Cusco's Main Square: history, location and attractions

13 de April de 2024

Cusco's Plaza de Armas, located in the heart of the ancient capital of the Inca Empire, is an emblematic site that encapsulates Peru's rich history and vibrant culture. Once the epicenter of Inca power, this place has evolved over the centuries, transforming into a vital space for gathering, celebration and cultural expression today.

History of the Main Square of Cusco

The Plaza de Armas of Cusco, located in the heart of the city, is one of the most emblematic and full of history sites in Peru. This place, known in Inca times as Huacaypata or Akahuana, has always been the center of Cusco, serving as a stage for transcendental events in the history of the country.

During the Inca Empire, the plaza was significantly larger than it is today and served as the ceremonial center of the empire. It was here that the most important events were held, including religious rituals and the Inti Raymi festivities, which honored the sun god, Inti. The plaza was surrounded by important Inca buildings, such as the Viracocha Inca Palace and the Acllahuasi.

Historically, it dates back to the arrival of Manco Capac to the Cusco valley, where he settled near a swamp formed by the Saphy and Tullumayo rivers. This site, initially an unattractive area, was transformed by the Incas into the nucleus of their capital. Sinchi Roca, Manco Capac's successor, began the process of filling in the swamp, a task completed by Pachacutec, who dried it completely, using sand brought from the coast. The plaza, known in Inca times as Huacaypata or Acahuana, became an important religious, administrative and ceremonial center.

With the arrival of the Spaniards in the sixteenth century, the Plaza de Armas underwent major transformations, the conquistadors, led by Francisco Pizarro, demolished many of the Inca temples and palaces to build churches and colonial buildings on the ruins and this can be seen to this day.

However, many of the Inca walls served as foundations for these new buildings, leaving an indelible trace of the Inca past in the current structure of the square. Among the most prominent colonial buildings surrounding the square today are the Cathedral of Cusco, built between 1560 and 1664, and the Church of the Society of Jesus, erected in the seventeenth century.

The Plaza de Armas has witnessed several critical historical events, including the rebellion of Tupac Amaru II in 1780, one of the most significant anti-colonial uprisings in the history of the Americas. During this period, the plaza was the scene of executions and public pronouncements.

Over the years, the Plaza de Armas has maintained its relevance as a meeting point for Cusco's inhabitants and visitors. It is a place where history, culture and daily life blend, and continues to be a focal point for celebrations, both modern and traditional, reflecting Cusco's rich cultural heritage.

Today, the Plaza de Armas is a vibrant tourist meeting point, surrounded by restaurants, stores and hotels that coexist with the imposing historic buildings. It is, without a doubt, a place that encapsulates the millenary history of Cusco, offering visitors a window to the past and a space to appreciate the cultural continuity of this ancient city.

Pre-Inca and Inca origins

Before the consolidation of the Inca Empire, the Cusco region was inhabited by various pre-Inca cultures. Archaeological studies indicate the presence of agricultural and pastoral communities since at least 1000 BC. These early cultures developed advanced agricultural techniques, such as andenes (agricultural terraces), and erected ceremonial monuments, suggesting a complex social organization and a strong spiritual component.

In approximately the 12th century A.D., the Incas emerged as one of many tribes or clans in the region. The founding legend of Cusco tells the story of the Ayar brothers, of whom Ayar Manco, who would later take the name Manco Capac, founded the city of Cusco and established the initial lineage of Inca rulers. This myth not only establishes the divinity of the Incas but also justifies their dominance over other pre-existing cultures.

Inca Period

Under the leadership of a series of ambitious rulers, the small Inca state expanded rapidly through conquests and alliances, transforming itself into Tawantinsuyo, one of the largest and most sophisticated empires in pre-Columbian America. Cusco, at the heart of this empire, became not only the political and administrative center but also the spiritual and cultural core.

The organization of the city reflected the Inca worldview, with the Qoricancha, or Temple of the Sun, as its spiritual center. This golden temple was the most sacred site in the Tawantinsuyo, dedicated to the worship of Inti, the sun god, and other gods of the other peoples. The layout of the city and its roads were designed to align and harmonize with the constellations, the solar cycles and the sacred mountains or Apus.

During the height of the Inca Empire, Cusco was embellished with palaces, temples and plazas. Inca engineering and architecture, evident in the finely carved stones that can still be seen today at the bases of many colonial buildings, were of impressive precision and aesthetics. The network of roads or Qhapaq Ñan, which linked Cusco with the rest of the empire, is a testimony to their advanced organization and ability to integrate diverse territories.

Inti Raymi, the festival of the sun, is one of many examples of how Cusco served as the stage for the most important ceremonial and political events, reaffirming the empire's connection with the divine and the legitimacy of the Incas as intermediaries between the gods and the people.

Spanish Conquest: With the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, Cusco's Main Square underwent significant changes. The Inca buildings were replaced by colonial constructions, such as cathedrals and mansions, forever altering the architectural landscape of the square. However, many of the Inca walls served as foundations for these new buildings, leaving a trace of the Inca past in the current plaza.

Location and description of the Plaza de Armas

The Plaza de Armas is located in the historic center of Cusco, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1983. This open space is surrounded by important colonial buildings and offers a fascinating mix of Inca and colonial architecture. The square serves as a central point for exploring the city's entire culture, with its cobblestone streets, colonial houses and iconic sites such as the Cusco Cathedral and the Church of the Society of Jesus.

