Sacsayhuaman: the incredible fortress of the ancient Incas

(ORDO NEWS) — If you have always dreamed of visiting South America in all its wonder and mystery, this continent has many interesting places to visit.

Among them is Argentina with its fabulous culture, beautiful cities and fabulous Iguazu Falls. And also Ecuador with its wonderful Galapagos Islands; or Bolivia for a true South American experience. But without a doubt, the journey

Peru is the most fun thing you can do in South America. Sacsayhuaman is proof of that. Filled with delightful ancient Inca monuments, Peru should be on everyone’s wish list. The Cusco region of Peru has many spectacular ruins in and around the fabulous Inca city for you to explore and enjoy.

If Peru is on your bucket list, you should also visit the many other amazing places that Peru has to offer, along with the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, of course. Sacsayhuaman is one of the most amazing Inca sites to visit.

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General view of the Fortress Sacsayhuaman

Sacsayhuaman is located north of Cusco, 2 kilometers from the main square of the Imperial City. Its height above sea level is 3700 m.a.s.l. The most important, among the archaeological sites of Cusco, was called Sacsayhuaman. Its name in Quechua and its meaning varies from “pleased eagle” to “spotted eagle”, “spotted head”, etc.

Today scholars discuss its function, some say that Sacsayhuaman was a center reserved for the cult of the god of lightning (Illapa in Quechua), due to the shape of the distribution of the terraces (zigzag, similar to beams).

Others point out that Sacsayhuaman was a residence of high-ranking people, and still others claim that the complex was a military fortress due to its location and structure (the latter option is more acceptable at present)

In any case, the stone walls are well preserved, and along with grazing llamas and alpacas, you can admire arches, ceremonial altars and a natural rock formation similar to a children’s slide, which is also used as such by visitors.

Sacsayhuaman is another good example of the unique Inca architecture, each stone fits perfectly together, the tallest is almost 9 meters high!

The foundation was built of limestone from Yucay brought over 15 km away. At the bottom of El Sol Avenue, next to the local post office, not far from the main square, you can find a painted wall depicting the battle of a brave Inca with one of the three towers of Sacsayhuaman. Unfortunately, only the foundations of the towers have survived today.

RE-discovery of Sacsayhuaman

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Sacsayhuaman has always been present in the daily life of the Cousken and Peruvian populations. The outstanding facts are that the complex was rediscovered in 1934, when an important archaeological area within the complex was discovered during excavations.

In addition, in 2008, some excavations revealed the structural foundations of ancient buildings belonging to the Kilke culture of the pre-Inca period (behind the complex). This zone is still being explored today.

Architecture of Saxaihuamana

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The design of Sacsayhuaman is based on the shape of the head of the cougar, a sacred animal in Inca spirituality. It was the Inca Pachacutec who redesigned the city, giving it the shape of a lying cougar.

And the space on which the structures are located is especially large. The architectural design of Sacsayhuaman has many styles. In the building of the fortress there are both sacred buildings and residential buildings.

You can also see some warehouses, aqueducts, roads, towers and sanctuaries. And the shape of the complex is very reminiscent of the style used in other sacred places such as Machu Picchu. They strived to ensure that the buildings are harmoniously combined with the landscape.

Terraces, Giant Walls

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The main walls of Sacsayhuaman are lined with zigzags and colossal stones. These stones can weigh between 90 and 125 tons and are 2.5 meters wide and about 5 meters high. The fortress of Sacsayhuaman has three different main walls, one after the other. These walls extend over 540 meters and reach a height of about 18 meters.

Everyone who wants to visit Cusco has the opportunity to see the terraces from the main square of the city. Awesome! Each of the walls has up to 40 segments, which allows you to perfectly protect yourself from attackers.

And the rounded corners and the variety of shapes of the walls connected to each other, as well as a slight inclination inward, made this structure ideal.

It was ideal for surviving the devastating and numerous earthquakes that hit Cusco in ancient times. The south side is bounded by a polished wall about 400 meters long. While in the west and east they are limited by some platforms and walls.

How could the Saxaihuamana be built?

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Despite the fact that the Incas were an advanced civilization, they did not know the wheel. So they used a heavy labor movement technique, placing giant carved stones on oiled logs. These stones were tied with thick ropes to several people who pulled them. In this form, the stones slid along the wooden reeds.

