Being able to walk in the narrow streets of the Imperial City is like visiting an open-air museum. Most of the Cusco buildings have significant historical and cultural connotations. Among the different buildings, the religious complex known as Coricancha was one of the most sacred and vital temples during the time of the Inca Empire. It was geographically located in the middle of the city, but it was also the religious and political center of the Imperial City. Today, it is one of the most surprising tourist spots that you can find on a guided tour of the city. Its architecture is a clear example of the passage of the Spanish in the ancient Inca city, 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
- About the temple of Coricancha
- History of Coricancha
- Where is Coricancha located?
- Characteristics of the complex
- Coricancha architecture
- The Coricancha tour
ABOUT THE TEMPLE OF CORICANCHA
What is the Incan Sun Temple of Cuzco? The ancient temple of Coricancha was one of the most important religious temples during the rise of the Inca Empire. The beautiful temple is known as Coricancha, although it is also written as Qoricancha, Qorikancha, or Koricancha. Either way, is accepted among the locals. But, What does Coricancha mean in English? The word Coricancha is formed through 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 the walls and gardens were surrounded by gold and precious metals that made the place shine. It is one of the most important Cusco top attractions.
The Temple was dedicated to the most important gods of the Inca Empire, such as Viracocha, the goddess of the Moon “Quilla”, and especially the Sun God “Inti.” The Spanish had never seen so much gold before in one place. All the precious metals made the area shine considerably. Today, only the foundations of that ancient and beautiful ancient Temple remain. With the arrival of the Spanish conquerors, not only were they in charge of looting all the valuables but they also built on the same temple. Despite this, 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.
HISTORY OF CORICANCHA
Like most temples built during the rise of the Inca Empire, the Coricancha was constructed with stones carved with incomparable precision and assembled without the need for mortar. Calcite and andesite rocks were used, which gives the structure a perfect finish. You couldn’t expect less from the talented Inca engineers. These structures do not withstand only time, if not an endless number of natural disasters. The temple survived three major earthquakes that have greatly compromised the city of Cusco. Because it was intended for the worship of the Sun God Inti, all its walls were covered with gold plates. Also, in the interior and its gardens, you could appreciate different sculptures of the deities made of silver, gold, and other precious metals.
Who built the Coricancha? Since the time of Manco Capac, there was already a temple called Inticancha. But it was not until the arrival of Pachacútec that the construction reached its colossal size and received the name Coricancha. In the same way, 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. 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.
Before the arrival of the conquerors, the entire complex had numerous rooms, and each of these had different functions. What was built over the ruins of Coricancha? After the arrival of the conquistadores, the temple was destroyed and looted to later build on its foundations. The Christian monastery of Santo Domingo was built in an apparent attempt to replace religion. Today, you can visit the Santo Domingo Convent to learn about the critical history of the Coricancha site. It is one of the best things to do around Cusco and one of the must-see places if you plan to visit the city.
WHERE IS CORICANCHA LOCATED?
The Coricancha Temple is located within the heart of Cusco City, to be exact in the historic center of the City. Note that only that the original foundations of Coricancha remain. Today above them you can see the convent of Santo Domingo. It is located between the intersection of Avenida El Sol and Santo Domingo streets. 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. Then you will arrive at the archaeological site recognizable from a distance along with Santo Domingo street. Another option is to simply take a taxi and indicate that you want to get to Coricancha. Even some buses tend to stop very near to the entrance, so you can also take advantage of local transport.
In general, the tours in the city usually start inside the Plaza de Armas. Although some tours may also vary. Most likely, you will visit the wonderful temple after knowing the Cusco Cathedral. And from here it is quite easy to get there. 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 down Santo Domingo street where you can see the wonderful temple at sight.
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE COMPLEX
The Coricancha was the ancient physical and spiritual center of the Inca Empire. In fact, it represented the heart and center of the map as it surrounded it. This ancient temple was the main center of the different religious activities that took place in the city center. It was also the main vortex of the Inca Ceque system. Ceques were lines or stripes that were used to organize the Huacas or Sanctuaries in the surroundings. The design of the Coricancha was intended to resemble that of a Sun with rays shining in all directions. These rays were the lines of sacred Ceques, also called Zeq’e. These were physical roads that led to more than 328 sacred sites. Also, Cusco was designed to have the shape of a jaguar.
It was the Inca way of organizing the urban and religious space of the different cities and points of importance. And it is known that most of the sacred roads radiated from Cusco. These roads 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. Ceques extended from the corners and closest structures of the Coricancha. These could reach more than 300 Huacas or places of great ritual importance.
Those who wrote the chronicles of the conquest affirm that the Coricancha complex was designed according to schemes of the sky. Where 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 is also another plaza where there is a small shrine dedicated to Viracocha. All the shrines were surrounded by a superbly constructed wall that divided the Sacred Garden of the Sun from the rest of the site.
THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE TEMPLE
When the Incas named a construction together with the term “Cancha” or “Kancha” it referred to a specific type of construction. These constructions consisted of four rectangular structures positioned symmetrically around a central plaza. And places like Patacancha and Amarucancha have perpendicular shapes very similar to Coricancha. But these constructions have small variations. But these variations can make mention of the importance that the constructions were dedicated to.
The design of the Coricancha has come to be compared with the designs of the Temples of the Sun in Llactapata and Pachacamac. In addition, it is believed that the Coricancha rituals associated with the solstices of the year were celebrated. And its walls were built with trapezoidal shapes and a slight vertical inclination. An architectural form reserved for the nobility and elite of the Incas. These constructions were designed to withstand the most severe earthquakes. And according to the chronicles, it can be rescued that its interior walls were completely covered by gold.
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.
The Coricancha is not one of the many museums in Cusco, but it could be considered as such. With the historical value that it presents, a visit to this place is a trip back in time assured. The design of the site was thought in such a way that from above it resembled a sun with rays shining in all directions. The Incas had an architecture that was harmoniously mixed with their religion and way of thinking. Even the city of Cusco was designed to represent a jaguar. Coricancha was at the tail of this architectural jaguar. In addition, it was built where the Tullamayo and Huantanay rivers meet.
But one of the best attributes of the Coricancha today 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. You can check our other Cusco travel tips and get to know other amazing places within one of our guided tours of the city.
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. This was thought of as the sweat of the Sun. It also had a gold statue of the god Inti, which was encrusted with jewels. The statue represented the god Inti, one of the deities worshiped in the enclosure. From his shoulders and head, you could see the rays of the sun. This statue was taken out into the open every day and returned to the sanctuary at night.
The temple garden was also a great tribute to the deity of the Sun. Many regions and parcels of land were dedicated in honor of the god Inti. 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 are lost or looted. Today we only have a few pieces of evidence of how majestic this place once was.
THE ALTERNATIVE TEMPLES
Around the Coricancha garden, 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, another to Chaska-Qoylor or Venus. There was also the temple for the thunder god Illapa and the rainbow god Cuichu.
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.
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. The mummies were dressed in fine clothing and offerings were made in relation to 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.
THE CORICANCHA TOUR
You can visit the Coricancha through a guided tour of the city, buying the Cusco Tourist Ticket, or merely going to the Temple on your own and buying your entrance ticket at the door. The direct entry ticket to the Coricancha costs about 15 soles, so you have no excuse to miss out on this fantastic site. At the same time, the Cusco Tourist Ticket allows you to visit a great variety of significant places in the Imperial City and its surroundings. In itself, it is very straightforward to access, and you won’t have to worry about anything. If you wonder: Cusco is Safe to travel? 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.
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. 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.