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THE QHAPAQÑAN
(INCA ROAD NETWORK)

Some 500 years ago, when Europe settled the coasts of America, a large part of the territory now occupied by the Andean countries was undergoing a vigorous development and integration process led by one of the greatest civilizations the world has known - that of the Inkas.

The Inca Empire was the most important state in the history of the Americas, and it would never have existed without the road network that was used for transport, communication and administration. The well-paved roads in the Andean region are specially significant when compared with those of other societies. The first Europeans on the scene were full of praise for these Inca roads, finding them superior to those of 16th century Europe.

Many of these Inca roads are still intact, and others are still in excellent condition. This network was used for many of the activities we now find indispensable for the development and proper functioning of a nation; the best equivalent of this network in our modern life would be the sum total of our air routes, railways and highway systems as well as our postal and telephone systems for the administration of communications and trade.

The Inca roads not only represented the power of the central state along its 23,000 km of highways, but also the link between the natural and the supernatural, within a cultural milieu that covered an area from the north of Argentina and Chile to the plains of Venezuela.

For the Incas, the "qhapaq ñan" or "Inka ñan" (Inca road) was a complex administrative system of communications and transport, as well as a way of dividing the four basic areas of the Empire; One main road left the capital, Cuzco towards each of the four suyos into which the Inca Empire was divided (Antisuyo, Contisuyo, Chichaysuyo and Collasuyo); the Inca roads also physically covered the geographical area of the state and symbolized the central control of the different peoples that formed it. For the conquered peoples, the roads were a ubiquitous symbol of the power and the authority of the Inca State. Probably there were very few imperial subjects who had never seen an Inca road at some time in their lives. The subject populations also understood that the roads had to be built and maintained by them as part of their obligations to the dominant power.

The Inca road system had two long axial roads, one along the coast, linking the present Chilean territory with Tumbes, and the other, the backbone of the Empire, linking Cuzco with Quito, through the whole sierra; on many of its stretches it was paved with stone and included drainage, bridges, containment and defense walls, terracing and stairways. The "great road" or Capacñan de la Sierra was up to 16 m wide in places. Some stretches, one of them wide and paved and the other compacted and narrow for the Inca and his cortege and the supplies and retinue, respectively. On the south coast of Peru, in the Waca canyon one can see the side road that was used to bring fresh fish from the sea to the Imperial capital (El Cuzco).

The Chinchaysuyo road was the most important of all. Its building, under Tupac Yupanqui, was the greatest government undertaking of the imperial phase of the Cuzco quechuas. When Cañaris and the humid northern sierras were incorporated, the Incas created their network according to the social system, and thanks to this were able to develop great skills in highway technology, taking advantage of previous tracings, and paradoxically leaving a valuable tool to their later European masters.

At its northern tip, from Cajamarca, the Capaqñan went through the Ecuadorian province of Loja to Tomebamba (today's Cuenca). In Loja the road went by the Mariviña and Bola dairy farms. In Cuenca, a place with admirable roads, the great dairies were Tambo Blanco, Tomebamba, Paredones and Ingapirca, in the Hatun Cañar area.

The Incas' entry to the present Ecuador territory was accompanied by a social transformation; labor organization was by the Inca rotating system to provide the State-run structure with its goods and services (especially the roads and dairies); that is why this road appeared as a result of the last Inca conquests. Construction techniques were of very high quality in the last stage of Inca development.

To the south, the roads were that of Contisuyo and Collasuyo, that the Incas divided into two parts, Umasuyo and Urcosuyo, on the eastern and western shores of lake Titicaca. Linking roads connected the main arteries. At the present boundary of Arequipa, Puno and Cuzco, between Contisuyo and Collasuyo was located a royal dairy with large circular storehouses that continued in use during the colonial period.

In Inca times, the day's travel was calculated so that at the end of each stretch equivalent to one day's walk (more or less every 30 km), there was a major inn or a dairy. The Royal Dairies were built as veritable palaces with warehouses for foodstuffs called collcas, meeting areas and rooms for permanent service staff. As well, they had relay posts called chaskiwasis, used by walkers and couriers (chaskis).

The Inca road system is perhaps the most tangible physical evidence of the coherence and size of the Inca Empire, and without any doubt one of the main achievements of the native Americans. This is a stretch of some 23,000 km on some of the world's steepest areas, that was used to guarantee the functioning of the Inca government apparatus.

Part of this road system may be seen still in different places in Peruvian territory - one at km 88 of the Cuzco - Quillabamba railway, where Qorihuayrachina is located, the starting point of one of Peru's most famous trekking trails.


 
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