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Sacsayhuaman: Ruins of a Magnificent Inca Fortress

There’s no doubt about it; the Incas constructed many incredible archaeological sites, the most famous of which is Machu Picchu. In and around the city of Cusco, there are many more, and one of the most spectacular is Sacsayhuaman.

This fascinating construction sits above Cusco at 3,700 masl. Building work began during the government of Inca Pachacutec in the 15th century and they say that over 22 thousand men worked on it by taking the huge stones over 22km. Some structures weigh a huge 125 tons.

What Does Sacsayhuaman Mean?

In the Quechua language, it means ‘place where the hawk is satiated’. Many think that it was a fortress due to its location, but others believe it was used for ceremonies. It could well have been both.

The Architectural Design Of Sacsayhuaman

sacsayhuaman architecture

Sacsayhuaman’s design is based on the shape of the head of a puma, a sacred animal in Inca spirituality. It was the Inca Pachacutec 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 building 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.

Terraces and the Giant Walls

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. Even, anyone, who wants to visit Cusco, has the possibility of seeing the terraces from the main square of the city. Amazing!

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 in ancient times. 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.

Different Areas Of The Fortress

sacsayhuaman Inca SiteThe Sacsayhuaman 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 doors among others.

  1. Three terraces: As we describe lines up, 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.
  2. The doors: Each of the guarded towers 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.
  3. Three Guarded Towers (Base de Torreones): At the top of the Sacsayhuaman, 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.
  4. Trono del Inca (Inca throne): This was a perfect carved stone (shape of a seat) located to one side of the fortress, where the Inca (sovereign of the whole empire) presided over parties, ceremonies, and sacrifices on important dates.
  5. Warmi K’ajchana (Where women are raped): Its controversial name was assigned after 1934 when phallic cult objects were found there. The zone has natural formations of limestone rock carved to form passageways, niches, seat representation of staggered signs inter alia. Nowadays, the zone is still being researched.
  6. Baños del Inca (Inca Baths): The zone is located northeast of Sacsayhuaman fortress and, it was used as a resting place for the Inca’s king and to worship the water (one of the most sacred elements in the Inca’s cosmology). It receives another name Tambomachay and has two aqueducts carved in stone that transport water flow all the year to a beautifully decorated pool.
  7. Chincana (Tunnels): Among your list of most interesting things to do in Cusco, visiting the Chincana is a must-see pint there. These giant caves are located in the same Sacsayhuaman complex. There are two, one more small than the other one. These caves are the entrance of a sophisticated system of underground tunnels. Today, we don’t know their precedence (Inca or some most ancient culture) or the route that these have under Sacsayhuaman Complex. Nowadays, the small Chincana is open to visitors, you can enter there (we recommended with a tour guide), its exit is located a few meters beyond. In the case of the big one, entry is forbidden because lost people who tried to enter there many years ago.
  8. El Rodadero (Suchuna): It is also another area worth visiting. Considered a natural park on the hillside. It was solidified lava flow from a thousand years ago. Its natural forms are similar to sea waves  The Inca youth played there for hundreds of years, and today all visitors climb the Dorita stones and have fun. Sounds great, right? So, don’t hesitate, take one of the different tours in Cusco. You will not regret it!

In addition, the towers are called Paucarmarca, at the east of three towers. It has a square shape. 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 Sacsayhuaman 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.

History Of The Inca Fortress


It all begins in the Viracocha’s Inca age (15th century) when the population increased and raw materials lack demanded new territories to inhabit and usufruct. In this form, Viracocha entrusted the plan of expansion by the north to one of his sons, a young named Pachacutec.

The north of Cusco adjoined with a Chanca’s Confederation zone (remains of towns that belonged to the extinct Wari culture and occupied central Andean of Peru). The Chancas were warrior people and looking for their expansion too. In 1438, the north people took advantage of the relative calm situation and began a battle against Inca, closing Cusco. Pachacutec reached a great victory and cleared the way for the expansion of the empire to the north.

Years later, the victorious Inca Pachacutec (His father gave him the post of Inca ruler) decided to give the city new airs and 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. By the way, today you can see this puma shape on any Cusco tourist map. Back to topic, Sacsayhuaman was built during his reign between 1438 and 1471 AD. And it was his successors who built its massive wall. Of course, its construction lasted a century until the arrival of the Spanish. Where Sacsayhuaman played an important role in the final defeat of the Incas by the Spanish.

The Purpose Of Sacsayhuaman

The Purpose Of SacsayhuamanAs the lines above described, 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 Illapa (Ray). This is due to the distribution of the three principal terraces zigzag (Shape a Rays).


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