SAQSAYHUAMAN AND THE OTHER FEATS
OF THE INKAS
The fortress of Saqsaywaman, a major feat of Inka engineering, was built on a hill west of Cuzco city, and included a Sun Temple in finely worked stone. Its erection demanded the efforts of tens of thousands of workers equipped with only a few metal tools.
It was built during the rule of Tupac Inca Yupanqui, Huayna Capac and Huascar, and features platforms raised at different levels, starting from the esplanade on the north side of the site. The architectural style is cyclopean, consisting of enormous and heavy blocks of stone, finely sculpted and fitting together precisely. It has three platform levels, each over 200 m long, the most important being the first; at its top, a cluster of buildings and terraces includes three circular constructions. The central one is the largest, and features three ring-shaped concentric walls. In the sector known as "el rodadero" (the rolling area) there are rocks carved to form embankments or small altars. We can also see the remains of a circular artificial lake, built for ritual purposes, as well as a number of aqueducts and underground galleries whose side walls, in many cases, have niches and low steps carved into them; finally, there is also a huge sculpted standing stone known locally as " la piedra cansada" ("the tired stone").
By means of terracing, one of Inca engineering's major achievements, as well as other systems, the Incas managed to feed a population estimated at around 10 million inhabitants using basic foodstuffs that would later form an important part of the diet of the world population: potatoes, corn (maize) and tomatoes.
The terraces were built by smoothing down the slopes in sections, giving them the shape of a gigantic stairway. The terraces thus formed, separated from each other by pirkas ("drystane" dykes, or un-cemented stone slab walls), were then filled with fertile soil to optimize rainfall. Those gigantic stairways that combined functionality with beauty were also useful in preventing rain-induced landslides.
The Andes valleys are typically deep and narrow, severely reducing the amount of level ground suitable for irrigation at their bottoms. In the rainy season, mountain-slope landslides are so frequent and intense that they jeopardize the valley settlements and their crops. The pre-Hispanic Andean civilizations solved both problems by terracing the valley walls, and during the Inca period this was done so extensively that whole valleys were reformed and leveled. Terrace-type agriculture brought the benefit of new land for crop growing and higher, more concentrated and less fluctuating yields. Moreover, by extending the range of suitable conditions for crop growing, the terraces probably also helped foster crop diversification.
Terracing methods in agriculture probably started on the shores of the Titicaca lake, no later than 900 BC. In any case, as from 300 AD, the practice of agricultural terrace building gradually extended over a major part of the central Andes, reaching a peak during the expansion of the Inca Empire, just before the European conquest of South America. During this period, terrace building was carried out on a massive scale as part of the Inca government policy to systematically improve soil quality. The main purpose of terrace building at that time is thought to have been the expansion of corn growing as far as possible, together with irrigation techniques. In those areas above the normal height limit for corn growing (3,200 to 3,500 meters above sea level), including the high valleys and the high plateau, the non-irrigated terraces were probably used for basic foodstuff crops such as tubers (potatoes, oca, olluco) and local grains (quinua and ca˝ihua). Some vegetable-garden type terraces were set aside for special crops (herbs, spices and medicinal plants). On the eastern edge of the terraces, special lots were used for growing coca.
The Moray agricultural laboratory
Only 38 km from Cuzco, or half an hour by car, there is a mysterious place known as "the four circular terraces of Moray", that gives the appearance of huge "fingerprints" embedded in a barren landscape, at 3,500 meters above sea level.
Moray, used for adapting plants to hostile climatic conditions, was one more instance of the extremely high level of agricultural expertise achieved by the Incas. This was an agricultural research facility consisting of immense conical depressions, some 45 to 88m in diameter, cut into the limestone, where different climatic conditions were obtained according to terrace depth.
The terraces of this famous "sunken amphitheater" resembling an artificial crater, were built with containment walls and then filled with fertile earth and irrigated using complex irrigation systems. Thus, the graduated thermal variance between the surface and the bottom of the natural depressions was used to adapt different varieties of plants (over 250 vegetable species) on each terrace. It is thought that the Incas used the experience obtained through their experiments with this type of "greenhouse" to organize the agricultural production of the whole of Tawantinsuyo.
The Tipon Aqueducts
This beautiful complex of agricultural terracing, long stairways and stone channeling is located some 20 km south of Cuzco city.
Seemingly, Tipon formed part of the royal estate of the Inca Yawar Huaca and was a place of religious worship and agricultural research. Outstanding features here are functional and esthetic harmony, typical of quechua architecture, and evidenced in the refined stone structures serving as surface or underground aqueducts, channels, cascades and artificial gullies.
These places are only an example of the great number of building and engineering feats of equal or even greater architectural and functional beauty that exist in the area, leading us to ask ourselves how these ancient settlers managed to achieve this level of development, what drove them in their incessant creative efforts and how they registered their discoveries and progress. We may someday be able to answer these questions. Meanwhile, we can only ecstatically admire their unequaled beauty.