Cusco’s Temple of Coricancha: The spiritual center of the Inca Empire
30 October 2019
Located on Ave. El Sol, just a few blocks from the main square In historic downtown Cusco , lies the most impressive temple built by the ancient Incas.
The Coricancha, or Temple of the Sun, (also spelled Q’oricancha in quechua, or with a “K”) was the Empire’s most important center of the Andean religion , where Inca kings and priests held devout ceremonies to venerate and exalt their principal sacred deity, the Sun god.
Nearby temples were dedicated to Quilla, the moon goddess and to the creator god Viracocha, and fountains and gardens once graced the site.
This Inca temple is a magnificent structure. Outside, the massive Inca walls are topped by the large church of Santo Domingo, built directly on top of the Temple by the Spaniards, creating an odd combination of architectural styles. Approaching from Ave. El Sol, what immediately catches one’s eye is a huge perfectly curved wall, made of black carved stones, some 40 or 50 feet tall.
The perfect curvature and tight fit of each stone in the wall is splendidly intriguing. Standing beside it and looking up one has to wonder – how was this wall possibly built by ancient people without modern tools?
Inside the Temple the architecture is no less amazing. After entering through the doors of the church, you pass into a large courtyard surrounded by many large chambers build of the largest and most perfect stones of any Inca construction yet found.
The windows are trapezoidal in shape. The high, thick walls, made of calcite and andesite stone, are slightly tapered- wider at the floor, narrower at the top, to providing such stability that no earthquake has ever shaken them.
Why was it built?
How was this wonder of the ancient world built, and why? The legend tells that young Pachacutec, before becoming the greatest Inca king, was visiting a spring called Susurpuquiu, several leagues from Cusco, where he saw a crystal tablet fall into the waters.
As he was seeing visions of snakes and Indians in the tablet, it spoke to him, saying it was the Sun and predicting his great future reign. Pachacutec took the tablet and used it to envision what he wanted to create. His visions included the magnificently rich temple of Coricancha, which he had built during his long and successful reign.
Following its construction, the Coricancha was open only to the Kings and high priests, and to the temple virgins, or mamacuna. It was the center of important religious celebrations, the holiest place in the Inca Empire. The chronicles tell that both the outside and inside walls of the Coricancha were lined with huge sheets of gold. To the Incas, gold, rather than being valuable wealth or currency, itself spiritually represented the Sun god.
The veneration of the Sun and the peaceful character of the Coricancha ended with the Spanish invasion. Pizarro’s invading Army soon reached Cusco, where many fierce battles took place.
The city eventually fell to the heavily armed Spaniards. The gold of the Temple was rapidly plundered, melted down and shipped off to Spain. How much Inca gold was taken from the Coricancha and from other Inca sites, along with so many other valuable objects, will never be known, but it was likely tons of the Inca’s most sacred metal.
Visitors today marvel at the solemn beauty and historical significance of the Temple of the Sun. You don’t need to see gold to admire the amazing craftsmanship and design of this Inca wonder- the structure itself is a treasure.
Fascinating smaller details of the architecture are explained by the guides, and a visit to the small Coricancha museum , located in the field next to the complex, reveals more of the remarkable history of the Incas in its collection of art, ceramics, metalwork, textiles, musical instruments and a model of what the site originally must have looked like. Daily visiting hours are from Monday to Saturday. The Coricancha is simply not to be missed on your visit to Cusco.
Your visit to Cusco’s Temple of the Sun can be a perfect part of an acclimatization tour, courtesy of Andean Lodges, Cusco’s best and most experienced adventure travel outfitter. Cusco’s unlimited cultural wonders await for you as you prepare for an awe-inspiring trek along the Route to Ausangate. Please contact us at andenlodges.com to learn more and to reserve your unforgettable trip to the ancient capital of the Incas.