The colossal stones of Cusco’s hilltop fortress are a powerful testimony to the ingenuity of Incan construction techniques.
Venture into the archaeological park just outside Cusco’s city center to explore the ruins of Sacsayhuaman. This colossal stone fortress and temple sits on a steep hill overlooking the city and attests to the brilliance of Incan engineering. Come to observe traditional Incan ceremonies and to admire how the structure was built, noting the large limestone blocks that lock together without mortar.
In its heyday, Sacsayhuaman encompassed three stone towers and buildings for up to 5,000 soldiers. Following the fall of the Incan Empire, the complex was used as a stone quarry. Today, only three tiered rows of zigzag walls remain. Walk around them and marvel at some of the largest stones found in any Inca ruin. A few are more than 10 feet (3 meters) high and weigh more than 100 tons (91,000 kilograms). The biggest stone is 28 feet (8.5 meters) high.
Observe the Inca stonework, particularly the way the blocks fit together in a variety of interlocking shapes. Note the three large concentric rings on the ground. These rings were the foundations of the fort’s main tower. Archaeologists believe that Cusco was built in the shape of a puma and that Sacsayhuaman forms the head. The walls are said to make up the animal’s teeth.
Sacsayhuaman is more than a tourist attraction as it plays an important ceremonial role during the Inca Festival of the Sun, Inti Raymi. Enjoy street fairs and live music throughout the city during this week-long celebration, which culminates on June 24 with a ceremony on the large, flat area in front of the fortress. Watch hundreds of locals dressed in elaborate traditional costume perform ritual sacrifices and dances.
The colossal stone blocks of Sacsayhuaman are 1.4 miles (2 kilometers) north of Cusco’s main square. Book a tour from the city center or take a taxi. The 30-minute walk is steep, reaching an altitude of 12,140 feet (3,700 meters). A fee applies to enter the archaeological park, which includes admission to other sites including Qenqo and Tambomachay.