and his troops.

When Atahualpa was captured, he knew that the Spanish wanted gold, so he offered to buy his freedom by filling the room in which he was kept with gold. He offered a ransom payment, which was a common system in Europe at the time. Atahualpa made the offer, but Pizarro knew very well that if he was to let Atahualpa go, the Inca would recover all his former power, and then the Spanish would be left in a very poor position. He knew that they would be hard pressed to capture the Inca a second time.

Pizarro sentenced him to trial, accusing the Inca of having misused the Bible by throwing it on the ground and assassinating his half-brother, Huescar. He was charged with murder and put to death. He was executed for his actions, which, though perfectly normal within his own culture were, of course, swiftly condemned by Spanish law.

As of that moment, the Spanish used Incas as puppet rulers. They were the legitimate successors of the emperor that they had removed from power and executed, manipulated by the Spanish to facilitate their conquest of the empire. [French spoken audio] It worked very well. Pizarro had a number of brothers.

The only legitimate one was the man who went to Pachacamac, Hernando. Then there was a bastard called Gonzalo, who rose up against the Spanish throne. There was another known as Pizarro del Bueno.

According to the records, he was killed at Plaza de Armas. Lastly, there was Martin de Alcantara, who was Francisco's half-brother on his mother's side. Then came his cousins, connected by a complicated network of relations.

Diego de Almagro, who also features in the conquest of Peru, is an unusual character. He was quite independent. At first, he was connected to the Pizarro clan, but later he wanted to distance himself from his allies. In order to understand Pizarro and Almagro and the terrible reputations of the conquistadors whose behavior is widely disapproved of today, we have to understand that in Europe at that time looting and plundering were widespread. [French spoken audio] These men took more because there was so much more to be had. They were no worse than many others.

There was a sort of patronage at the end of the middle ages whereby a leader was expected to provide for his army. The more he pillaged, the richer he became and the larger his army, so the demands of his generosity grew and so on. We see that their approach was very different from ours.

A number of civil wars broke out amongst them for various reasons: ambition, loot and precedence. The crown put a stop to it all. At first, they sent in a viceroy who was executed. Then other civil servants arrived who managed to stop the bloodshed and punished the conquistadors. Things ended very badly for them in the end, but in reality it was they, though it seems strange to say this, who in this brutal military context were the first to start mixing the races because many of them had mixed-race children. It's impossible to change history, but if Pizarro had arrived many years earlier under Huayna Capac, things might've been very different because the empire was more stable at the time.

Or it might be that much like the Romans, the Inca civilization would have collapsed and other smaller civilizations would have emerged. This would have been typical of the pattern that emerged throughout the history of the Andes.

2023-03-08 20:48

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