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The walls of Sacsayhuaman

Sacsayhuaman (also spelled Saksaywaman), is one of the most stunning Inca ruins, located on the northern outskirts of the old city of Cusco in Peru (the former capital of the Inca Empire). Built like a fortress, the complex covers a huge area, but constitutes perhaps only a quarter of the original complex, which could easily house more than 10,000 people.

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Photo by:  Sascha Wenninger, Creative Commons Attribution Licence

What remains today, are the astounding outer walls constructed in a zigzag formation on three levels. Like many Inca constructions, the walls are made of massive, irregularly shaped boulders that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle without the aid of mortar. The stones are so closely spaced that even a piece of paper cannot be inserted between many of them.

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Grassy pathways run between the walls and are interrupted at intervals by towering stone doorways. Above the walls are the circular foundations of three towers that once existed—it’s easy to feel dwarfed standing next to the stones. The biggest cornerstone stands 8.5 m high, the longest of the three walls runs for about 400 m, and a single boulder is estimated to weigh between 120 to 200 tonnes.

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The ruins of Sacsayhuaman predate the Inca themselves, and are believed to have been built by the Killke culture that occupied the region between 900 and 1200 AD.

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Sacsayhuamán is usually described as a fortress because it is enclosed by three slopes and constructed with forbidding, castle-like walls. However, new investigations suggest that it could have been a temple devoted to the worship of the sun. When the Spanish conquered Cusco during the 1500s, they began to tear down the structure and took off with rocks to build the new city, as well as the houses of the wealthiest Spaniards. Today, only the stones that were too large to be moved remain at the site.

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