If you’ve always dreamed of traveling to South America in all its wonder, there are many interesting places to visit on the continent. Among them, you can find Argentina with its fabulous culture, wonderful cities, and the fabulous Iguazu Falls. Or also Ecuador and its wonderful Galapagos Islands; Or why not Bolivia for the true South American Experience. But without a doubt, traveling to Peru would be the most interesting thing you can do in South America. Filled with interesting ancient Inca sites, Peru should be on everyone’s bucket list. In the Cusco region of Peru, there are many interesting ruins to explore and enjoy. If Peru is on your bucket list, be sure to visit other sites besides Machu Picchu. For this reason, together with the experts from Machu Travel Peru, we have prepared a small article about Sacsayhuaman. One of the most amazing Inca sites to visit.
All about the fortress of Sacsayhuaman
- About the Sacsayhuaman fortress
- The architectural design of Sacsayhuaman
- Different areas of the fortress
- History of the Inca Fortress
- The purpose of Sacsayhuaman
- Archaeological sites nearby to visit
- Cusco Tourist Ticket to visit Sacsayhuaman
ABOUT THE SACSAYHUAMAN FORTRESS
This archaeological site is one of the most popular in Cusco. The complex of temples and fortresses is known as Sacsayhuaman (Also written as Saqsawaman or Saksaywaman). Its name is in Quechua and its meaning varies from “satisfied eagle” to “spotted eagle”, “spotted head”, and more. The Inca fortress dominates the city of Cusco and impresses with its beauty and monumental scale. This magnificent complex is located right at the northern end of the ancient Inca capital.
The stone walls are well maintained and along with the llama and alpaca grazing you can admire arches, ceremonial altars, and a natural rock formation that looks like a children’s slide, which is also used by visitors as such. Sacsayhuaman is another good example of unique Inca architecture, each stone fits perfectly together, the tallest almost 9 meters high! The foundations are made with limestone from Yucay brought from more than 15 km away.
According to the chronicler Pedro Cieza de León, more than 20,000 people participated in the construction. It is believed that the site was used as a military base for the Inca Manco Capac during the fight with the Spanish conquistadores. After successfully defeating them for the first time, the conquerors broke the defense of Sacsayhuaman against all odds and were able to record a defeat over the Incas there. In the lower part of Avenida El Sol near the local post office, not far from the main square, you can find a painted wall showing the fight of a brave Inca from one of the three towers of Sacsayhuaman. Unfortunately, only the foundations of the towers remain today.
THE ARCHITECTURAL DESIGN OF SACSAYHUAMAN
Sacsayhuaman‘s design is based on the shape of the head of a puma, a sacred animal in Inca spirituality. It was the Inca Pachacútec who redesigned the city to give it the shape of a lying puma. And the space where the constructions are is particularly large. The architectural design of Sacsayhuaman has many styles. The fortress design contains both sacred constructions and residential buildings. You can also see some warehouses, aqueducts, roads, towers, and shrines. And the shape of the complex can closely resemble the style used in other sacred places such as Machu Picchu. Where it was sought that the buildings and the landscape would blend harmoniously.
The main walls of Sacsayhuaman are built-in zigzag and with colossal stones. These stones can weigh between 90 and 125 tons and measure 2.5 meters wide and about 5 meters high. The Sacsayhuaman fortress has three different main walls, one behind the other. These walls extend for more than 540 meters and reach a height of about 18 meters. Each of the walls has up to 40 segments that allow an ideal defense against attackers. And its rounded corners plus the variety of interlocking shapes of its walls together with the slight inward inclination made this a perfect structure. It was ideal to survive the devastating and numerous earthquakes that occurred in Cusco. The south side is bounded by a polished wall approximately 400 meters long. While in the west and east they are limited by some platforms and walls.
INCA ARCHITECTURE AT ITS BEST
The fortress is a masterpiece of Inca architecture. It was built with stone blocks that measure around four meters and weigh more than a hundred tons. It was built without mortar and its stones fit perfectly together. Its construction is highly resistant to earthquakes and the ruin remains today an imposing view over the city of Cusco. The ruins consist of three large parallel walls that zigzag along four hundred meters, designed to prevent any attack on the city of Cusco. The outer walls are made of huge blocks of diorite and the inner temples are made of an andesite stone bought many miles away.
