Inca Culture

The Inca Empire was easily one of the most impressive civilizations to ever rise in the Americas. Beginning as a tribe roughly around the year 1200 AD, the Inca culture would flourish in the Andes Mountains, extending its reach throughout the mountains of Peru, and into the present day countries of Ecuador, Bolivia and Chile. The 1532 Battle of Cajamarca essentially marked an end to the short-lived Inca Empire, but the impact they made in that small window of time continues to be one of Peru’s most enduring attractions. From their ruins, to the Peru museums that house their artifacts, visitors can gain an appreciation of how advanced the Inca were. Their modern-day descendants, many of whom speak the Inca Quechua language and live much like their forefathers, are among the most interesting native peoples in the world, if not the friendliest. Their handcrafted wares make for some of the best Peru souvenirs, and their music inspires a most magical Andes Mountains soundtrack.

The history of the Inca begins in myth with the arrival of the first Inca king, Manco Capac, who was borne from the sun god, Inti, on an island in Lake Titicaca. Manco Capac would found the Inca Civilization in Cusco, and the city would remain the all important capital of this great civilization. 11 Inca rulers would follow Manco Capac, among them Pachacutec, who is generally credited for founding the actual Inca Empire. Pachacutec began to vastly expand the Inca Empire in and around the year 1438. By this point, the original Inca tribe had grown into pre-Columbian America’s largest empire. In Cusco, you can see ruins from the palaces that were built for the sixth and eight Inca rulers, and remnants from the reigning period of Pachacutec include the Qoricancha in Cusco, the Ollantaytambo and Pisac fortresses, and Machu Picchu. These ruins are all found in and around the Sacred Valley, which was an area of the Andes Mountains that the Inca especially revered, due in part to its beauty and its climate.

In the early 1500"s, the Inca Empire had come to cover most of civilized South America, but when the Inca ruler, Huayna Capac, died before naming a successor, his sons, Huascar and Atahualpa commenced a civil war of sorts. Also during this time, smallpox had reached the empire from Central America, and those who brought it, The Spanish Conquistadors, weren’t far behind. Francisco Pizarro, a most significant name when it comes to the history of the Incas, first reached Inca territory in the year 1526, and upon his return to Spain in 1529, he received permission from the crown to return and conquer the Inca regions. By 1532 AD, Atahualpa had succeeded in effectively conquering his brother, and his base was the northern Peru highlands city of Cajamarca. The 1532 Battle of Cajamarca, which saw Pizarro and his men overwhelm the Inca forces, is one of the most notable moments in South American history, let alone the history of the Inca. Atahualpa, who refused to convert to Christianity, was imprisoned in Cajamarca. After the Spanish seized his gold and silver, he was killed. The Inca Empire was essentially over, and Atahualpa’s brother, Manco Inca Yupanqui, made a failed attempt to re-seize Cusco in 1536. Manco Inca did manage to successfully hold off the Spanish after retreating to the Ollantaytambo fortress. His 1536 stand marks the most successful Inca defense against Spanish forces.

The Inca culture permeates Peru to the present day, and it is impossible to visit Peru and not notice how attached the country is to its Inca roots. The Inca ruins of Peru are perhaps most responsible for attracting curious visitors, most of whom come to see majestic Machu Picchu. The Sacred Valley, with the towns of Pisac and Ollantaytambo, is a place rich with Inca ruins, and the Sun Temple of Machu Picchu displays their reverence for the sun. The sun was the basis for the Inca religion, and among the top Peru festivals, Inti Raymi, is dedicated to the sun god, Inti. Inca ruins aren’t only found in and around Cusco however. In Cajamarca, you can visit Inca ruins, and in nearby Tucume Peru, you can join one of the tours that visits the Inca pyramids. According to some, the Tucume Inca pyramids comprise the most interesting excavation site in the Americas, though that designation is surely up for debate. While brushing up on the history of the Incas is a good idea before getting to Peru, you will have plenty of chances to learn all about it when you get there. Chances are you will be just as fascinated with Inca culture as are the proud Peruvians.

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