Please note that the Incas brought these giant carved stones from stone quarries located 32 kilometers from the city. According to the chronicler Pedro Cies de León, the construction of Sacsayhuamán involved more than 20,000 people and lasted for about a century. Its construction was slow, but the result has been preserved to this day.

Different areas of the Fortress

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The Sacsayhuaman complex can be divided into different sectors: Sacsayhuaman Main Building, Rodadero, Trono del Inca, Varmi K’aichana, Baños del Inca, Chincana, Base de Torreones, doors and others. Three terraces: As we described above, the fortress consists of three large terraces built in a zigzag pattern.

The walls have 22 protruding corners at each level, which represent the cougar’s teeth. Gates: The gates of each of the guarded towers are located in the central part of the bastions. The gates are trapezoidal in shape, and each of the three gates has its own name.

They are called the gates of Ajawanapunku, T’iopunku and Wiracochapunku. Three guarded towers (Base de Torreones): At the top of Sacsayhuamán, three guarded towers were connected by a series of underground passages.

Each of the terraces has only one small entrance through which one can enter the towers on the hillside behind and into the inner buildings. In addition, the towers are called Paucarmarca, in the east of the three towers. It has a square shape.

In the center was Sallaqmarca, which was a circle of water, and in the west was Muyucmarca, a circular enclosure. Behind Sacsayhuaman you can see other important places. For example, the Sukuna area, which had more terraces, patios, and even a water supply system with aqueducts.

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Throne del Inca (Throne of the Incas): This is a perfect carved stone (in the form of a seat) located on one side of the fortress, where the Inca (ruler of the entire empire) presided over festivals, ceremonies and sacrifices on important dates.

Varmi K’aichana (Where Women are Raped): This controversial name was given after 1934, when objects of phallic worship were found here. The zone has natural limestone formations carved in the form of passages, niches, seats depicting stepped signs, etc. This area is currently still being explored.

Baños del Inca (Inca Baths): The area is located northeast of the fortress of Sacsayhuaman and was used as a resting place for the Inca king and the worship of water (one of the most sacred elements in Inca cosmology).

It is also known as Tambomachai and has two rock-hewn aqueducts that transport the flow of water throughout the year to a beautifully designed pool.

Chincana (Tunnels): Among your list of the most interesting things to do in Cusco, a visit to Chincana is a must. These gigantic caves are located in the same Sacsayhuaman complex. There are two, one smaller than the other.

These caves are the entrance to a complex system of underground tunnels. Today we do not know their origin (Incas or some ancient culture), nor the route they pass under the Sacsayhuaman complex.

Currently, the small Chinkana is open to visitors, you can enter it (we recommended with a guide), its exit is a few meters further. As for the big one, entry is forbidden there, as people who tried to enter there many years ago died.

El Rodadero (Sukuna): This is another area worth visiting. It is considered a natural park on a hillside. It is a frozen lava flow thousands of years old. Its natural forms are similar to the waves of the sea. The Inca youth played there for hundreds of years, and today all visitors climb the stones of Dorita and have fun.

Sounds great, right? So, without hesitation, go on one of the various excursions in Cusco. You will not regret!

History of the Inca Fortress

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It all started in the Inca era of Viracocha (15th century), when population growth and a shortage of raw materials required new territories to be settled and used. In this form, Viracocha entrusted the plan of expansion to the north to one of his sons, a young one named Pachacutec.

The north of Cuzco adjoined the Chanca confederation zone (the remains of cities belonging to the extinct Wari culture and occupying the central Andes of Peru). The Chanka were a warlike people and also sought to expand.

In 1438, the northern people took advantage of the relative calm and began a battle against the Incas, closing Cusco. Pachacutec won 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 ruler of the Incas) decided to give the city new features and the shape of Puma, which was a symbol of power in Inca culture. It is for this reason that Sacsayhuaman was built in the shape of a Puma’s head.

By the way, today this form of puma can be seen on any tourist map of Cusco. Back on topic, Sacsayhuaman was built during his reign between 1438 and 1471 AD.

