Until the Spanish conquistadors came in the 16th century, the Inca culture was dominating the South American continent. An empire spread over five countries. And the Inca culture continues to live on. You can visit ancient sites, hike their paths, eat their food and hear their language. But before you explore the land of the Incas: Here are 10 things you should know.
1. The Unlost City of the Incas
Many people think Machu Picchu is the “Lost City” of the Incas and was only discovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham. Hundreds of years that no one knew about it. Wrong. It was well known, but only by close by villagers. When Bingham discovered the ancient citadel, a Peruvian family was living on the property using it for growing their vegetables. The farmer rented the grounds of Machu Picchu for about US$ 4 a year. Hiram Bingham though brought the citadel to worldwide attention and laid the foundation of protecting the historic valuable ruins. If you are visiting Peru we highly recommend you to take a tour to Machu Picchu. The famous Inca Trail takes you past stunning remnants and original paths. Right up to incredible views over the ruins of Machu Picchu surrounded by high mountain peaks and dense jungles.
2. Resisting to the last
When the Spanish conquered Peru, the Incas were not willed to leave their land voluntarily. After a fierce fight the invaders overtook most of the Inca empire, in 1533 Cusco followed. But a few years later the resisting natives managed to
bring the city back in their possession. The fight for Cusco nearly lasted for a year, but eventually the Spanish conquerors won. And they carried a deadly weapon with them: disease. Smallpox, influenca and typhus killed large amounts of natives. The Incas still did not give up. The last city, Vilcabamba, remained Inca land until 1572. Their language, Quechua, continues to live on until today.
3. Children Sacrifice
Human sacrifices were usually executed during important events or times of change and only if it was “necessary”. After the death of an emperor, or to please the gods when the harvest was poor. Most of the time children were the ones who had to die. They were pure souls and had young and healthy bodies. The young boys or girls had to belong to good families. Their deaths were only seen as the start of a new life. The children were given Coca leaves and an intoxicating drink to slow their breathing. Often theu were just left by themselves to freeze to death on a steep mountain top. Mummies are still found until today.
4. Head Surgeries
Did you know the Incas were masters when it came to head surgeries? Archaeologists found a large amount of skulls that had a piece removed. The patients were mostly men, which leads to the assumption that the surgeries were executed to treat combat injuries. While those procedures were fatal most of the time in its beginnings, the Incas perfected their skills over the years leading to a success rate of 90% and barely causing infections. Patients were drugged with medical plants to decrease their pain. Today a similar practice is used to release fluid and prevent the brain from swelling after traumatic events.
5. The Incas built Highways
After expanding their land, the Incas had to make sure their cities were connected to each other. Their impressive roads covered more than 40.000 km or 25.000 miles and are known as the royal highway. Their sophisticated system overcame mountains, deserts and jungles and existed of stairs, bridges and endless streets. The Incas even installed buildings on the side of the road for travellers to rest. Parts of their network survived until today. When you hike up to Machu Picchu using the Salkantay, Quarry or Inca Trail, you will even be able to use the paths that the Incas set foot on hundreds of years ago.
6. Descendent of the Sun God
The Incas had different gods they were looking up to, but one of the most important ones is Inti, the god of the sun. He was responsible for a successful crop. The emperor was seen as a descendant of Inti and treated like a god himself. For example: the leader of the empire would not wear clothes more than once, and his ropes and crowns were more than flamboyant. If you have seen Disney’s “The Emperors new groove”, playing in an Incan city, you might have a picture of a spoilt king “Kuzco” in your head. Hearing about how Inca emperors were treated, you might see where this comes from.
7. Intelligence tests
The Incas had a sophisticated government system with heaps of employees working for the governors. To keep those positions in good hands, they developed an intelligence test for children in young ages to determine if they were good enough to become an administrator. If they were, they were sent to the capitol Cusco to be trained, if not they were taught trade or farming.
8. Unique Construction
How the Incas managed to construct their buildings and gigantic temples using massive stone tiles is still shrouded in legends. Fact is their unique construction did not need any cement and was earthquake-proof. In Cusco most of the building foundations are old Inca stone walls. While the Spanish buildings above have crumbled through numerous earthquakes, the Incan tiles did not move a bit. Walk around the narrow alleys in the city center and be amazed!
9. Almost Socialist
The Incas had a sophisticated governmental system, that helped them expand throughout the Andes. People did work for the state as a kind of a tax, and got vital goods for doing so. That way the empire could quickly construct new buildings, streets and farm the Andes. Every citizen was seen as important and contributed with their work to a functioning system. Whenever the Incas conquered new land, they let most of the structures as they were and included the people in their system. Instead of suppressing they tried to learn from them. The Incas kept an accounting system to have an overview over the number of population, stocks of supplies and debts.
10. Sacred Valley
The Sacred Valley was the Incas home and is one of the most beautiful landscapes Peru has to offer. Here the Incas have their roots, from here they started to expand their empire. The Sacred Valley lies high up in the Andes, but where other people have their problems, the Incas were absolutely used to the heights. If you decide to hike the Sacred Valley take your time to acclimatize. The best trail to see the incredible nature is the Salkantay Trek. In five days you will hike through dense jungles, take paths high up to the snowy peaks, pass turquoise lakes and visit coffee plantations. And at your last day you will get impressive sights of Machu Picchu.