Cusco's Plaza de Armas is the center from which the ancient capital of the Inca Empire expands, surrounded by churches, colonial mansions and cobblestone streets, the square stands as a living testimony of the rich history that combines Inca and colonial elements. In its surroundings, emblematic buildings such as the Cathedral of Cusco and the Church of the Company of Jesus, which are built on Inca foundations, show a unique architectural fusion.

Where is Cusco's Main Square located?

The Plaza de Armas is located in the center of Cusco, Peru. It is accessible from any point in the city and serves as a starting point to explore the historic center, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

How to get to Cusco's Main Square

Getting to Cusco's Plaza de Armas is relatively simple due to its central location. From the Alejandro Velasco Astete airport, visitors can take a cab or public transportation service, which is usually a journey of approximately 15 to 30 minutes, depending on traffic, passing through El Sol Avenue.

For those staying in Cusco, it is common to reach the plaza on foot, as many of the hotels and hostels are located in the surrounding area, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the charm of the cobblestone streets and historic architecture on their way to the plaza. It's hard to get lost because every street has names and you can also ask the locals who will gladly guide you on the right path.

Architectural Features

Cusco's Plaza de Armas is notable for its mix of Inca and colonial architecture. Colonial buildings, many of which were built on the foundations of ancient Inca palaces, surround the plaza, displaying ornate facades and wooden balconies typical of the colonial period.

In contrast, meticulously carved Inca stone foundations can be seen in several places, demonstrating the advanced engineering of the Incas. This fusion of architectural styles reflects the history of conquest and colonization, as well as the resilience and persistence of the Inca culture.

Meaning and Purpose of the Plaza de Armas

Historically, the Plaza de Armas was the center of the Inca universe, known as the "Qosqo" or the navel of the world. During the Inca Empire, the plaza was the scene of important religious and social ceremonies, including the Inti Raymi or Festival of the Sun.

With the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, the plaza maintained its importance as a center of power, although the focus shifted to Christian faith and colonial administration. Today, it remains a gathering place for celebrations and cultural events, maintaining its role as the heart of the city.

Historical and ceremonial functions

Throughout its history, the Plaza de Armas has been the scene of events of great importance. In Inca times, it was the place where religious festivities and coronation ceremonies for new emperors were held. After the conquest, it became the scene of Catholic processions and official acts of the colonial administration.

This change reflects the transition of the space from an Inca ceremonial center to a symbol of Spanish dominion over the new world.

Cultural and social importance today

Today, Cusco's Plaza de Armas is a vibrant meeting point for locals and a must-see for tourists. Its rich history and cultural significance continue to be celebrated through events such as Corpus Christi and Inti Raymi, which are held annually.

In addition, the plaza is a space for social and cultural interaction, where one can find street performances, local craft vendors and musicians, making it a permanent meeting place and cultural expression. The presence of restaurants, cafes and stores around the square adds to its function as a center of economic and tourist activity, reflecting the social and cultural importance that the Plaza de Armas has for Cusco today.

Today, Cusco is essential to understanding the Peruvian identity, offering immersive experiences in art, gastronomy and local crafts. Its vibrant social life and the hospitality of its inhabitants make Cusco an indispensable destination for exploring the diversity and cultural richness of Latin America.

Attractions and Activities at the Plaza de Armas

Cusco's Plaza de Armas, known as the historical and cultural heart of the ancient capital of the Inca Empire, offers a wide range of attractions and activities for all types of visitors. From its rich history to its vibrant contemporary life, the plaza is a place where the past meets the present in spectacular fashion.

Here, tourists can enjoy the majesty of its monuments, the solemnity of its cultural events and the delight of its local gastronomy.

Monuments and emblematic buildings

One of the main attractions of the Plaza de Armas are its impressive monuments and emblematic buildings dating from colonial times and the Inca Empire. The Cathedral of Cusco and the Church of the Company of Jesus stand out, both imposing constructions that offer a glimpse into the historical and religious past of the city.

The architecture of these monuments and at the same time of the houses reflects the fusion between Inca construction techniques and the styles brought by the Spanish conquistadors, which gives them a unique historical and aesthetic value.

Cultural events and festivities

The Plaza de Armas is the scene of numerous festivities and cultural events that reflect Cusco's rich tradition. Festivities such as Inti Raymi (Festival of the Sun) and Corpus Christi are celebrated here, offering visitors a window into the region's ancestral traditions.

Not only that, it also reflects other festivities such as Corpus Christi, Easter and Carnival, each bringing its own mix of devotion, color and joy to the square.

Gastronomy and local commerce

For those interested in the rich Peruvian gastronomy and local commerce, the Plaza de Armas offers an unparalleled culinary and shopping experience. Surrounded by restaurants, cafes and food stalls, visitors can sample traditional Cusquenian dishes such as baked guinea pig, chicha morada, or the famous Peruvian ceviche. In addition, the stores and markets around the square sell local handicrafts, alpaca textiles and a variety of souvenirs that reflect the artistic spirit of the region.

These elements make the Plaza de Armas a must for any visitor to Cusco, offering a unique window into the history, culture and contemporary life of this ancient city.

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