Being able to walk in the narrow streets of the Imperial City is like visiting an open-air museum. Not in vain, Cusco is considered the Rome of America. Most of the Cusco buildings have significant historical and cultural connotations. And, among them, the religious complex known as Coricancha is and was one of the most sacred and vital temples during the time of the Inca Empire. It is one of the most surprising tourist spots that you can find on a guided tour through the city. Its architecture is a clear example of the conjunction of the Spanish and Inca building styles. As well as a cultural treasure to appreciate. For this reason, together with the travel experts of Machu Travel Peru, we have prepared a small article about the beautiful Temple of the Sun.
Everything you need to know about Coricancha
- What was Coricancha?
- Location of Coricancha
- Coricancha history
- Architecture of Coricancha
- Nowadays Coricancha
- How to get it?
- The Coricancha tour
- Schedules and prices to visit Coricancha
What was Coricancha?
Coricancha was the most important religious temple of Cusco, in the capital of Tawantinsuyo, the territory of the Incas empire. It was built in 1438 by Manco Capac and devoted to the Sun. Over its structure, the Spanish built the current Santo Domingo convent in 1534. Also, Coricancha was the place where the highest positions of the Inca hierarchy (like the same Inca, its relatives, the high priest, and high officials) could enter to pay tribute to their chief god, the sun (Inti in English). In other words, it was the most important Inca temple in that period, even considered it holy land where few people could enter it. The temple was the religious and political center of the Imperial City. And it is included in the list of things to do in Cusco for every tourist who wants to know the beauty of Incas architecture.
Where does its name come from?
Coricancha is written in diverse forms, such as “Qoricancha”, “Qorikancha”, or “Koricancha”. Either way, the variety of names is accepted among the locals. But, What does Coricancha mean in English? The word Coricancha is formed by the combination of two Quechua words. The word “Quri” can be translated to “worked gold.” While “Kancha” can be translated to “Temple” or “Place closed by Walls”. So it can be assumed that the name of the temple translates to “Golden Temple” or “Golden Walls” among other things. It was named like this because all its walls and gardens were covered and surrounded by gold and precious metals that made the place shine. In this sense, Coricancha was and is one of the most important Cusco attractions.
A destined temple to Whom?
The Temple was dedicated to the most important gods of the Inca Empire, such as Viracocha (creator god), and the goddess of the Moon “Quilla”, among others. However, the Sun God “Inti” was the god regent temple and the main deity to pay cult there.
Location of Coricancha
The Coricancha Temple is located in the heart of Cusco city, to be exact in the historic center of the City, between the intersection of Avenida El Sol and Santo Domingo streets. Note that only the original foundations of Coricancha remain. This fact is due to Spanish conquerors, who destroyed the temple (As a form of overthrowing pagan religious beliefs and imposing Christianity). In this way, over the ancient temple rest was built the current convent of Santo Domingo.
Who built the Coricancha? It is one of the first questions that comes to mind. Well, since the time of Manco Capac (The first Inca, chronologically), there was already a temple in the same location called Inticancha, “Inti” means Sun, and “Cancha” means square. Its origin is researching at this moment. Despite some scholars affirm that this temple already exist before the Incas age, others say that Inticancha was a Manco Capac’s construction. Either way, it was not until the arrival of Pachacútec that the construction reached its colossal size and received the name Coricancha. Pachacutec (world transformer in English) re-built the temple, as other important Inca constructions.
In the same way, passed the time, it was the Inca leader Huayna Capac who really gave importance to the site. The Inca ordered the nobility and elite of the Empire to travel to the temple to pay tribute to the Inti God or Punchao (a gold sculpture of a child seated, who represented the noon sun). Even, some historians affirm that the foreign pilgrims had to take off their flip-flops, sandals and enter the enclosure barefoot because Coricancha was considered Holy Land. This led to a concentration of powerful people in the capital. That eventually strengthened the Empire and allowed it to favor the state in its different projects.
The arrival of the Spaniards: The beginning of the end
Before the arrival of the conquerors, the entire complex had numerous rooms, and each of these had different functions. When the Spanish arrived at Inca’s capital in November 1533, they were astonished by the grandeur of the temple. They had never seen so much gold before in one place. All the precious metals made the area shine considerably.
Therefore, with the arrival of the Spanish conquerors, not only were they in charge of looting all the valuables, but they also built another construction on the same temple location. But, What was built over the ruins of Coricancha? After the arrival of the conquerors, the temple was destroyed and looted to later build on its foundations, the Christian monastery of Santo Domingo, in an apparent attempt to replace religion. Historians affirm that the indoctrination of the Christian religion over pagan cultures was the great excuse of the Spanish to destroy the Inca’s temples and constructions.
