Peru’s Sacred Valley of the Incas

Traveling to Peru to see Machu Picchu was a dream-come-true for my husband and me. But before we arrived there, we spent a few days in the Sacred Valley of the Incas where we learned the history and culture of these ancient people. Taking the time to explore the Sacred Valley was a great primer before reaching Machu Picchu – the gem of the many Incan ruins in the region.

Sacred Valley of the Incas

Sacred Valley of the Incas

Between the Andean city of Cusco and Machu Picchu lies the Sacred Valley of the Incas. The Incan empire (roughly 1200-1500 AD) ran its administrative, military and political centers in Cusco and, over time, ruled a large portion of western South America. Not far from Cusco, the Incas expanded into the Sacred Valley, relying on the Urumbamba River for its fertile agricultural area, and the mountains for protection. Among the many Incan ruins in the valley we visited, we particularly enjoyed Pisac and Ollantaytambo.

Terraces at Inca Pisac

Terraces at Inca Pisac

Visiting Pisac, we saw the remarkable hand-made terraces that line the mountain. The Incas carried the stones up the hillside first. Then they carried the soil to create these terraces and an irrigation system. The terraces were an agricultural experiment. On them, the Incas successfully grew corn, wheat, quinoa, and potatoes. The area has over 900 varieties of potato today.

At Ollantaytambo, we saw similar terraces. We also explored the partially-built Temple of the Sun used for worship and astronomical observation. Like all Incan buildings, the temple was of stone construction without mortar. Watching the sky and keeping precise records of what they saw were vital for the Incas, especially for agricultural purposes. They worshipped the sun, as it was one key component to telling the Incas when to plant, for example.


Ollantaytambo: Terraces and Temple of the Sun (upper right, pink granite)

Ollantaytambo was under construction at the time of the Spanish Conquest in the early 1500’s. The Temple of the Sun was never completed. Pisac was built roughly 80 years earlier. When the Spanish arrived at Pisac, they destroyed it in their effort to colonize the Incan empire. And, Machu Picchu? The Spanish never knew it existed.

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