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The Inca Road Network: an engineering wonder of the ancient world

The Inca Road Network: an engineering wonder of the ancient world

21 February 2019

Every year, thousands of tourists and local people walk along the extensive Inca Road network, often without knowing much about the key role it played in the expansion of the historic Inca empire.

The 25,000 miles (40,000 km.) of the interconnected Inca road network is considered an engineering wonder of the ancient world.

From Cuzco’s town square, the Qhapaq Ñan (Inca Road network) connects the four regions of the ancient empire that spanned across modern-day Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Bolivia and Argentina.

In those days, the roads were used mainly for transportation of Inca royalty, armies and those on official business, such as diplomatic delegations and messengers.

The general population could only use the roads with special permission from local authorities.

The importance of the Inca RoadNetwork

This extensive road network was vital to the survival and growth of the empire, since it was used to transport raw materials and food for the population, as well as the Inca’s authorities and armies.

Due to the great size of the empire, each region cultivated different types of crops. For example, areas with warmer climates cultivated peppers, fruits and coca leaves.

Colder areas at higher elevations produced potatoes, quinoa and maize.

The Inca built thousands of qullqas (food warehouses) along the road network. These one-room storehouses, round or rectangular in shape, were built of flagstones with straw roofs, and groups of them were often built in rows.

These allowed stored crops to last longer and were often essential during food shortages.

Thus, the Inca Road network was essential in providing the empire with commercial routes, as caravans of llamas carried foods, goods and supplies to be exchanged between different regions.

The Inca road network was also of great importance militarily, since it allowed the army to quickly mobilize to help defend and conquer territory.

Between 1470 and 1532, three Inca rulers led ambitious military campaigns to expand Inca territory.

Thus, the Kingdom of Cuzcobecame the empire of Tawantinsuyu, extending from Colombia in the north, to Chile and Argentina in the south.

Tawantinsuyu is considered by historians to have been the largest empire in the world during that period of history.

Adaptability to local terrain

The empire was home to a wide diversity of different environments. This meant that the Inca Roadand its construction had to be adapted to the local terrain and topography of each different region.

For example, near Cuzcowith its broader valleys, the roads were wide and paved with stone. However, in steeper mountainous regions, the terrain had to be flattened and the roads needed to be narrower.

Different construction techniques also had to be adapted to crossing rivers, streams and forests. In many places the Inca built impressive hanging bridges made of plant fiber ropes over powerful rivers.

They also cut down trees and circumvented rock obstacles to build the roads.

Getting a message across

News traveled fast along the Qhapaq Ñan (Inca Road network) thanks to the chasquis (messenger relay runners of the Inca Empire) who as a group could cover up to 320 km. of road in a day.

They carried khipus (knotted string devices for recording information), as well as verbal messages and small packages across the empire.

The relay system worked by the runners trading messages and goods at stations called chaskiwasi, which were located along the roads approximately 10 to 15 kilometers (5 to 7 miles) apart.

At Andean Lodgeswe encourage our travelers to learn more about the Inca empire and its fascinating legacy.

You’ll experience such wonders first-hand on our trekking programs, and you’ll hear stories told by Quechua descendants of the Inca, as you rest comfortably at our four eco-lodges.

Travel to Peru with Andean Lodges for a lifetime’s adventure exploring the ancient Inca trail network and its historic importance.

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