Today, the Coricancha is one of the main destinations on the Cusco tourist map. The harmonious mixture of the ancient Inca walls with the Spanish colonial architecture gives a unique touch to this building. It is an unmissable point for any tourist who seeks to know Cusco and its original essence.
Architecture of Coricancha
The Incas built the Coricancha using the techniques and architectural styles common to them, and that can be seen repeated in other archaeological sites. Some of its most prominent styles include the trapezoidal shape of its structures, the vertical inclination of the walls, irregular shapes, and rounded edges, among others. All the stones used are of autochthonous origin and include diorite, andesite, and calcareous rocks. The entire Coricancha is a clear example of the excellent stonework that the Incas previously dominated. The ingenuity and masonry skill with which the temple was built is wonderful. It is designed with typical Inca symmetry in mind. One of the most impressive characteristics of the Coricancha and the Inca buildings themselves is their ability to withstand natural disasters such as earthquakes.
A sacred location
The Coricancha is not one of the many museums in Cusco, but it could be considered as such. The design of the site was thought in such a way that from above it resembled a sun with rays shining in all directions. It is due to the Incas having an architecture that was harmoniously mixed with their religion and way of thinking. For this reason, the city of Cusco had a design of a jaguar, where Coricancha was at the tail and Sacsayhuaman (Another great Incas construction) was at the head. In addition, it was built where the Tullamayo and Huantanay rivers meet. The two important Cusco rivers.
This ancient temple was the main center of the different religious activities that took place in the city. It was also the main vortex of the Inca Ceque system. Ceques were lines or stripes that were used to connect the 328 Huacas or Sanctuaries in the surroundings between them and Cusco. Therefore, the design of the Coricancha was intended to resemble that of a Sun with rays shining in all directions.
It is known that most of these sacred roads radiated from Cusco and pointed to the main “four quarters” of the Inca Empire. And it is known with certainty that the vast majority of pilgrimage lines departed from Coricancha. Therefore, these Ceques extended from the corners and closest structures of the Coricancha to everywhere in Tawantinsuyo.
Design of the Coricancha complex
Those who wrote the chronicles of the conquest affirmed that the Coricancha complex was designed according to schemes of the sky and, consequently, was one of the Cusco top attractions to see when the Spanish came. Its four temples surrounded a central plaza. These four temples were dedicated to the Sun (Inti), the moon (Killa), the stars (Chasca), and the thunder or rainbow (Illapa). But to the west of the complex, there was also another plaza where there was a small shrine dedicated to Viracocha. All these shrines were surrounded by a superbly constructed wall that divided the Sacred Garden of the Sun from the rest of the site.
Among the different temples in the enclosure, the Temple of the Sun was the most important of all. Both its outer and inner walls were covered in gold. It is known that gold was considered the sweat of the Sun in Inca times. Besides, there was a gold statue of the god Inti, which was encrusted with jewels and precious stones. This statue represented the god Inti in his form of noon (Punchao), the main deity worshiped in the enclosure. From his shoulders and head, you could see the rays of the sun gout to every side (made of gold). Every day, this statue was taken outside to be returned to the sanctuary each night.
The temple garden was also a great tribute to another Inca deity Viracocha. Besides Sun god or Inti, the Incas had their “doer of all” god called Wiracocha. Many Tawantinsuyo (name of Inca’s empire land) regions and parcels of land were dedicated in honor of this god. But the Coricancha garden was especially a tribute to the deity. Everything was decorated with gold and silver. In addition to having a large field of corn and life-size models of jaguars, shepherds, llamas, monkeys, and many other animals made of precious metals. Sadly, many of these treasures got lost or looted. Today we only have a few pieces of evidence of how majestic this place once was.
The alternative temples
These constructions consisted of four rectangular structures positioned symmetrically around a central plaza. For this reason, the design of the Coricancha has come to be compared with the designs of other Temples of the Sun, like Llactapata and Pachacamac. In addition, it is believed that in Coricancha rituals associated with the solstices of the year were celebrated. In addition, its walls were built with trapezoidal shapes and a slight vertical inclination. An architectural form reserved only for the nobility and elite of the Incas. And according to the chronicles, it can be rescued that its interior walls were completely covered by gold. Around the Coricancha square, there were also five other temples or Wasi as they were known. These five temples were in a hierarchical order.
- First, there was the temple dedicated to the creator god Viracocha.
- Another to Quilla, the goddess of the Moon.
