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Full Circle

Day 185: Cuzco

Michael Palin - Full Circle'The Incas were the Romans of pre-Columbian America,' writes Peter Frost in his indispensable guide to the city, 'and Cuzco was their Rome.'

The Spaniards dealt with this not by total destruction but by the infinitely more acute insult of building their own churches over Inca sites. In order to impress the natives, they made these churches as rich and elaborate as possible, so today the city is studded with domes and fine towers and richly-carved stone facades. Though the Inca foundations look austere by comparison, the masonry on the grey limestone walls is deceptively complex and subtle. One of the polygonal stones has twelve corners and still fits tightly into the side of an old palace. It is true that Inca stonemasons never discovered the arch, but their straight-topped trapezoid openings were built for extra strength and, in the great earthquakes that shook the city in 1650, 1950 and as recently as 1986, Inca buildings remained undamaged.

Then why was the Inca Empire so easily taken apart by the handful of Spaniards who arrived with Pissaro in 1535? Among reasons propounded are their lack of weapons to match the flintlock musket and the horse, their initial confusion of the Spanish with god-like warriors of Inca legend and the Spanish ability to exploit differences between rival royal factions. Add to that the sheer appetite for war and conquest shown by the Spaniards who had just defeated the Moors and, through their sponsorship of Christopher Columbus, opened up America for the Europeans. But the fact remains that a sophisticated, supremely well-organized empire was defeated by less than fifty Spaniards.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 185
  • Country/sea: Peru
  • Place: Cuzco
  • Book page no: 252

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