Cusco’s most important celebration is Inti Raymi, the Festival of the Sun, the magnificent yearly commemoration of the winter solstice and of the Inca civilization that so deeply shaped the culture of the Andes.
Every June, Cusco prepares for weeks for this holiday. Costumes and floats are prepared, and marches and dances of every school, university and institution in the city take place.
The festive spirit is evident everywhere, for this celebration is a cultural connection to the great ancient civilization that we Cusqueños and the people of the Andes are so proud of.
Inti Raymi, the Inkas and the sun
For the ancient cultures of the Andes Mountains, the sun was the natural focus of worship. The sun’s arrival every morning meant the end of the long night of cold and darkness.
It was the daily miracle that provided light and warmth, that helped the crops grow. The sun’s brilliance was reflected in the gold craftwork and jewelry that adorned Inca temples and nobles. Gold was a sacred gift from the sun.
Inti, the sun, was the Inca’s most venerated god, and the Inca king was considered a direct descendant of the sun, himself a deity.
Although the Inca Empire was short-lived, a couple of hundred years, the Inca religion spread far and wide throughout the huge Empire.
Cusco, the Imperial City, was the symbolic and political center of this world, with its splendid Qoricancha, the Temple of the Sun, and its monumental ceremonial site of Sacsayhuaman on the hills above.
Keeping our cultural heritage
This legacy endures in Cusco. Each year on June 24th, the big day arrives. Outside the Qoricancha, Inca priests, carriers and soldiers dressed in colorful garments wait patiently for the Inca king and his wives to emerge from the Temple of the Sun.
The sounds of rustic drums and conch-shell horns are heard. The crowd waits in reverent silence. Finally, the Inca emerges and is lifted on to a platform.
There he stands motionless, bearing his golden royal staff, dressed in his elegant royal gown, adorned with gold jewelry and colorful feathers. His solemn presence emanates power and dignity.
The Inca is carried slowly down ancient streets lined by massive Inca-era walls, toward the Plaza de Armas. Priests, wives and nobles follow.
Flowers are strewn along the path of the cortege by Inca maidens. The stately procession reaches the Plaza de Armas, and the Inca is taken three times around the Plaza, as the crowd gazes in admiration.
The ceremony of the sun
The procession then heads to Sacsayhuaman, where the main ceremony takes place on the vast ceremonial field. The grand pageant features songs, dances, speeches and invocations by high priests, and by the Inca himself. Dancers move about in swirling patterns.
Offerings are presented to the Inca by all the provinces of his Empire. A llama is symbolically “sacrificed” (it is not harmed). And spectators are transported back to the past ages of the Incas.
Of course, this is a recreation of past Inca glory. The Incas are no more. Inti Raymi is the passion play that commemorates the grandeur of what was once the largest empire in the world.
The gold that covered the walls of the Qoricancha was plundered long ago. Catholicism is Peru’s official religion, and vestiges of the Inca’s religion are practiced mainly by traditional people, in remote areas, in quiet ways.
But do not underestimate the power that Inca ancestry and Andean traditions hold in the spirits and imagination of the people of Cusco and the Andes- this history shines in our hearts, like the bright sun above.
You can witness the grandeur of Inti Raymi with a trip to Cusco in June, also a perfect time for a trek in the Andes.
Make your journey to Cusco’s ancient mountains and Inti Raymi festival a reality. Contact us at: andeanlodges.com to plan and reserve your trip to Peru.
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Operation team made up of community members trained as guides, kitchen staff, housekeeping, guardianship and maintenance.