by Jim Goodman
|Ollantaytambo and Pinkuylluna Mountain
|mother and child, Ollantaytambo
The town was an important Inca religious center and boasts several archaeological attractions. Besides its collection of temple and fortress ruins, ancient terraces and stone streets, Ollantaytambo is the site of a sculpture unique to the Inca realm—a carved head of the god Wiracocha, 140 meters high, on the cliffs of Pinkuylluna Mountain.
|taking a break in the town square
Only the head is really sculpted. But the shape of the mound above it suggests the burden the god always carried with him on his travels around the world. The brow is wrinkled in a way that suggests both admonishment and
|the face of Wiracocha
On Tamboqhasa, the other mountain flanking the Patacancha River, ancient stone terraces climb up from the base to a spur housing temple ruins and a former fortress. In a landscape dominated by mountains and little relatively flat, alluvial land for farming, stone terraces extended the area for cultivation and kept the valleys free from the danger of landslides. Builders cut stones of different sizes and angles and fitted them together to produce the best possible structures for both water retention and drainage systems.
In the beds of these terraces they first laid a layer of pounded gravel, then a layer of sand and afterwards filled it with topsoil carried up from the valley. This prevented waterlogged soil from expanding and bursting the retaining walls. The stones in these retaining walls heated up during the day and then, during the cool nights, transmitted this heat to the soil. This kept the plant roots warm even when the temperatures plunged to frosty levels. Farmers generally used them to grow corn, potatoes and quinoa, a cereal grain.
|terraces of the Astral Llama on Tamboqhasa Mountain
They also had cosmological significance. Terraces were not just built wherever it was physically feasible. Probably under the direction of the local priest-astronomers, farmers constructed terraces and laid out their cities on that part of the terrain that resembled a certain animal or constellation. In Ollantaytambo’s case, the terraced area of the lower slope of Tamboqhasa represents the Astral Llama. Viewed across the valley from the slope of Pinkuylluna, it does have that shape, with the head of the animal to the left, where the ruins of the Astral Llama’s shrine stand.
|the main residential area
|the House of Dawn--Pacaritampu pyramid
|the "windows" of Pacaritampu
|the abode of the mountain spirits
The Incas built the House of Dawn here because the site was associated with the mythical founding of the Inca nation. Thus the ‘dawn’ of the temple’s name also implied the birth of the Inca empire and the “dawn’ of a new era. The first emperor, Manco Capac, was supposed to have been standing at one of the windows at dawn when he was unexpectedly illuminated by the first sunrays. He did not establish his capital here, though, but instead moved over the mountains 85 km away and founded the royal city of Cusco.
|ruins of the fortress above the town
Assembling a large army Manco Inca laid siege to Cusco, but could not capture the city. The Spanish counter-attacked the Inca stronghold above the city and forced Manco Inca to retreat. But other Inca generals occupied neighboring highland areas and annihilated Spanish relief forces. Though they failed to capture Lima they were still a formidable force and a grave threat to Spanish control. So the Spanish decided to try to end the deadlock with a direct assault on Ollantaytambo. Commanded by Hernando Pizarro, the force comprised 30,000 Indian warriors and 100 Europeans, 30 of them infantry and 70 cavalry. Manco Inca had about the same number in his army, manly made up of conscript local farmers and a large number of recruits from the Amazon rain forests.
Encouraged by his victory, Mano Inca launched another expedition against Cusco. But the Spanish ambushed his forces at night. Shortly after, a large Spanish contingent returned to Cusco from campaigns in Chile and Manco Inca decided Ollantaytambo was too close to Cusco in the new situation and moved west to Vitcos. Pursued by a Spanish army, he escaped to the even more remote location of Vilacabamba and died shortly afterwards.
The Spanish took possession of Ollantaytambo and put the entire population to work in the mines. They did not force them out of the town, nor replace their houses with colonial villas. But they did not let them farm and so the people stopped using the terraces. Centuries later, when Peru became independent and the people of Ollantaytambo could go back to agriculture, they did not revive the use of the ancient terraces, but made new farms on valley lands. The stone terraces still perform their other function, that of preventing landslides. They also provide a constantly visible reminder of Ollantaytambo’s days of glory, when it was one of the famous jewels of the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
|the main battleground in the Spanish assault on Ollantaytambo
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