Exploring the Majestic Valley of the Incas
El Valle Sagrado (the Sacred Valley) of the Incas is located 15 km (9miles) north of the Inca capital of Cusco at 2,800 meters (9,186 feet). The Sacred Valley was once the Inca Empire’s main point for the extraction of natural wealth, and one of the most important areas for the production of corn in Peru.
The Valley is blessed with an excellent climate, fertile lands and the waters of the Sacred River of the Inca, the Vilcanota (which in Quechua means sacred or wonderful). In the town of Urubamba, the Vilcanota is known as the Urubamba River.
We have to admire the advanced agricultural techniques of the Incas and their “andeneria” (terraces) systems: platform systems that are comprised of a group of small earthen plots of land, arranged in steps on the hills, where crops are sown. The valleys were also a place for the worship of Pachamama (mother earth).
The Sacred Valley is a must-see destination in Peru and has become one of the most important tourist centres in the country. There are numerous breath-taking Inca ruins, such as Ollantaytambo, Pisaq, and Moray. The Sacred Valley also has two of the most important artisan markets in the Cusco region: Pisaq and Chinchero.
Ollantaytambo is an attractive town located at the western end of the Sacred Valley (about one and a half hours by bus from Cusco). The town has been built on top of original Inca foundations and is the best surviving example of Inca town planning, and the most “atmospheric”. The flights of terraces leading up above the town are superb, as well as the views of the valley. This archaeological complex was a gigantic agricultural, administrative, social, religious and military fortress in the era of the Tahuantinsuyo (1300–1532 AD). The Spaniards called it the Fortress of Ollantaytambo.
The origin of the name is controversial. According to the Aymara language, Ollantaytambo derives from the word ulla-nta-wi, which means place to look downward; the word tambo was added subsequently. In the Quechua language, the name derives from the word Ollanta (which is the name of an Inca Captain) and the word tambo, a Spanish derivation of the Quechua word tampu, which means city that offers lodging, food and comfort to travellers.
Pisaq is an important Inca ruin that contains military, religious, and agricultural buildings.
This Inca citadel is located 32 km (20miles) northeast of Cusco, in the Sacred Valley, at 2,950 meters (9,678 feet). According to historians, Pisaq defended the southern entrance to the Sacred Valley, while Choquequirao defended the western entrance, and the fortress at Ollantaytambo the northern. Inca Pisaq controlled a route which connected the Inca Empire with the border of the rain forest.
The ruins of Pisaq are divided into 4 parts: Pisaqa, Intihuatana, Callacasa (Q’allaqasa), and Kinchiracay, which are located at different elevations and separated by agricultural terraces. There are original Inca houses, courtyards, steps, aqueducts, and tunnels. The climbs are fun; the views are picturesque.
Pisaq derives from the Quechua word “pisaq” or “p’isaqa”, which means partridge. In accordance with traditional Incan architecture, cities were built based on the figurative designs of animals. Pisaq was partridge-shaped, as we can tell from its name.
Located 38 km (24 miles) northwest of Cusco and 7 km (4 miles) southwest of Maras, we find Moray. Moray is a Quechua word and names a territory occupied since ancient times by the rural communities of Mullak´as and Misminay. It is said that the word Moray is connected with the maize harvest, called Aymoray or with May, that was also called Aymoray, and similarly with the dried potato, which is Moraya or Moray.
The site contains unusual Inca ruins, mostly consisting of several enormous terraced circular depressions, the largest of which is about 30 meters deep (98 feet). The purpose of these depressions is uncertain, but their depth and orientation with respect to wind and sun creates a temperature difference as large as 15°C (27°F) between the top and bottom. This large temperature difference was possibly used by the Inca to study the effects of different climatic conditions on crops. In other words, Moray was perhaps an Inca agricultural experiment station.
The archaeological group of Moray was recognised by the Shirppe Johnson expedition in 1932 when it flew over the area.
In September, hundreds of local people in nearby communities travel to the circular cultivation terraces in Moray to celebrate the Moray Raymi, or the festival of the sun. The celebration includes traditional dances celebrating everything relating to the earth: produce, agriculture and livestock.
Salinas of Maras
Located approximately 3 km (1.9 miles) from the Vilcanota River, near the village of Maras, the Salinas (salt mines) of Maras are very picturesque. Here, salt is extracted in evaporation terraces constructed on the sides of a hill.
There are approximately 3,000 pools in the terraced system, similar to the agricultural terraces. The size of a single pool is about 5 square meters (58 square feet) on average. The salt-extraction process works in a very ancient fashion: locals run water into the pools, then drain it; the small amount of water remaining in the pool is then left to evaporate. After about a month of evaporation, a layer of dry salt remains in the bottom, which is then collected. The Incas extracted salt here hundreds of years ago, using the same technique.