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The ruins of Ingapirca

Written on: Wednesday October 3rd, 2007

A journal entry from: Kevin and Julie's RTW

Location: The ruins of Ingapirca, Ecuador

Author: Julie


For the second consecutive day our alarm clock woke us up early. We had another tour booked for the day but this time to see the largest and most significant Incan ruin in Ecuador: Ingapirca (meaning Wall of the Incas). It was built at end of the 15th century during the expansion of the Inca empire into Ecuador. The city of Tomebamba (present day Cuenca) was their main goal with it's verdant valleys, good agricultural fields, and abundant water resources. Unfortunately, they met resistance in the Caņari people who were already there (500 A.D. to 1480 A.D). They were a proud warrior people who did not take kindly to the Incas arriving on their land and being rendered to the level of slaves. They continuously fought the occupation of their lands and forced an truce between them and the Incas of which Ingapirca is a testament. It is one of the few Incan sites where the construction is a combination of the Incan-style and another tribe. Ingapirca is made up of two distinct zones: the Temple of the Moon (an earlier built Caņari temple dedicated to the moon goddess) and the Incan designed/built Temple of the Sun.

As we drove to the site, we stopped in the village of Caņar to see the beautiful church of Santuario de Biblian Virgen del Rocio. Our guide had assured us that we had never seen a church quite like it and he was right. This beautiful church is built into the side of the summit of one of the mountains overlooking the village. The builders, all local people donating their time in the early 1900s, chiselled the rock face smooth and the building was built against this rock face. One of the interior walls is actually the rock face. The pews all face the rock altar. It was beautiful to see the fusion of religion and nature in one place. Outside, there were ramparts that wrapped around and afforded us the best views of the village and valley. It was fantastic and unexpected. Here is a link to a video someone made of the church. Words and photos could never convey how impressive it is to be there.

We arrived at the site an hour later after turning down a small gravel road, passing cattle farm after farm. Sadly, we had to pass a processing of young children in their school uniforms carrying red roses, following a horse and cart with a small casket. We could only guess that one of their schoolmates had passed away and this was the processional to the burial site. It was terribly sad.

We paid our entry fee to enter the site of Ingapirca and entered the small but informative museum. Our guide sat down with us and gave us a history lesson on the Caņari people and their turbulent relationship with their Incan overlords. Interestingly, about 70 years before the fall of the Incan empire, the city of Tomebamba became the unofficial capital of the empire. After subjugating the Caņari people, the military had setup their headquarters there while the government was located in Cuzco. The king to satisfy the Caņari and to quiet the naysayer about the second capital had his son marry a Caņari princess. Their son, Apullacta, was half-Caņari and half-Incan. Not having being raised in Cusco he felt more at home in Tomebamba and spent most of his time there to be near his queen. They had 2 sons: Atahualpa and Huascar. Atahualpa was first born and raised to be the next king and spent most of his life in Cuzco. The younger son, Huascar, became a great warrior general of the Incan army and spent most of his life in Tomebamba. Apullacta loved both his sons equally and on his deathbed decreed that both would reign the empire; with Atahualpa controlling the southern portion of the empire around Cuzco and Huascar would control the northern part around Tomebamba. As you can imagine, neither sons were pleased and a civil war ensued. It was at about this time that the Spanish arrived to find the Incan empire already weakened from its internal strife. They took advantage of this weakness and with the help of Caņari warred against the Incas. The Caņari had paid the Spanish in gold to help them overthrow their tyrant overlords. Their thoughts were that the Spanish would leave once the war was done and they had the gold. History proves that was wrong. The Spanish were almost vanquished but a solar eclipse occurred during the great day of the war and the Incans took it as an omen their god had abandoned them. They laid down their weapons and surrendered to the Spanish and thus began the crumbling of the empire. During these years, Ingapirca was a site used by the Incas as " an inn for Incan couriers and other travellers, later fortified under the control of the Caņaris of Huayna Capac, later being expanded and used as a lodge for troops, a resting place for the Inca emperor and a temple, built in the style of Coricancha, the main temple of Cuzco". After the conquest, most of the site was dismantled and the rocks used to build Spanish settlements.

Our tour began at the Temple of Moon. It was built by the Caņari people who worshipped the Goddess of the Moon. The temple was made of rough-hewed stone and there was a burial site. Eleven people are still buried there to this day. Experts do not want to disturb the resting place due to its fragility. A couple of decades ago, the burial site was opened, photos were taken of the bodies and reburied. The artefacts that were with them are now exposed in the museum. There was jewellery, artistic pins to hold animal hides against the body, jars, pots, and weapons. Next we followed the half-moon shaped path towards the Temple of the Sun. The half-moon shape was another concession the Incans let to the Caņari as their design principals was based on straight lines. We passed ruins of grain and animal storage, as well as the still functioning water irrigation system. We approached the Temple of the Sun from the left and it was immediately evident that it was designed more along style of flat, perfect fitting rocks for which the Incans are known. Even the stone was different and experts think it was imported from quarries near Cuzco. Lined along the path were stones that were found by archaeologists in the early 20s during the first excavation of the site. Much of the upper walls had fallen and these were the stones that formed the walls. Since each stone is an exact fit for one and only one place on the wall, they were not able to re-construct it. It was a giant puzzle that only someone with years on their hands would be able to solve. We could see sections of the wall that had been rebuilt but not in the correct order so there were gaps in between the stones and some sections were held together with mortar. We rounded the high walls and climb the stairs. It was truly mind-boggling how each stone was flat against the next one. Not a needle or a piece of paper could be fit in between, it was a perfect fit. Once at the top of the Temple, our guide pointed out that the site was chosen for 4 reasons: the first being it was a great location to watch their enemies in the next valley over, the second because it was in middle of a large valley, and third because the valley allowed for the precise North-South-East-West placement of the temple, and lastly because it was in direct path of the Inca Trail between Cuzco and Quito. The temple was comprised of a long, flat space with a small building. This building was the actual temple and one side had 4 windows and the other side had 3. It was perfectly oriented to have the sun hit the middle windows during winter and summer solstice and the remaining months of the year mark the month perfectly in each little window alcove. There were two closed doorways that we could stand in, facing each other and we discovered the acoustic were perfect. Kevin could talk in a normal voice and I could hear him, almost as if his voice had travelled through the stone. Experts think it was so priests could whisper to each other during rituals and festivals.

In total, we spent two very informative hours at the site. Discovering little tidbits here and there about the Incas, the workings of their empire, the history of their success and collapse and the conquest. We only experienced the iceberg and hope to discover more as we move on to Peru in the next couple of weeks. We returned to our hotel with thoughts of empires, wars, brothers, and architectural wonders on our minds. How a people that was so advanced yet so primitive could accomplish something like that place leaves more questions than answers. How did they cut the rock so perfectly, how was the stone transported, what were the ritual ceremonies that were performed there, why were the 11 bodies buried there and who were they. No one knows the answers for certain yet but there are a lot of theories out there.


From Greg K on Oct 9th, 2007

More! More! I love it! And, yes, I'm still jealous. Take care guys.