Summary of the history of Cusco

Cusco is considered the historical capital of Peru. The capital of the Tahuantinsuyo empire, the largest in South America, was located there. The Incas left evidence of their great cultural development with amazing buildings such as Sacsayhuamán, Coricancha, Ollantaytambo, Choquequirao and, of course, Machu Picchu. Today Cusco is the most touristic Peruvian destination. Due to its great history, it is also called the ‘museum city’ or the ‘Rome of America’. Learn about the summarized history of Cusco, its Inca and colonial past and its current period.

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Cusco before the incas  

The records of the first inhabitants of the Cusco region were formed 5 thousand years ago before the Christian era.

The first cultures or organized human groups of Cusco were the Marcavalle, Chanapata, Lucre, Cotacalle, Killke cultures and, above all, the Wari culture. The footprint of the Cusco man who has the oldest record is ‘the Man of Qhorqa’ (this is an area where cave paintings up to four thousand years old stand out).

The Incas adopted many cultural aspects of these cultures, especially the Quechua language. The Wari (from the 7th century to the 13th century AD).

The passage of the Wari culture meant many cultural aspects in Cusco. The construction of formidable citadels such as Piquillacta (in the tourist area called Valle Sur) stands out.

The Wari citadel of Piquillacta, although worn by the passage of time, still shows its large adobe walls (up to three stories high), as well as its long, narrow streets. It is one of the most interesting tourist attractions in Cusco.

The origins of the incas in Cusco

The Inca ethnic group is originally from the highland region on the shores of the famous Lake Titicaca, a region currently shared by Peru and Bolivia. The Incas, looking for a new territory because they were threatened by the warlike Aymara ethnic groups, arrived in the Cusco valley.

Various legends about the arrival of the Incas to Cusco survived through oral tradition. History indicates that as the years went by, the Incas expanded their territory, managing to found the largest empire in South America.

The most famous legends about the origin of the Incas are the legend of the Ayar Brothers and the legend of Manco Cápac and Mama Ocllo.

Both legends, in different ways, but with similar features, narrate the epic migration that the Incas made to find a space to settle. Legends use fantastic elements typical of important events in history.

Morada de los Dioses

La legend of the Ayar brothers 

This legend tells that the mythical Andean god ‘Huiracocha’ told his 4 sons to undertake a great march to find fertile land where they could settle and found a great civilization.

Thus, emerging from the Pacaritambo cave, the 4 Ayar Inca brothers left, accompanied by their respective wives: These were: Ayar Cachi and Mama Huaco, Ayar Uchu and Mama Ipacura, Ayar Auca and Mama Rahua, as well as Ayar Manco and Mama Ocllo.

Each of the Ayar brothers was the leader of their respective group. Ayar Cachi, who was the strongest and most temperamental, caused fear in his other brothers. Faced with this fear, they deceived him by taking him with lies to the cave of ‘Tampu Tocco’. There they enclosed him with a huge rock and resumed their long journey.

Later, on the famous ‘Huanacauri’ mountain, the Ayar brothers found a stone idol. Ayar Uchu, frightened by this mysterious discovery, dared to challenge him, but ended up turned into stone. The remaining brothers and their wives continued the journey until finally finding fertile land (the rod was sunk there, as was Huiracocha’s order). Ayar Auca, the remaining brother, grew wings, flying and disappearing from Cusco.

When they searched for it, they found a mysterious temple where Ayar Auca was also turned into stone. It is said that this temple was the Coricancha (golden temple). Finally, Ayar Manco was called Manco Cápac, becoming the first Inca to found the new civilization.

The legend of Manco Cápac and Mama Ocllo  

This legend tells the story of the god Inti or sun. This deity of the Incas ordered Manco Cápac and Mama Ocllo (his sister) the mission of founding the civilization of the Incas, which would suppress the great chaos and ignorance that existed in the world.

To carry out this mission, the Inti gave them a golden scepter, telling them that wherever this golden scepter sank, there would be the place chosen to found the new Inca kingdom.

Thus, Manco Cápac and Mama Ocllo undertook a long journey seeking to find the promised fertile valley.

One day they arrived at the foot of the ‘Huanacaure’ hill where the golden scepter finally sank and they founded the new Inca civilization. Already in the Cusco valley, Manco Cápac and Mama Ocllo had to make alliances with the Quechua peoples of the valley. Manco Cápac, a cultured man, taught the inhabitants how to cultivate the land, build homes and other tasks. For her part, Mama Ocllo taught the women tasks such as knitting and cooking.

