Oh the Wakas I’ve Seen!

Hola Peru Fans!

Today I would like to ponder Peruvian wakas. As I mentioned last time, a waka is a holy place. According to Andean cosmology, wakas are arranged along imaginary lines that radiate out from the temple of the sun in Cusco. Remember to the Inca, Cusco was the center of the universe. These holy places were envisioned as connected to it.



Ollantaytambo was one of the first wakas we visited in the Cusco region. It is 60 km northwest from the city. Ollantaytambo was the the royal estate of Emperor Pachacuti who conquered the region. He built the town and ceremonial center within it. The site was used both for religious purposes and as a fortress.


Today, Sacsayhuaman is a 20,000 ha archaeological park on the northern outskirts of Cusco that includes severl wakas: Sacsayhuman itself, Tambomachay, Puca Pucara, and Q’uenqo. Sacsayhuaman included a Sun Temple which suggests that the complex was the focus of ritual activities. The large plaza area, capable of holding thousands of people, is well designed for ceremonial activities and several of the large structures at the site may also have been used during rituals. Today, Peruvians celebrate Inti Raymi, the annual Inca festival of the winter solstice and new year. It is held near Sacsayhuamán on 24 June.


Tambomachay is a temple dedicated to water. Water was a sacred element not only to the Inca, but to many indigenous cultures throughout the Americas. The site consistes of a series of aquaducts, channels, and several waterfalls taht run through the rocks.

Puca Pucara

Puca Pucara was used as a resting place by Incan travelers. Puca Pucara means “Red Fort” in Quechua, and comes from the red color of the rocks at dusk. Puca Pucara is an example of military architecture that also functioned as an administrative center. The fort is made of large walls, terraces, and staircases.


Q’uenqo means “labrynth” in QuechuaThe use and meaning of this site still remain an mystery to historians and archeologists.  The ceremonial site is shaped like a semicircular amphitheater about 4 m high, there is an all but destroyed rock carving of an upstanding puma at it’s center. In the walls that border the main court are 19 niches carved in stone that reasearchers believe served as seating.


Qorikancha means golden temple in Quechua. It is located within the city of Cusco and was an important temple within the Inca Empire, dedicated primarily to Inti, the Sun God. It has been said that the walls and floors were once covered in sheets of solid gold, and its adjacent courtyard was filled with golden statues. Spanish reports tell of its opulence that was “fabulous beyond belief.”  When the Spanish required the Inca to raise a ransom in gold for the life of the leader Atahualpa, most of the gold was collected from here. The Spanish colonists built the Church of Santo Domingo on the site, demolishing the temple and using its foundations for the cathedral. Today, visitors can see both the church itself and what is left of the foundations of the temple.

And of course, there is Machu Picchu. But I will save that for another day…

*Photos courtesy of Pam Baldwin – Photographer at large 🙂


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Chair of Social Science, Humanities,
& Foreign Languages

Liberal Arts & University Transfer
Craven Community College

800 College Court
New Bern, NC 28562
Email: bellaceroc@cravencc.edu
Phone: 252.638.7328
Fax: 252.638.3231

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