DIFFERENT AREAS OF THE FORTRESS
The Sacsayhuamán complex can be divided into different sectors: The main enclosure of Sacsayhuaman, Rodadero, Trono del Inca, Warmi K’ajchana, Baños del Inca, Chincana, Base de Torreones, and the Amphitheatres among others. The Fortress is made up of three large terraces built in a zigzag. The walls have 22 protruding angles on each level that represent the teeth of the puma. At the top of the fortress, three guarded towers were linked by a series of underground passages. There is only one small entrance on each of the terraces that give access to the towers on the hillside behind and to the interior buildings. Each of the gates is located in the central part of the bastions. The gates are trapezoidal and each of the three doors has its name. They are named Ajawanapunku, T’iopunku and Wiracochapunku gates.
The central enclosure of Sacsayhuamán has in its interior about three terraces of which different towers and buildings were raised. In the east was Paucamarca, a beautiful place. In the center was Sallaqmarca, which was a circuit with water while to the west was Muyucmarca, a round enclosure. While at the back of the complex you can see the other sites of importance. Like the Suchuna area, where there were more terraces, patios, and even a water supply system that had aqueducts. El Rodadero is also another area worth visiting. Considered a natural park on the hillside. The Inca youth played there for hundreds of years, and today all visitors climb the stones and have fun. Sounds great, right? So, don’t hesitate, take one of the different tours in Cusco. You will not regret it!
HISTORY OF THE INCA FORTRESS
The victorious Inca Pachacutec decided to expand the city of Cusco in the 15th century. He wanted to give the city the shape of a Puma, which was a symbol of power in the Inca culture. This is the reason why Sacsayhuaman was built as the head of the Puma. Sacsayhuaman was built during the reign of Inca Pachacuti between 1438 and 1471 AD. And it was his successors who built its massive walls. Today the complex is a clear reflex of the skill of the Incas. This extensive complex is still standing and is a statement of the Inca power. Just as it reflects the sharp ability of the Inca architects. The complex was oriented to harmoniously blend the monumental structures with the surrounding landscape.
Sacsayhuaman played an important role in the final defeat of the Incas by the Spanish. Arriving in 1533, the Spanish entered and easily took the city from the Incas. A few years later, the Inca king Minco led a rebellion and reclaimed the fortress. But the Spanish eventually reclaimed the fortress by defeating the Incas. The battle was said to have been a bloodbath for both the Incas and the Spanish.
THE PURPOSE OF SACSAYHUAMAN
ITS ROLE IN THE PAST
And because the complex features different types of architectural styles, the function of Sacsayhuaman continues to be the subject of debate among many scholars. Some historians believe that Sacsayhuaman may have been a kind of sanctuary. This is because the complex contained quite a few temples. And among those temples stands out one dedicated to the Inca god Sol Inti. There is also an area of stepped steps cut into one side of the hill, which is believed to have been another religious sanctuary.
There is also evidence showing that the enclosure was used as a kind of deposit. It is believed that the Incas kept food, ceramics, valuable textiles, precious metal tools, armor, and even weapons. But what is known is that during the Spanish conquest, the military complex was one of the last bastions of the Incas. When Francisco Pizarro conquered Cusco, he sent his army to invade the fortress. They used ladders to climb the massive walls and horses to get closer. The campaign was successful and that was how the Spanish took the Inca fortress.
ITS ROLE IN CONTEMPORARY TIMES
Today the complex is still used as a venue for ceremonies inspired by the Incas. One of the many reasons this complex is so famous. As in the case of Inti Raymi. In ancient Inca times, the site was used for many Inca ceremonies and this is still the case today. Every year, on June 24, Cusco celebrates the Inti Raymi, or Festival of the Sun, in honor of the Inca god “Inti”. A theatrical performance takes place in the Sacsayhuaman Fortress, where you will witness a real interpretation of the stories about the heyday of the Incas and great performances of traditional dance and music. So, if you want to be part of this great festivity and feel the energy that emanates from the Inca stones, you must book a tour in Sacsayhuaman.
ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES NEARBY TO VISIT
The four most popular sites around Cusco are Sacsayhuaman, Q’enko, Puka Pukara, and Tambomachay. These attract local and foreign visitors every day. It can be reached on foot, by taxi, or by bus, with the closest site Sacsayhuaman as the first destination. On a walking tour in Cusco, you will have the possibility of knowing these places like so many other sites. If you decide to walk, keep in mind that you have to go uphill and you will notice the altitude.
Especially if you are not properly acclimatized. On the other hand, the walk through the streets of Cusco is very pleasant and an excellent way to get to know the city better. From the main square, it takes about 40 minutes to get to the entrance. Two different buses will take you uphill: the Christo Blanco and the Huerto if you prefer to go by bus. Right now it costs 0.80 soles to take the bus. Taxis will also take you there, prices are usually around 10 soles from the center.