The empire of the incas: Tahuantinsuyo  

Although the great empire of the Incas lasted only approximately two hundred years, the Incas managed to develop in different aspects, such as: architecture, textiles, ceramics and religion.

The Wari and Tiahuanaco cultures were an important influence for the Incas to achieve great cultural development in various aspects.

The city of Qosqo (navel in the Quechua language) was the capital of the vast Inca empire. In their initial stage, the Incas were a curacazgo or group of families, which lived together in the Cuzco valley along with other cultures and ethnicities.

The year 1438 marked a before and after in the history of the Incas. That year the young leader Pachacutec managed to defeat the rival Chanca warriors. Thus the Incas managed to expand their territory, join forces with other cultures and thus form the empire of Tahuantinsuyo. In the following years the expansion of the Incas across the continent was dizzying.

Today, the passage of the Incas in the city of Cusco shows an indelible mark. This is demonstrated by famous constructions, such as Sacsayhuamán, Coricancha, Qenqo, Pucapucara, Tambomachay and more.

Inti raymi Cusco Perú

The colonial era in Cusco  

November 16, 1532 was a very important date in the history of Peru. That day Francisco Pizarro, with the help of hundreds of men and women, captured Atahualpa who was in a civil war with his brother Huáscar.

After a bloody massacre, the capture of the Inca Atahualpa was achieved. After this chapter, and after eleven years, the Spanish took power and founded the viceroyalty of Peru in 1543.

A few years earlier, in Cusco, after the capture of the Inca Atahualpa, different battles were fought between the Inca rebels led by Manco Inca and the Spanish, who already had a large army and firearms. Some of these battles took place in Sacsayhuamán, Chinchero and Ollantaytambo.

After the founding of the viceroyalty of Peru, battles continued until 1572 when the so-called ‘rebel Incas of Vilcabamba’ were captured and killed. This is how the last Inca insurgency was extinguished.

The colonial era in Cusco marked a profound transformation in the lives of its inhabitants. As a clear example of his time in Cusco, the following stand out to this day: the Cathedral of Cusco, the Company of Jesus, the temple and convent of Santo Domingo, the temple of San Francisco and more.

The viceroyalty of Peru began in 1543 and ended in 1821. During this period of time, drastic changes were made that still persist today in various aspects in today’s Cusco. Such is the case of the religiosity of the Incas, which suffered a break with the imposition of the new Christian religion.

Today the people of Cusco have a fervent Catholic religion with great fervor for local saints and virgins, which were established in the viceroyalty of Peru. Colonialism in Cusco and Peru also left deep marks on the legacy in language, architecture, agriculture, mining, etc.

Cusco today  

Today Cusco is the best tourist destination in Peru and one of the best in South America. According to official statistics, a total of 3.5 million tourists coming from all over the world arrive in Cusco. Most are attracted by Machu Picchu, one of the 7 wonders of the modern world.

Thus, the Cusco region offers important production in mining and hydrocarbons. However, Cusco still has poverty, especially in its small towns in the interior and its provinces. Child malnutrition and access to education are other serious problems facing this Andean region.

Cusco also has various cultural aspects from the Inca era and the colonial era. For example, a very high percentage of the Cusco population speaks the Quechua language, the language established by the Incas hundreds of years ago.

Different cultural aspects still survive from Inca times. The famous Inti Raymi festival stands out, which is celebrated in the city of Cusco every June 24. From the colonial period, the religious tradition of Corpus Christi still survives, in which the fifteen main saints and virgins of Cusco are carried in procession through the streets of the city.

Nineteen eighty-three is an important year in the history of the city of Cusco because it was declared a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO.

In 2007 Machu Picchu was also declared ‘New Wonder of the modern World’. This in a global vote.


Summary of the history of Cusco  

The history of Cusco is closely linked to the rise of the Inca empire, the Tahuantinsuyo. However, their first civilizations or families (ayllus) date back 3 thousand years. The first culture that inhabited the Cusco valley were the Killkes who settled since 900 AD. until 1,000 AD. It is presumed that the Killkes were the ones who worked the first stones in Sacsayhuamán and Coricancha.