And it was his successors who erected his massive wall. Of course, its construction continued for another century, until the arrival of the Spaniards. It was Sacsayhuaman who played an important role in the final defeat of the Incas by the Spaniards.

Bloody Battle

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The Spaniards, who arrived in 1533, entered the vicinity of Cuzco. It is believed that the fortress was used as a military base by the Inca Manco Capac during the fight against the Spanish conquistadors.

After a successful defeat for the first time, the conquerors again attacked the fortress, breaking the defenses of Sacsayhuaman against all odds, and in this form they managed to fix the defeat of the Incas.

After the conquest, the stones of Sacsayhuaman were reused to build new churches and houses in the historic center of Cusco, where the Spaniards would live and spread their religious faith – Catholicism.

Today, this complex is a clear testament to the craftsmanship of the Incas. This vast complex is still standing and is a testament to the power of the Incas. Just as it reflects the witty abilities of the Inca architects. The complex was oriented in such a way as to harmoniously combine monumental structures with the surrounding landscape.

The purpose of Saxaihuamana

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As stated in the lines above, the appointment of Sacsayhuaman continues to be a subject of controversy among many scholars. Some historians believe that Sacsayhuaman could have been some kind of sanctuary.

This is due to the fact that there were quite a few temples in the complex. And among these temples, one stands out dedicated to the Inca god Illape (Paradise). This is due to the distribution of the three main terraces in a zigzag pattern (beam shape).

His role in the past

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There is also evidence that the enclosure was used as a kind of storage. It is believed that the Incas kept food, ceramics, valuable textiles, tools made of precious metals, armor and even weapons in it. Another theory states that Sacsayhuaman was the exclusive area of ​​the Inca elite.

But it is known 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 capture the fortress. They used ladders to scale the massive walls and horses to get closer. The campaign was successful, and so the Spaniards captured the Inca fortress.

His role in present

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During the time of the ancient Incas, this place was used for many Inca ceremonies, and this is still the case. As, for example, in the case of Inti Raimi.

Every year on June 24, Cuzco celebrates Inti Raymi, or the Feast of the Sun, in honor of the Inca god “Inti”; a theatrical performance in the center of the Sacsayhuaman complex, where you will witness a true interpretation of the stories of the rise of the Incas and the magnificent performance of traditional dances and music.

Archeological sites nearby to visit

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The four most popular places around Cusco are Sacsayhuaman, Q’enco, Puca Pucara and Tambomachai. They attract local and foreign tourists daily.

They can be reached on foot, by taxi or by bus, with the first destination being the nearest one, Sacsayhuaman. If you decide to go on foot, keep in mind that you will have to climb uphill and you will feel the height.


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Not far from Sacsayhuaman is Q’enco, the smallest but no less interesting of the four ruins. This temple exhibits the finest examples of Inca carvings found around Cusco. Looking at the giant rock, you can find artistic sculptures depicting steps, seats, geometric reliefs, and even a drawing of a cougar.

At the top, zigzag channels are carved into which Chica, the local corn beer, was thought to have passed. And in this way they could make the most important decisions in the empire. Inside the rock, one can still feel the spiritual energy emanating from the altar.

Puka Pucara and Tambomachay

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It is believed that Puka Pukara was once a military stronghold, but theories also suggest that it may have only served as a guard post to control people and goods entering and exiting the city. From its place, a breathtaking and beautiful panoramic view opens up.

From Puca Pucar, you can easily walk to Tambomachay, also known as “Baños del Inca”. Once there, you will see beautiful stonework with several niches and water still flowing through the old aqueducts.

It was a bath for the nobility, who used this place for important ceremonies. There are three stepped platforms here, the first with a seat, the second with a natural spring, and the last one is believed to be the actual shower.

This peaceful place was probably used for ritual baths. Among the many tours to enjoy in Peru, those visiting these places are second to none.

How to get to Saxaihuamana HILL

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One of the best qualities of Sacsayhuaman is its location. 2 kilometers from Cusco. Therefore, it can be reached in 4 forms: City tour: If you want to get a complete picture of Cusco, you need to take a city tour. This is a traditional tour that includes a guide and transport, points to visit:

Cusco Cathedral, Convent of Santo Domingo (Coricancha) in Cusco itself, and Sacsayhuaman Archaeological Park (includes Quenco, Puca Pucara and Tambomachai): If you enjoy exploring Cusco on your own or taking a walking tour, this is the option for you.

