Founded in 1100 A.D., Cusco – called Qosqo in the indigenous Quechua language – was once the flourishing capital of the Inca Empire.
Natives and visitors alike consider it the most impressive of all Peruvian cities for its history and remarkable mix of Incan and Spanish colonial architecture, along with the beauty of its terrain and the warmth of its people.
Cusco is a perfect base city for getting to know the many highlights of Peru, that’s why we wanted to give you 10 interesting facts about Cusco many people don’t usually know:
1) Origin of cusco
According to early historic chroniclers, Cusco was founded by Manco Capac, the first Inca, leader of a tribe from the region of Lake Titicaca, who migrated and took over the fertile Cusco valley in the 12th century.
A partly mythical figure, he is said to have emerged from the lake with his sister Mama Ocllo, and wandered the land carrying a sacred staff that sank into the ground at the place where Cusco was established.
2) The center of the empire
The Incas considered Cusco to be the “navel of the world”, capital of the Empire and the center from which lines of spiritual power, or “ceques” radiated to all key points of their cosmological universe.
The palaces of several Inca kings, with massive, perfect walls can be admired as you wander about the ancient city.
3) The Sun temple
For the Incas, the Qoricancha, or Courtyard of the Sun, was the most important temple. It which still stands today as the finest example of Inca architecture in the city of Cusco.
Thousands of visitors marvel at its large perfectly-fitted stone blocks, thick walls and details of its impressive construction. Its walls were said to be covered with sheets of gold in Inca times, which disappeared following the Spanish invasion of Cusco.
4) Spain and religion
The Spanish colonists brought the Catholic religion to Peru, where they built grand churches at every settlement.
In Cusco, they constructed dozens of churches, the most important being Cusco’s Cathedral and the Jesuit-founded Church of the Compañia on the main Plaza de Armas, and the churches of La Merced, San Francisco, Santa Clara and San Pedro, all within walking distance in Cusco’s Historical Downtown.
Cusco’s churches are excellent examples of colonial and Baroque architecture. Each displays intricately carved altars and pulpits, and wonderful paintings of the 16th to 18th-century Cusqueño school of art.
5) Markets and commerce
One of the most interesting places to visit in Cusco is the San Pedro Market, a sprawling traditional market that features countless stands that sell every type of traditional food and exotic spice and ingredient, as well as handicrafts, wool clothing, gifts and souvenirs and more.
It’s all a real visual treat, and also the best place in town to buy fresh fruit juices, made on the spot by friendly vendors who entice you with unusual combinations of tropical fruits.
6) A huge ceremonial site
The Inca ceremonial site of Sacsayhuaman, on a hill overlooking Cusco’s downtown, is a huge complex of stone walls that even up close defy the imagination. Enormous stones make up ramparts set around a vast ceremonial field.
Some of the perfectly fit stones are up to 15 feet tall, and weigh many tons. It is somewhat mysterious as to how the stones were brought there, since some originated in quarries many kilometers away.
But scholars believe the Incas had developed the incredible skills and manpower to transport, shape and fit the huge stones.
Today, Sacsyhuaman is still the main site of Cusco’s most important celebration, Inti Raymi, June’s Festival of the Winter Solstice.
7) Cusco and the arts
Cusco is a city of skilled artists and artisans. Here, one can find an endless array of paintings, ceramics, textiles and clothing, traditional musical instruments and much, much more in the many shops that line the Cusco’s streets.
It’s a shoppers paradise! The styles of artwork range from replicas of exquisite Baroque and Cusco School paintings, to modern art styles that reflect native themes.
As for alpacas wool clothing, the products offered are beautiful and stylish. The picturesque San Blas neighborhood is full of handicrafts shops, including the workshops of internationally-renowned families of artists, such as the Mendivil, Olave and Mérida families.
Come to Cusco to fill your eyes with wonderful art and crafts!
8) Culinary experience
As for food and fine dining, Cusco offers abundant choices. World-class restaurants and bistros serve delectable food choices and excellent beverages.
Restaurants specialize in a fusion of styles, including Novo Andina cuisine, which combines tasty ingredients of Peruvian and Andean cooking with international cuisine in innovative dishes.
You’ll find great pizza, sushi, seafood, and vegetarian fare. Of course, you can find traditional Andean food, including trout, guinea pig, and very delicious potato dishes.
You’ll find some of the best foods and interesting flavors in Cusco.
9) Nightlife in Cusco
There is plenty of nightlife to keep you entertained in the magical nights of Cusco. Pubs abound, where you can enjoy a variety of handcrafted microbrews, and delicious Pisco-based infusions (Pisco is Peru’s keystone grape brandy).
There are fun venues for dancing, and peñas where you can watch traditional Andean dances. At night, the views from the Plaza and sights of the downtown are magical, as the stars and twinkling lights from the hills above create a romantic setting to wander about with your loved one.
10) Trekking and exploring
Let’s not forget- Cusco is not only a great city to visit; it is also a large region that includes the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, the Inca sites of Ollantaytambo, Pisac, cloud forests and many other places well worth visiting.
And in Cusco, the very best mountain region for trek and lodge stays is Apu Ausangate, the sacred mountain that soars above all, the deity that protects the people and waters of Cusco.
Please contact us to find out more and to reserve your trek to fantastic Ausangate and trips to other great destinations in Cusco at: andeanlodges.com.
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Operation team made up of community members trained as guides, kitchen staff, housekeeping, guardianship and maintenance.