Later, the Cusco Valley was the scene of the emergence of diverse cultures that developed an incipient architecture and urban organization. It is worth noting the passage of human groups such as the Marcavalle, the Chanapata, the Lucre and the Cotacalle. In addition, the Cusco territory was also dominated by the important Wari culture (some historians prefer to call it ’empire’). The waris even dominated the jungle of Cusco. They developed important architecture, urban organization, metallurgy, ceramics and more. As a trace of his time in Cusco, you can still visit the citadel of Piquillacta, in the South Valley of Cusco.

In the 14th century, a highland ethnic group emigrated to Cusco, driven away by the threat of the Aymara ethnic groups that dominated the territory surrounding Lake Titicaca. They were the Inca ethnic group who settled in the Cusco valley where they learned the Quechua language and imposed their techniques of construction and social organization. Gradually the Incas made alliances with neighboring towns and subdued others by the force of their army. Until, in 1438, the young leader Pachacutec managed to defeat the fearsome Chancas, founding the Inca empire ‘Tahuantinsuyo’.

The Inca empire covered extensive regions of the current countries of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Chile and Argentina. They achieved great development in architecture, ceramics, metallurgy, textiles, but above all in social and political organization. As an example of its development, even today you can see its beautiful queros (ceremonial vessels), the mystery of its quipus (accounting system based on knots and ropes) as well as its vast network of roads (qhapac ñan) or monumental buildings such as Machu Picchu (built by orders of Pachacutec in approximately 1450).

In the 16th century, the Spanish arrived in Peruvian territory, managing to defeat the Incas through alliances with the defeated peoples and taking advantage of a period of internal civil war between the emperors (and brothers) Huáscar and Atahualpa. The assassination of Atahualpa at the hands of Francisco Pizarro in Cajamarca would mean the fall of the Incas and the triumphant arrival of the Spanish to Cusco. Since then the vast empire of the Incas crumbled. As a consequence, the new viceroyalty of Peru would be born in 1543.

The Spanish imposed drastic changes in the economic, social and cultural system in Cusco, such as: contract work in agriculture and mining, the imposition of Christian religiosity, the extirpation of cultural practices of Inca origin and more. From the colonial era in Cusco you can still see immense temples such as the Cathedral of Cusco or the church of the Company of Jesus. Today Cusco is one of the main regions of Peru. It stands out for its important tourist activity. However, there is still poverty in many of their communities. The cultural heritage left by the Incas is still very visible in community practices, religious festivities, textiles, ceramics and more.

Te Sugerimos leer . . .

The San Blas neighborhood is known as the 'bohemian neighborhood'. It is located just 15 minutes walk from the Plaza de Armas of Cusco. In addition to the Plaza and the colonial church of San Blas, there you can see the historic craft shops of the Mérida, Olave and Mendivil families. You can also spend a moment of tranquility, away from the intense commerce of the city center. And the best thing is that a visit to this Cusco space is free for everyone. Learn more!
Inti Raymi is the festival of the sun that dates back to the time of the Incas. Today in the city of Cusco, the residents rescued this tradition from their ancestors to perform an impressive staging every June 24 in three stages: the Coricancha, the Plaza de Armas and Sacsayhuaman. Although there are admission tickets for these shows, it is also possible to see them for free. Learn more!
The Sapantiana aqueduct in Cusco is one of the most recent free tourist attractions in Cusco. It is a colonial construction with high walls and arches, down whose stairs the water of a channeled stream descends. This allows you to get excellent photographs of the place. Entry to this construction is free for all visitors. Getting there is also free since you can go on foot. Learn more!
Intipunku is a Quechua word that means 'Gate of the sun'. Perhaps the most famous is the one located at the top of Machupicchu. However, in Ollantaytambo – the Sacred Valley of the Incas – there is also an Intipunku made by the Incas, which offers beautiful landscapes and a lot of history. The visit is free for all tourists. But to do this you must complete a challenging short hiking route. Learn more!
Cusco is one of the best tourist destinations in South America. Every year it is visited by more than 2 million people. Machu Picchu is your main destination. However, the capital of the Incas offers more: natural mountainous landscapes, treks, adventures, cold nights, parties, experiential tourism and more. For your climate, geography and experiences, it is essential to carry a suitcase with the appropriate clothing and utensils. Know what to bring on your trip to Cusco!
Cusco is a tourist destination available for all types of prices and experiences. Tourists who want an A-1 service can hire luxury hotels, all-inclusive trains and the best restaurants in the city. Tourists who want a lower-budget experience can choose one of the seven affordable restaurants we present below.