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CUSCO / CUZCO, PERU

Cusco or Cuzco is a city in southeastern Peru, near the Urubamba Valley of the Andes mountain range. It is the capital of the Cusco Region as well as the Cusco Province. The city has a population of 348,935 which is triple the figure of 20 years ago. Located on the eastern end of the Knot of Cusco, its altitude is around 3,300 m (11,000 ft). Cusco is the historic capital of the Inca Empire and was declared a World Heritage Site in 1983 by UNESCO. It is a major tourist destination and receives almost a million visitors a year. It is designated as the Historical Capital of Peru by the Constitution of Peru.

The Killke occupied the region from 900 to 1200 A.D., prior to the arrival of the Incas in the 1200s. Archaeologists discovered, on March 13, 2008, the ruins of an ancient temple, roadway and irrigation systems at Sacsayhuaman, a famed fortress overlooking the Inca capital of Cuzco. Previous carbon-14 dating of Sacsayhuaman revealed that the Killke culture constructed the fortress in the 1100s. In 2007, excavations uncovered another temple on the edge of the fortress, indicating religious as well as military use of the facility.

Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire (1200s-1532). Many believe that the city was planned to be shaped like a puma. The city had two sectors: the urin and hanan, which were further divided to each encompass two of the four provinces, Chinchasuyu (NW), Antisuyu (NE), Qontisuyu (SW) and Collasuyu (SE). A road led from each of these quarters to the corresponding quarter of the empire. Each local leader was required to build a house in the city and live part of the year in Cusco, but only in the quarter of Cusco that corresponded to the quarter of the empire in which he had territory. After Pachacuti, when an Inca died his title went to one son and his property was given to a corporation controlled by his other relatives, so each title holder had to build a new house and add new lands to the empire, in order to own the land his family needed to maintain after his death.

According to Inca legend, the city was built by Sapa Inca Pachacuti, the man who transformed the Kingdom of Cusco from a sleepy city-state into the vast empire of Tahuantinsuyu. But archaeological evidence points to a slower, more organic growth of the city beginning before Pachacuti. There was however a city plan, and two rivers were channeled around the city. Archaeologists such as Larry Coben have suggested this city plan was replicated at other sites throughout the empire.

The city fell to the sphere of Huáscar in the division of the empire after the death of Huayna Capac in 1527. It was captured by the generals of Atahualpa in April 1532 in the Battle of Quipaipan, and nineteen months later by the Spaniards.

The first Spaniards arrived in the city on November 15, 1533. Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro officially discovered Cusco on March 23, 1534, naming it the "Very noble and great city of Cusco". The many buildings constructed after the Spanish conquest are of Spanish influence with a mix of Inca architecture, including the Santa Clara and San Blas barrios. The Spanish undertook the construction of a new city on the foundations of the old Inca city, replacing temples with churches and palaces with mansions for the conquerors. During the colony, Cusco was very prosperous thanks to the agriculture, cattle raising, mining as well as the trade with Spain. This allowed the construction of many churches and convents, and even a cathedral, university and Archbishopric. Often, Spanish buildings were juxtaposed atop the massive stone walls built by the Inca.

A major earthquake in 1950 badly destroyed the Dominican Priory and Church of Santo Domingo, which were built on top of the impressive Coricancha (Temple of the Sun). The city's Inca architecture, however, withstood the earthquake. Many of the old Inca walls were thought to have been lost after the earthquake, but the granite walls of the Coricancha were exposed, as well as many walls throughout the city. While some wanted to restore the buildings to their colonial splendor, a contingent of Cusco citizens urged city officials to retain the exposed walls. Eventually they won out. Cusco was also hit by a major earthquake in 1650.

Peru declared its independence in 1821 and the city of Cusco maintained its importance within the administrative structure of the country. Upon independence, the Department of Cusco was created and at the time maintained authority over territory extending to the Brazilian border. The city of Cusco was made capital of the department and subsequently became the most important city in the south-eastern Andean region.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the city's urban sprawl spread to the neighboring districts of Santiago and Wanchaq.

In 1911, explorer Hiram Bingham departed from the city, subsequently re-discovering the ruins of Machu Picchu.

The original Inca city, said to have been founded in the 11th century, was sacked by Pizarro in 1535. There are still remains, however, of the palace of the Incas, the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Virgins of the Sun. There are still Inca building remains and foundations, which in some cases have proved to be stronger than the foundations built in present-day Peru. Among the most noteworthy buildings of the city is the cathedral of Santo Domingo.

The major nearby Inca sites are Pachacuti's presumed winter home, Machu Picchu, which can be reached on foot by an Inca trail or by train; the "fortress" at Ollantaytambo; and the "fortress" of Sacsayhuaman.

Other less-visited ruins include: Inca Wasi, the highest of all Inca sites at 3,980 m (13,100 ft); Old Vilcabamba the capital of the Inca after the capture of Cusco; the sculpture garden at Chulquipalta (aka Chuquipalta, Ñusta España, The White Rock, Yurak Rumi); as well as Huillca Raccay, Patallacta, Choquequirao, Moray and many others.

The surrounding area, located in the Huatanay Valley, is strong in agriculture, including corn, barley, quinoa, tea and coffee and gold mining.

Thanks to remodelling, Cusco's main stadium, Estadio Garcilaso de la Vega, attracted many more tourists during South America's continental soccer championship, the Copa América 2004 held in Peru. The stadium is home to one of the country's most successful soccer clubs, Cienciano. Cusco's local team has made a name for itself in the world of club soccer, as it has won several international competitions in South America, although it has yet to achieve such success in its home country.

The city is served by Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport.



September 2009

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