Andean Architecture: Inca techniques and materials used to build ancient cities
20 November 2019
The Inca civilization, although short-lived, was a powerful force that created an extensive empire, the largest and most organized in the 15th century world.
Its greatness is reflected in its architectural works: splendid buildings, temples, ancient cities, roads and waterworks that are an ancient testimonial in stone of the great knowledge and skills of Andean cultures. Inca architecture is clearly astounding. For world travelers, visiting and witnessing the Inca’s architectural legacy is an essential experience.
Inca archaeological sites
Numerous sites featuring outstanding Inca construction and design are found all across the Andes. Many of the most impressive are in the city of Cusco and in its surrounding region.
Of course, the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu is the best known example; walking its stairs and passageways makes every visitor marvel at the wisdom and skill of the ancients. How could they have built such a large, perfect city on the top of a high jungle ridge, using no modern machinery nor tools?
Other Inca sites also inspire wonder. How was the great outer wall of the Temple of the Sun, Cusco’s Coricancha, shaped into such a perfect curve? How did the Incas cut and fit enormous stone blocks so tightly to make the huge palace walls seen on many of Cusco’s streets?
And the massive stones that make up Sacsayhuaman’s ramparts, rising above Cusco- how were they transported, raised up and fit together? These are mysteries that archeologists and experts have studied and debated for years.
Ancient constructing techniques
Some of the answers to these questions are known. It is though that the early stonemasonry techniques of the Incas were influenced by the prior Tiwanaku culture around Lake Titicaca, along with some Wari culture influences.
The materials used in Inca building were local, and in the mountains mainly were large field stones. On the coast, adobe contractions were more common. To cut large limestone or granite stones, Inca stonemasons used copper, bronze or stone tools to split them along fault lines.
The finest stones were often sanded into rounded shapes. Some theories propose that dripping water was used to soften the stones, but that idea is controversial.
How did the Inca’s move huge stones that weighed so many tons? Similarly to Ancient Egypt and other ancient civilizations, the evidence points to the Empire’s amazing organization of manpower- thousands of men were required to work on large construction projects. Ropes and logs were used to pull and slide the stones for many kilometers.
As for building design, the finest Inca buildings were generally one-story rectangular constructions made of perfectly-cut and fit stones, using no mortar, with wooden and thatched roofs. At least four categories of stone masonry are known.
The doors and windows were generally trapezoidal, and the walls were also slightly angled, providing walls with incomparable stability in this earthquake-prone region. Central courtyards, or kanchas, are also common. Impressive curved walls are also found, although these are less common.
Meaning of inca architecture
In many ways, Inca architecture represents both the Inca Empire, and the Earth itself. A major characteristic of Inca architecture is its remarkable harmony with the natural surroundings.
Walls and hillsides blend, irregular shapes are left untouched, and natural bedrock makes up the foundations. This aspect reflects the close spiritual connection of the Incas with the Mother Earth itself, in all her manifestations.
Also visible is the dramatic effect of power, grandeur, and timelessness conveyed in their construction projects. Inca constructions and sites seem to reflect their belief in the immortality and sacred authority of their god-like kings.
Such a rich cultural legacy must be seen in person to be fully appreciated. Please feel free to contact us at andeanexcursions.travel to reserve your acclimatization tour, including a perfect experience of the ancient Inca’s cultural and architectural wonders. We will be very happy to organize a trip to Cusco that will simply amaze you!