Not far from Sacsayhuaman is Q’enko, the smallest but no less interesting of the four ruins. This temple presents the best examples of Inca carving found around Cusco. Looking at the giant rock, you can find artistic sculptures showing steps, seats, geometric reliefs, and even a cougar design. In the upper part are carved zig-zag channels in which they supposedly been used to pass Chica, the local corn beer. And that way they could make the most important decisions about the Empire. Inside the rock, you can still feel the spiritual energy coming from the altar.
PUKA PUKARA AND TAMBOMACHAY
Puka Pukara is believed to have once been a military fortress, but theories also assume that it may have served only as a guard post to control people and goods entering and leaving the city. Its location offers a fascinating and beautiful panoramic view. From Puka Pukara you can easily walk to Tambomachay, also known as the “Baños del Inca”. Once there, you will see beautiful masonry with several niches and water still running through the old aqueducts. It was a bathing place for the nobility, who used the place for important ceremonies. With three stepped platforms, the first with a seat, the second with a natural spring, and the last believed to be the actual shower. The peaceful place was probably used for ritual baths. Among the many tours in Peru available to enjoy, those who visit these sites are unmissable.
CUSCO TOURIST TICKET TO VISIT SACSAYHUAMAN
If you are looking for tours in Cusco, you will find that each travel agency offers a city tour with various archaeological sites in Cusco. You can book a half-day tour or just go on your own. In case you decide on the latter, it is important to know that you will need an entrance ticket (usually it is already included if you book through an agency).
The so-called “tourist ticket” can be purchased at the COSITUC office (Avenida El Sol, Nr. 103) from Monday to Thursday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. or Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The Cusco tourist ticket features a guided tour of the whole Cusco tourist map. This one will give you all the history and legends of the fort, giving you time to get all the great photos you need. You will notice that there are different tickets available, including different sites, which are:
- BOLETO TURISTICO PARCIAL I: This ticket is 70 Soles, valid for only one day, and includes circuit I: Sacsayhuaman, Q’enko, Puka Pukara, and Tambomachay archeological sites
- BOLETO TURISTICO PARCIAL II: It is also 70 Soles, but valid for two days including the circuit II: Qorikancha Museum, Regional History Museum, Museum of Present Art, Pachacutec Monument, Museum of Popular Art, Qosqo Center of Native Art, Tipón, and Pikillacta archeological sites
- BOLETO TURISTICO PARCIAL III: As well 70 Soles and is valid for two days, this ticket includes circuit III: Ollantaytambo, Pisac, Chinchero, and Moray archeological sites
- BOLETO TURISTICO GENERAL: This ticket is 130 Soles, valid for ten days, and includes all of the above mentioned three main circuits and their attractions: Sacsayhuaman, Q’enko, Puka Pukara, Tambomachay, Qorikancha Museum, Regional History Museum, Museum of Present Art, Pachacutec Monument, Museum of Popular Art, Qosqo Center of Native Art as well as the archeological sites of Tipón, Pikilacta, Ollantaytambo, Pisac, Chinchero and Moray.
Take advantage of the reasonable prices to experience a complete tour of the different museums in Cusco as well as the unique archaeological sites of the city. When you travel to Cusco it is a great idea to do a City tour of the Imperial city. For this, there are many variations from budget to luxury and group or private tours. You can buy these tours online or at an agency in the Plaza de Armas in Cusco.
Whichever way you decide to make your tour, you will surely visit the Sacsayhuaman Fortress. If you decide to do a city tour that includes the Sacsayhuaman Fortress, take a taxi or bus from the city of Cusco. On the journey to the ruins, you will have wonderful views of the city, located in the valley below. Once you arrive, you will notice how the ruins are in an open space at the top of the valley, perfect for a nice quiet break on a nice sunny day. There is no doubt that being able to visit the fortress is one of the best things to do in Cusco.
“WITH AGE COMES WISDOM. WITH TRAVEL, COMES UNDERSTANDING.”
When you visit Cusco on your vacation in Peru, don’t forget to spend time in Sacsayhuaman, feel the history and the mystery. Learn about the wonderful Incas, marvel at the beauty of Sacsayhuaman, enjoy the views of the surrounding mountain, and take many photos of Cusco from this wonderful viewpoint. It is worth spending many days exploring the city of Cusco. With many excellent museums to get an idea of Inca history. Filled with great nightlife and many excellent restaurants to rival Lima. Don’t worry, there are also many vegetarian restaurants in Cusco if you don’t eat meat. We hope together with the experts of Machu Travel Peru to have solved your doubts. So, what are you waiting for to book your vacation in Peru today?