At an elevation of 11,024 ft, Cuzco sublimely combines the Inca legacy with Spanish colonial architecture. History puts Manco Capac founding the city of Cuzco around 1100 A.D. Legend says that in the beginning the land was in darkness and the great Lord Sun took pity on these wretched creatures and sent to earth his own son, Manco Capac, "to spread civilization and enlightenment". The goddess Moon sent her daughter Mama Ocllo to be his bride. They appeared on earth emerging from the waters of Lake Titicaca. Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo began a long odyssey searching for the place where to found their kingdom. At length they came to a fertile valley where Manco Capac repeating the test assigned by the Sun, plunged his golden staff into the ground, this time it sank deep into the soil and disappeared, where they found their capital and called it Cuzco "navel of earth".
The best place to start exploring Cuzco is perhaps the Plaza de Armas (Main Square), the center of solemn parades and great assemblies since Inca times. The Cathedral, built on the place where once stood the palace of Inca Viracocha, mixes Spanish Renaissance architecture with beautiful Inca stone-work. Its construction began in 1580 and took approximately one century to complete. Among its many treasures are nearly 400 colonial paintings, including those of the "School of Cusco" a very particular style developed by the blending of Inca and Spanish cultures.
The single piece of the main altar is completely covered with silver plates. Of the many side altars, a very popular one among cusquenos is that of the Lord of earthquakes, blackened by the innumerable votive candles lit over the centuries. Two other churches are attached to the Cathedral, Jesus Maria, to the left, and El Triunfo, the oldest in Cuzco dating back to 1536. The complex is open for visiting from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM and from 3.00 PM to 6:00 PM.
Santo Domingo Church and Convent, the most remarkable characteristic of this building is that it was built using some of the Inca walls of the fabulous Koricancha "temple of the supreme Sun God " that colonial chronicles described as having the inner walls covered with gold plates to reflect the sun's rays entering through windows specially positioned for that purpose.
San Blas Church, a small adobe building that holds a carving masterpiece, the renowned pulpit of San Blas, work of Indian craftsmen on a massive single piece of wood which is said to be the finest wood-carving piece in the world. Around the church are the houses of the most popular families of handicrafters of Cusco. Visit the Mendivil and the Olave family.
La Compania Church, also on the Plaza de Armas. Originally built in the late 16th century by the Jesuits on the foundation of Inca Wayna Capac's palace (the last ruler of the unconquered empire). The church was destroyed by the 1650 earthquake. Reconstruction began immediately and finished 18 years later, resulting in the most ornate and splendid church in Cuzco.
Museum of Religious Art, displays a fine collection of colonial artifacts and paintings of the "School of Cusco" . The building was constructed on the site of Inca Roca's palace. Just outside is the Twelve Angled Stone, an example of Inca architecture advancement that continues to amaze the world, the twelve corner-angles fit perfectly all surrounding blocks. The stones were positioned without the use of mortar and have withstood centuries and earthquakes.
La Merced Church and Convent, dating back to the 17th Century. It has a small museum with the best colonial paintings in Cuzco, a variety of lavish religious objects including the four feet high gold monstrance, covered with precious stones and two large pearls in the shape of a mermaid. Also within the city the colonial churches of San Francisco, Santa Catalina, Santa Clara, San Pedro, Santa Teresa, and San Antonio Abad and the beautiful colonial houses of "La Casa de los Cuatro Bustos", "The Admiral's Palace", "House of Marquis of Valleumbroso", among others.
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