- After that, the Chaska-Qoylor or Venus temple.
- Following, there was the temple for the thunder god Illapa.
- Finally, the rainbow god Cuichu.
Quilla temple (Moon)
Just as the Inti temple was covered with gold, the Quilla temple was covered with silver. Silver was considered the tears of the Moon. And as with the temple to the god Inti, each of the Wasis had a statue of the deity represented. In addition to precious objects, works of art, and other objects left in honor of the gods.
A mummies enclosure
There was even a space dedicated to the mummified remains of the ancient Inca emperors and their wives. The mummies were removed during special ceremonies such as solstices. These mummies were dressed in fine clothing and offerings were made concerning their achievements. There were also some residences and dwellings for the high priests. While other rooms were used as warehouses for different artistic and religious treasures.
Today, one of the best attributes of the Coricancha is its evident fusion of these two opposite worlds that were known. After the looting and destruction of the Temple, the Spanish began to build the Church of Santo Domingo on the foundations. The architecture of the Church is of apparent Spanish and colonial influence, with specific Baroque details. This harmonious mixture of Inca architecture, together with that of the Emerging Republic, shows the clear need for the Spanish to evangelize and establish their belief system at the time.
How to get it?
It is very easy to get to Coricancha; you can get there from the Cusco main square heading towards Avenida El Sol and walking no more than approximately 400 meters in the south direction. Finally, you will arrive at the archaeological site that is recognizable from a considerable distance. It is situated over Santo Domingo street.
Another option is to simply take a taxi and indicate that you want to get to Coricancha. Even some public buses tend to stop very near to the entrance, so you can also take advantage of local transport on weekends and holidays (During the week, it is not recommendable to take them)
The Coricancha tour
You can visit the Coricancha through a guided tour of the city, or merely go to the Temple on your own and buy your entrance ticket at the door. Besides, you can check our other Cusco travel tips and get to know other amazing places within one of our guided tours of the city.
Through a City Tour
In general, the guided visit of Coricancha is included in a more complete visit to Cusco called the City Tour of 4 hours duration. This tour usually starts from the Plaza de Armas and includes entrances fees and transportation. Although some tours may also vary the star-point depending on the travel agency.
- Most likely, you will visit first the beautiful Cusco Cathedral for around 45 minutes.
- And from here, walk 5 minutes to get to the wonderful Coricancha Temple. (Tour last other 45 minutes)
- Following, you will have to take your transportation (included in the most City Tours package) to go to Sacsayhuaman complex to visit the four Incas archaeological places located surrounding the city, Sacsayhuaman, Qenqo, Puca Pucara, and Tambomachay. (The tour lasts 02 hours)
If you want to visit this beautiful temple by yourself, you can start the tour from the main square. You can go southeast of the square to the Portal de Belén. Then, you continue along Loreto street, where you go straight to Pampa de Castillo. Then, you turn left down Calle Santo Domingo where you can see the wonderful temple at sight.
The direct entry ticket to the Coricancha costs 15 soles for foreign people and 8 soles per child, so you have no excuse to miss out on this fantastic site. In itself, it is very straightforward to access, and you won’t have to worry about anything.
Also, If you wonder: Cusco is Safe to travel to? You don’t have to worry, as the City is continually taking security measures for tourists and travelers. As long as you are cautious, there is no reason not to enjoy this fantastic Ancestral City.
Schedules and prices to visit Coricancha
If you are looking to visit the beautiful Coricancha temple, it is available every day of the week.
- From Monday to Saturday, it is open from 8.30 am to 5:30 pm.
- While on Sundays it is only open from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm.
Regarding the entrances fees:
- S/ 15 per foreign adult person.
- Per foreign child S/ 8
- For national (Peruvian) visitant S/ 10.
Coricancha is a place that you definitely cannot miss out on. It is one of the many mandatory stops that you will experience on the walking tour in Cusco. Not only because of the historical treasure that it represents but also because of its amazing constructions. Being able to discover the hidden magic of the most important temple of the ancient Inca Empire is a unique experience.
“I HAVEN’T BEEN EVERYWHERE, BUT IT’S ON MY LIST”
We hope together with the Machu Travel Peru team to have been useful. As you will see, the Coricancha is a must-see for newcomers. This wonderful temple is located in the historic center and is a mandatory stop on your tour of the city. Dare to visit this fascinating place and learn a little more about the interesting Inca culture. If you want to know more about our different routes, you can consult with our team of qualified advisers. They will be happy to help you organize the wonderful trip of your dreams. You can start to find out about our private tours of the city with them.