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Home » Culture » Peru » History » Cusco, Capital of the Incan Empire

Cusco: Capital of the Incan Empire

Cusco Peru, cradle of the magnificent Incan Empire. Discover the history, Machu Picchu secrets and the ancient ruins of the Inca dynasty.

Cusco, Cuzco or Qosqo are some of the names that this ancient Incan capital is known by. It is a study site for archeologists from all over the world who flock to Peru to marvel at Machu Picchu and the rest of the Inca ruins scattered throughout the valley. Cusco was the administrative center of the Spanish Empire's Viceroyalty of Peru. A vast amount of art and colonial architecture remains throughout the city, especially in the Plaza de Armas. Currently, Cusco is the greatest tourist region of the country and receives over a million visitors a year.

Cusco, Peru, is the most ancient urban settlement in all of the Americas, officially over 3,000 years old, but pre-ceramic artifacts have been found there that date back 5,000 years. The true history of the first inhabitants of the city has been lost to Incan legends that claim the city to have been founded by the Incas: Manko Qhapaq and Pachakuteq.

Cusco started to gain importance with the Incan society, in the year 1,200 A.C., although as previously mentioned the city existed much before that. Cusco reached its peak at the height of the Inca Empire's expansion, around 1.400 A.C., and its decline began with the arrival of the Spanish in 1533. The Spaniards moved the capital to Lima where the colonial culture flourished. Cusco maintained a relative importance as the administrative center of the Viceroyalty of Peru, as the region was called under the Spanish administration.

During this period, Incan nobility maintained certain privileges in the valley of Cusco which allows them to live in relative peace and mix with the arriving Spaniards. We say “relative” because there were some uprisings led by Manko Inka in 1536 that continued until 1572 when the last descendent of the ancient Incan Dynasty, Túpac Amaru I, was executed.

During this period, Incan nobility maintained certain privileges in the valley of Cusco which allows them to live in relative peace and mix with the arriving Spaniards. We say “relative” because there were some uprisings led by Manko Inka in 1536 that continued until 1572 when the last descendent of the ancient Incan Dynasty, Túpac Amaru I, was executed.

In 1821, after many rebellions throughout all of Latin America, Peru gained independence and maintained Lima as the country's capital. Cusco, however, was chosen as the “Archaeological Capital of South America” in recognition of its historic importance to not only Peru but the whole continent. In 1983 the city was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Along the Inca Trail near Cusco is the sacred city of Machu Picchu (“Old Mountain” in the Quechua language), archaeological ruins of incomparable beauty located on the mountain summit. It is believed that the city was a holiday residence of Pachacútec, the first Incan emperor who lived from 1438 to 1470. The city played two functions: one of a palace and one as a religious sanctuary. Machu Picchu is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the new recognized Wonders of the World.