Saxsayhuaman, the greatest monument of the Incas, still stands, in part, above Cuzco in the Parque Arqueológico de Sacsayhuamán. Saxsayhuaman, also spelled Saqsayhuaman, Sacsahuamán and Sacsayhuaman. Saxsayhuaman consists of a terraced pyramidal form, other terracing, stone sculpting, and other ancient constructs, but is typically thought of as the megalithic zig-zag walls forming the platform mound on the plaza side. The stone resources on the Cuzco side of the monument were mined to build colonial Cuzco. A stone tower foundation remains atop the mound. The images are followed by some ethnohistorical information about the site. Each photo is a link to a larger version of the same photograph. The background image derives from Squier.
View of the terraces of the Saxsayhuaman pyramid from the plaza. The opposite side faces the city and was robbed of stones for construction of the cathedral and numerous other buildings.
Close up view of the cyclopean polygonal masonry of the lower terrace on the plaza side of Saxsayhuaman.
|The terraced pyramid mound is over 1000 feet long and was the supreme monument of the Inca civilization. The views above show only a small part of the walls on one side. Mit'a service required all males to contribute time to state projects. Roads, irrigation systems, terracing and great monuments like Saxsayhuaman were constructed under the mit'a system. The Incan tradition of fine masonry may have originated in the Lake Titicaca basin area. The Incas advanced stone masonry architecture beyond the works of their predecessors.|
The largest Inca polygonal masonry block forms the corner of the saw-tooth wall of the lower terrace and weigh in at over 120 metric tons, by the most conservative estimate, 360 tons liberal estimate. Height is over 27 feet.
Stock Photography by James Q. Jacobs
|The Pope, Simón Bolivar and numerous historic
figures have visited Saxsayhuaman.
After his capture in Vilcabamba in 1572 the last Inca, Tupac Amaru, was incarcerated in Saxsayhuaman.
The revolutionary leader Tupac Amaru II (José Gabriel Tupac Amaru) addressed his ultimatum for the Bishop of Cuzco to surrender the city from the hilltop ruin.
Today the monument is used to present the pageant recreation of the religious portion of the prehistoric Festival of the Sun called Inti Raimi. The event occurs every year on the Winter Solstice.
Every day tourists from the world over admire the remarkable Incan masonry of what remains of the monument today, the megaliths too large for the Spaniards to mine them for their building projects in the city below.
Right. Saxsayhuaman aerial image. I was surprised to see the oval form of the Rodadero monument, near the top in this photo, on the hill overlooking the Saxsayhuaman mound. Juan Santa Cruz's colonial era drawing represented an ovoid golden image of Viracocha in the Coricancha shrine in Cuzco.
|One of the chroniclers
who knew and wrote about Saxsayhuaman was Garcilaso de la Vega. He was
born on April 12, 1539, in Cuzco, Perú, the illegitimate son of
Spaniard Sebastian Garcilaso de la Vega, and an Incan princess. Garcilaso
de la Vega wrote La Florida del Inca, the account of Hernando de
Soto's expeditions north of Mexico, and Comentarios Reales de Los Incas.
Garcilaso de la Vega reported that he personally knew that Saxsayhuaman had three towers. Excavations in 1934 demonstrated the veracity and reliability of the chronicler's account. He pointed out that the Spanish called Saxsayhuaman a fortress and that in actuality it was a Royal House of the Sun. He wrote, "la fortaleza era casa del sol" ("the fortress was a House of the sun") and "los de otros naciones no podían entrar la fortaleza, porque era casa del sol" ("those of other nations were not able to enter the fortress, because it was a house of the sun").
Inca Garcilaso de la Vega wrote the following:
|"La obra mayor y más soberbia que mandaron hacer
para mostrar su poder y majestad fue la fortaleza del Cuzco, cuyas grandezas
son increibles a los que no las haya visto, y a que las ha visto y mirado
con atención le hacen imaginar y aun creer que son hechas por vía
de encantamiento y que las hicieron demonios y no hombres, porque la multitude
de piedras tantas y tan grandes, como las que hay puestas en las tres
cercas (que más son peñas que piedras), causa admiración
imaginar cómo las pudieron cortar de las canteras de donde se sacaron...
"...muchas de ellas están tan ajustas que apenas se aparece la juntura, y pensar cómo pudieron ajustar tanto unas piedras tan grandes que apenas se puede meter la punta de un cuchillo por ellas..."
|"The largest and most magnificent work which they ordered
built to demonstrate their power and majesty was the fortress of Cuzco,
the magnitude of which is incredible to those who have not seen it, and
those who have seen and looked with attention it makes them imagine and
even believe that it its greatness is made by way of enchantment and was
made by devils and not men, because the multitude of so many stones of
such great size, such as those placed in three terraces (which are more so
than stones), cause admiration in imagining how they could be cut from the
quarries from which they were taken...
"...many of them are so fitted that the joint hardly shows, and to think how they could fit stones so immense so well that you can scarcely insert the point of a knife between them..."
Pedro de Cieza de Leon referred to a Royal House of the Sun to the north of Cuzco, undoubtable Saxsayhuaman, built by Pachacutec. According to chronicler Diego Esquival y Navia, writing in his Noticias Cronológicas de la Gran Ciudad de Cuzco,"the construction took 77 years and was completed in 1508. It has been estimated that some 30,000 workers were employed at one time in the monument's construction. In 1559 the mining of the ruin to build the cathedral and other buildings in Cuzco began. Several years later Antonio de Gama stopped the practice.
See Bibliography page for citations.
Published April 30, 1998.