Inca Architecture: The unresolved mysteries of the ancient constructions
23 September 2019
Unquestionably, some of the main attractions that bring visitors from around the world to Peru are the architectural wonders built by the ancient Inca civilization , particularly those the Inca’s capital, Cusco, in the nearby Sacred Valley, and at the famous “lost city” of Machu Picchu .
Who doesn’t want to experience the marvelous wonders of the Inca’s world? Visitors are inevitably filled with fascination when witnessing the awe-inspiring architecture of the Incas.
In a relatively short time span, perhaps 150 years, the Incas were able to develop complex architectural knowledge and skills that allowed them to construct perfect, enduring, magnificent buildings, temples, waterworks, and even entire cities and their enormous network of roads of thousands of miles, the Qapac Ñan.
Of course, their construction skills did not arise suddenly. Pre-Inca civilizations had been developing their own styles and methods of architecture and design for thousands of years before the advent of the Incas in the 14th and 15th centuries.
With the multiple skills of ancient architects, and the labor of thousands of workers and artisans, earlier Andean civilizations such as the Moche of Peru’s North Coast, the Wari of the central Andes, the Tiahuanaco of Lake Titicaca and others built splendid temples and cities; one renowned example is the Moche’s huge city of Chan Chan.
Later, the conquering Inca’s gathered and refined all this knowledge, taking it to its highest expression in Cusco, with its splendid Coricancha or Temple of the Sun, its fine Inca palaces, huge perfect stone walls.
At the nearby waterworks of Tipón, how the Incas understood hydraulics so well to be able to move so much precious water along stone canals is one of the enduring mysteries.
Among the most impressive is the grandeur of Sacsayhuaman , the grand Inca architectural complex situated on the mountain above Cusco’s downtown.
More than a megalithic fortress
Sacsayhuamanis often imagined as a fortress, but it was more likely a principal Inca ceremonial center where the most important festivities, such as Inti Raymi, the winter solstice Sun Celebration, took place in June (and still does today).
The walls or ramparts are built of stones so enormous that they defy the imagination. How these monoliths were transported many kilometers to the site (without use of wheels or heavy equipment) and fitted together remains a mystery. Some of the stones are over 15 feet tall and weigh many tons.
Inca architecture is also characterized by its perfection. How were such large stone blocks made and transported? How is it they fit so perfectly together? For example, the large curved wall outside of the Coricancha keeps one gazing in wonder at its perfection.
Downtown, Hatunrumiyoc Street, with its massive wall and the famous 12-angled stone, is another sight that can’t be missed.
Architecture across Cusco
An hour away from Cusco in the Sacred Valley, there is much more to see. The complex of temples and terraces at Pisac, high above on a ridge top, features some of the finest Inca architecture, along with breathtaking views.
Ollantaytambo, one of the last living Inca towns, is filled with flawless stone walls, and its large fortress and waterworks are very impressive. At certain places, you feel like you’ve just stepped back in time.
And then there is Machu Picchu. The large, complex ancient Inca city, an official Ancient Wonder of the World, is filled with terraces, temples, roads, and remained hidden until its “discovery” by the outside world in 1912.
How so much intricate architectural beauty, created in such a gorgeous setting, stayed hidden from the “civilized” world for so long is a mystery in itself.
Definitely, Peru is filled with many, many more sites that display incredible architecture, and it would take years to see it all. But why not start now by visiting Cusco to experience this ancient world up-close? There is so much to learn and experience, and you can see much, if not most, of what is described here on an outstanding custom-designed Andean Lodges acclimatization tour.
Please contact us at, and we’ll put you in close contact with the fantastic architecture and living culture of the ancient Incas!