Walking Tour of Cusco, Peru
Cusco was the capital of the Incan Empire which lasted, roughly, from the 11th century to the 16th, meeting its demise in the person of Spanish conquistador, Francisco Pizarro in 1536. The city was known to the Incas as “The Navel of the World”, with the word, navel, implying center. Much of today’s city is built upon the stonework of the master Incan masons who had constructed many temples and other structures in the city.
My walk begins at the heart and Main Square of the city, the Plaza de Armas. The Cathedral (La Catedral) sits on the eastern side of the square, and is a baroque masterpiece whose high altar is made of solid silver, mined in Bolivia. Note also the exceptional woodwork of the retablo and the beautiful choir stalls and pulpit and the many wonderful paintings.
At the southern end of the plaza is La Compania de Jesus, a Jesuit church built on the site of the palace of Inca ruler, Huayna Capac. It has a lovely symmetry on the outside and fine artwork inside. The walls on the northwestern side of the plaza are original Incan walls and are thought to be the foundation of another Incan palace.
Exit the square at the southeaster corner and turn left on Calle Triunfo. Then, continue straight ahead on Calle Hatunrumliyoc, one of Cusco’s most atmospheric thoroughfares because of the Incan walls which line the street. On the left is the Museo de Arte Religioso, a former palace which has been converted to a museum. Viewing the interior of the palace is more worthwhile than the collection.
Continue on Hatunrumliyoc into the Barrio de San Blas, perhaps Cusco’s most interesting and authentic neighborhood. Your steep, uphill climb is suitably rewarded with a visit to Iglesia de San Blas (at the top and to the right of Cuesta San Blas). The Churriqueresque pulpit is the main draw here. It is considered one of the finest woodcarvings in the world, and was fashioned from the trunk of a single, cedar tree. Before leaving this area of the city, wander through the narrow streets and then retrace your steps on Hatunrumliyoc.
Now, turn left onto Calle Herrajes (which becomes San Augustin), and then turn right on Calle Zetas, to the Plazoleta Santo Domingo. On this location, you will find an uncomfortable blending of Old and New, of Incan and Spanish, for here is Qoricancha, the Incan Temple of the Sun underneath, with the Convent of Santo Domingo above. Inside and outside the church are vivid reminders of the wealth and craftsmanship of the Incas.
When you leave this area, turn right onto Avenida El Sol, proceeding north, toward the main square. When you reach Calle Mantas, turn left to visit yet another church, Iglesia de La Merced, another church with a an extremely attractive façade.Also check out the church’s cloisters. Then, exit and retrace your steps on Calle Mantas to Plaza de Armas, where the walk began.