The walk starts from the main square along Cuesta del Almirante (on one side of Cusco Cathedral), go straight ahead and down Cordoba de Tucuman to Nazarenas Square. From this square, turn left, turn onto Pumakurko Street and go straight up 5 blocks until you reach the Sacsayhuaman control box.

From this point, you will begin to climb the slope of the Sacsayhuaman hill until you reach the very archaeological park. The walk lasts approximately 1 hour. By car: Another way to get to Sacsayhuaman on your own is to take a taxi (it is recommended to use an authorized taxi from the municipality of Cusco.

Those that have something like a chessboard on the sides, black and yellow) to Sacsayhuaman. The trip lasts 30 minutes and costs about 10-15 sols (2-3 dollars) By public transport: Two different buses will take you up the hill: Christo Blanco and Huerto if you prefer to travel by bus.

These buses now cost 1.50 soles per person from the Clorinda bus station (located on La Cultura Avenue, south of the main square, 4 blocks away).

Best time to visit Saxaihuamana

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Sacsayhuaman is located in the vicinity of Cusco. As such, its climate is cold and dry for most of the year. However, the complex succumbs to the weather of the Imperial City, a dry season from April to November; you will be accompanied by strong rays of the sun and clear skies, with temperatures around 18ºC approx.

On the other hand, the rainy season, from December to March, is known for its torrential rains, cold breezes, overcast skies and temperatures as low as 0ºC. Our recommendation? The dry season is perfect for you if you want to get the perfect photos. Walk under the rain? This unique experience can only be had during the rainy season. The choice is yours.

Cusco tourist ticket to visit Saxaihuamana

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If you are looking for excursions in Cusco, you will find that each travel agency offers a city tour with visits to various Cusco attractions. You can book a half day tour or just go on your own.

In case you decide to choose the latter option, it is important to know that you will need an entrance ticket (usually it is already included in the price if you book a tour 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 8:00 to 17:00 or on Saturday from 8:30 to 12:30:

Boleto Turistico Parcial I: This ticket costs 70 soles, is valid for one day only and includes scheme I: the archaeological sites of Sacsayhuaman, K’enko, Puca Pucara and Tambomachay.

Boleto Turistico Parcial II: also costs 70 soles, but is valid for two days, including route II: Coricancha Museum, Local History Museum, Modern Art Museum, Pachacutec Monument, Folk Art Museum, Cosco Indigenous Art Center, Tipon, and the Piquillacta Archaeological Sites.

Boleto Turistico Parcial III: Also 70 soles and valid for two days, this ticket includes Scheme III: Ollantaytambo, Pisac, Chinchero and the archaeological sites of Morai.

Boleto Turistico General: This ticket costs 130 soles, is valid for ten days and includes all the above three main chains and their attractions: Sacsayhuaman, C’enco, Puca Pucara, Tambomachay, Coricancha Museum, Local History Museum, Modern Art Museum, Pachacutec Monument, the Folk Art Museum, the Cosco Folk Art Centre, and the archaeological sites of Tipon, Pikilakta, Ollantaytambo, Pisac, Chinchero and Morai.

Take advantage of the reasonable prices to take a full tour of Cusco’s various museums as well as the city’s unique archaeological sites. When you travel to Cusco, it’s a great idea to take a tour of the imperial city.

There are many options for this – from budget to luxury, group or private tours. Such tours can be bought online or at an agency in Plaza de Armas in Cusco. Whichever tour option you choose, you will definitely visit the Sacsayhuaman Fortress.

If you decide to take a city tour that includes a visit to the Sacsayhuaman fortress, take a taxi or bus from Cusco city. On the way to the ruins, you will have a beautiful view of the city, located in the valley below. Upon arrival, you will notice that the ruins are in an open area at the top of the valley, perfect for relaxing on a nice sunny day.

“WISDOM COMES WITH AGE. Understanding comes with travel”

When you visit Cusco during your holiday in Peru, don’t forget to spend time in Sacsayhuaman, feel the history and mystery.


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