It is hard to believe that today was our final day in Cusco. As a group, we decided we’d spend our last day sightseeing, shopping, and resting in preparation of our long journey home. We started with a visit to the ancient citadel of Saksaywaman, located in the northern part of Cusco. Saksaywaman (also Sacsayhuamán) is a Quechua word meaning “speckled (or marbled) falcon,” because it was considered the falcon that guarded the former capital of the Inca Empire. It is located on a hill overviewing the city. The views there are absolutely breathtaking! Saksaywaman consists of a large stone fortress constructed over a period of over 70 years. The walls are composed of enormous stone blocks fitted perfectly together without the use of mortar. Some of the stones exceed a height of 30 feet! Based on what we learned from one of our tour guides earlier this week, we know that this was a holy place, because mortar was not used when building the wall. It is commonly called a “Royal House of the Sun,” because people would go there to worship the sun god and other lesser deities. Each year, a Peruvian ceremony Inti Raymi (Quechua for “sun festival”) is held at Saksaywaman on June 24 for the winter solstice—the shortest day of the year in the Southern Hemisphere. Thousands of tourists from around the world make the trip to Cusco and celebrate with music, costumes, and lots of food.
Our next stop was to Qoricancha. It was once the most important temple in the Inca Empire and was dedicate to Inti, the sun god. From a bird’s eye view, the temple once resembled rays of sun shining in all directions. Similar to Saksaywaman, the builders of the temple had mastered the art of masonry, as demonstrated by their use of large stone blocks fitted together without the use of mortar. Today, the stonework is all that remains. At one time, the doors and interior of the temple were covered in gold sheets! Hundreds of years ago, people came from near and far to participate in religious rites at the temple, while high priests used the temple as an observatory. A gorgeous courtyard is located at the very center. After the Spanish conquered the empire, most of the temple was destroyed, and they used its foundation to build a cathedral. The Santo Domingo church and monastery were built beside the temple on higher ground to signify the Spanish conquest. Today, the upper level houses displays of beautiful modern art.
Lastly, we visited an Indian market to buy souvenirs. The market is home to aisles upon aisles of vendors selling everything from paintings, jewelry, ceramics, scarves, hats, clothing, and toys. Afterwards, we returned to the hotel, and we all packed up our belongings and prepared for our morning departure.