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Boom and bust civilization
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The Inca civilization was the largest in South America. It occupied part of the current countries of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Chile and Argentina. It was developed between 1200 AD and 1533 AD, approximately. For more than 3 centuries he developed an empire with significant knowledge in architecture, ceramics, textiles, goldsmithing and more. In addition, it was consolidated as a conquering and strong state. Until today there are several buildings that are great tourist attractions such as: Sacsayhuaman, Ollantaytambo, Choquequirao, Machu Picchu and more.

The legendary origin of the Incas

In oral tradition there are two legends that explain the origin of the Incas: a) the legend of the Ayar brothers and b) the legend of Manco Cápac and Mama Ocllo.

The legend of the Ayar brothers – The Andean god ‘Wiracocha’ ordered his four sons to search for fertile lands in which to found a civilization. Then, from the Pacaritambo cave, the four Ayar brothers left: Ayar Cachi, Ayar Uchu, Ayar Auca and Ayar Manco. They were all accompanied by their wives. During the tour conflicts arose between them. In the end, only Ayar Manco was left with the other wives. In Cusco he sank the rod into the earth, indicating that it was fertile soil. Ayar Manco would become Manco Cápac, the founder of the Inca nation.

The legend of Manco Cápac and Mama Ocllo – The men lived in ignorance and sadness. For this reason, the sun god decided to send his son Manco Capac to earth along with his wife Mama Ocllo. Manco Capac took the golden scepter that symbolized the sun. His mission was to civilize the world to worship the sun. Manco Cápac and Mama Ocllo emerged from the cold waters of Lake Titicaca. After a long walk, they reached Cusco where they sank the scepter in the Huanacauri hill, as a sign of fertile land. There they settled civilizing men and women founding the Inca nation.

The historical origin

Both legends and historical sources indicate that the Incas came from the altiplano region (border between Peru and Bolivia) .

Due to the threat of the Aymara and Collas peoples who lived there, the ethnic groups led by Manco Cápac had to emigrate in search of fertile lands to settle. Thus, they traveled to the south where they stayed for a time in towns such as Pallata and Huanacancha.

After a long route they arrived in the city of Cusco where they managed to ally themselves with the Quechua peoples that inhabit the place. Manco Cápac established a more civilized society. Gradually he was expanding the limits of his domains. Thus was born the Inca society .

The rise of the Inca empire

The Incas settled in Cusco from the year 1,200 AD In this first stage of its history the Inca society was called ‘Curacazgo del Cusco’ because they did not achieve a great expansion of their territory. During the first years of existence, the Incas had constant conflicts with neighboring ayllus such as the Ayamarcas or the Pinaguas.

During the so-called ‘Curacazgo del Cusco’ the Incas had eight rulers: Manco Cápac, Sinchi Roca, Lloque Yupanqui, Mayta Cápac, Cápac Yupanqui, Inca Roca, Yahuar Huacac and Huiracocha Inca .

In the beginning, the Incas did not carry out significant constructions. The timid expansion they achieved was always threatened by the presence of the Chancas, their fiercest enemies. During the Huiracocha government (1370 – 1430) the Chancas threatened to invade Cusco. The result of this war meant the final expansion or disappearance of the Inca civilization.

Pachacutec, Machu Picchu and the qhapac ñan

Pachacutec (1418 – 1471) was the leader of the Incas during the wars against the Chancas. He was the son of Huiracocha Inca who left Cusco after the Chanca threat. The surprise Inca victory forced the Inca to crown Pachacutec as the new ruler.

Pachacutec was a great statesman. After the Chanca victory, it significantly expanded the territories. Likewise, he formulated laws for the best organization of Inca society . He ordered the construction of important citadels such as Machu Picchu. He linked the flourishing territory with hundreds of kilometers of Inca roads (the Qhapac ñan). Finally, he founded the Inca empire, also called Tahuantinsuyo.

Pachacutec’s successor was Túpac Yupanqui (1411 – 1493) who continued with the expansion of the Inca empire. The same happened with Huayna Cápac (1468 – 1524), his son and successor, who achieved the maximum expansion of the empire. It reached more than 3,000 square kilometers. To the north it reached the Ancasmayo river in Colombia, to the south the Maule river in Chile (and Tucumán in Argentina). From the east he timidly entered the Amazon jungle. To the west, it bordered the Pacific Ocean.

The civil War

The children of Huayna Cápac fought for control of the throne causing the so-called ‘Inca civil war’ . Huáscar (1491 – 1533) proclaimed himself Inca and settled in the city of Cusco. His brother Atahualpa (1500 – 1533) assembled a powerful army in the city of Quito from where he tried to take power.

The battles were numerous and with deaths on both sides. It is estimated that between 60 thousand and 1 million one hundred thousand died. Finally, Huáscar was captured and ordered to be killed by Atahualpa.

After the victory, Atahualpa is informed of some strange white and bearded men in the town of Cajamarca. There he went with his entourage without knowing that he would be arrested. It was 1532 and the Spanish had already set foot on the land of the Inca empire.

The fall of the empire

During the Inca civil war, the Spanish arrived in Cajamarca, under the leadership of Francisco Pizarro (1478 – 1541) . Despite the defeat of Huáscar, the Inca empire remained divided into sides of the south (Cusco) and the north (Quito). The Spaniards took sides by one or the other side according to their convenience.

The Spanish, supported by peoples subdued by the Incas like the Cañaris, captured Atahualpa in Cajamarca and forced him to pay a formidable treasure for his ransom. Still they murdered him. Before advancing to Cusco, they achieved alliances with the Cusco nobility. They arrived in the city of Cusco in 1533.

The Inca nobility did not take long to realize the conquering intentions of the Spanish. However, it was already too late. Francisco Pizarro had at his disposal a very numerous army of Indians.

Manco Inca, brother of Huascar and Atahualpa, left Cusco with an army and settled in Vilcabamba, a town in the thick jungle . From there he declared war on the Spanish. The battles lasted approximately 40 years. Finally, the Spanish assassinated Túpac Amaru I in 1572. With the death of the last Inca rebel from Vilcabamba, Inca power ended.

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The knowledge of the Incas

During almost four centuries of existence, the Incas reached a high development in ceramics, textiles, goldsmithing and, above all, architecture . Its cities and temples were made of stone to great perfection. A clear example of his ability to mold the rock to his liking is Sacsayhuaman, Coricancha or Machu Picchu.

As for their religion, the Incas were polytheists. They were also pantheists, because they worshiped everything natural. Their main god was the sun. They also worshiped the moon, the stars, the water, the mountains, etc. They built their temples relating them to the movement of the stars, giving them a not only architectural but religious and spiritual function.

Politically the ‘Inca Sapa’, or ‘Son of the sun’, was the maximum chief, almost a god for the people. He led the empire with a sophisticated system of government, based on the redistribution of work. The work register and product accounting were registered with a system of knotted ropes called ‘quipus’.

Its main temples and cities were connected by an immense network of Inca roads that to this day survives in several sections. These were called ‘qhapac ñan’ and they reached more than 30 thousand kilometers throughout the empire . In addition, the Incas established a system of ‘chasquis’, who ran fast, carrying messages and merchandise throughout the Inca territory.


By Inca Trail Machu Picchu - Last updated, 30-09-2021

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