Inti Raymi, Peru 2014
On June 24th of 2014, I was trekking across Peru with another educator, Kathy Stoker. Luckily, we happen to be in Cusco, Peru on the day that the Peruvians were celebrating Inti Raymi.
Each year on June 24 Cusco celebrates the Inca Festival of the Sun (Inti Raymi). Created by Inca Pacacutec, Inti Raymi was a tribute to the venerated Sun God Int. The festival in 2014 drew thousands of local and international visitors to Cusco to celebrate one of the most important events of the year in Peru.
That morning of June 24th, 2014; Kathy and I chose to explore some of the local archeological sites around Sacsayhuaman and Cusco. Our first site was the Qenqo site, (pictured below).
(Pictured above) Qenqo, or sometimes written as Kenqo or even Kenko, means labyrinth or zig-zag and the temple is named for the crooked canal cut out of its rock. Although it is clear the canal carried some sort of liquid, researchers have been forced to guess at its purpose, and at what liquid it transported. Hypotheses range from carrying holy water, chicha (corn beer), or blood. All three indicate that Qenqo was used for death rituals, possibly to embalm bodies or detect whether a person lived a good life by the course the liquid followed. it appears Qenqo Temple was an extremely holy site for the Incas. Their dead were judged and possibly embalmed in Qenqo’s winding tunnels, and blood sacrifices were offered to the heavenly gods. Despite the probable grisly purpose of the temple, its carved tunnels and chambers are an amazing work of ancient architecture, but most agree the area was used for some type of sacrifice to the sun, moon and star gods who were worshipped at the site.
(Pictured above) Tambomachay sits on a hill about 10 km northeast of Cusco, at about 3,700 m above sea level. The structure consists of three stepped terraces of precise Inca stonework, with trapezoidal niches built into some of the retaining walls. The whole thing is built over, or into, a natural spring, which continuously feeds a series of small aqueducts, canals, and waterfalls built into the terraces. Considering the presence of precise water features at Tambomachay, and its construction on a natural spring, it’s likely that it served a ceremonial function connected with water. The trapezoidal niches could also have served a ceremonial purpose, perhaps to hold offerings. It’s possible that all this could have been tied in with the notion of a spa: if the Inca ruler did come here to bathe and cleanse himself, that in itself could have been a ceremonial process.
(Pictured above) Constructed in the middle of the 15th century, the Coricancha religious complex was the spiritual and metaphysical “center” of the Inca Empire. While the complex was dedicated to a litany of deities, Coricancha’s most special sanctuary was reserved to honor the sun god Inti, the most central and revered figure in the Inca religion. Incas depicted Inti as a sun with human features, with sharp, outwardly flowing rays of sunshine framing his face. As such, Coricancha’s Temple of the Sun was decorated with an elaborate array of gold artifacts and adornments, which the Incas believed to be Inti’s sweat. The Inti Rayni started that morning on the large open cancha at the front of the Coricancha. With the arrival of representatives from the four suyos of the inca Empire, the Sapa inca opens the festivities with invoking praise to the sun god—-Inti.
(Pictured above), from the Corokancha the royal entourage continues the short distance north to Cusco’s Plaza de Armas or Qorikancha Spuare in front of the Santo Domingo church. It should be noted that the Santo Domingo church stands imposingly on the Plaza de Armas, built over the foundation of what was an important inca palace, the Palace of Viracocha.
A ceremonial reading of the sacred coca leaf then takes place to foresee the fate of the Inca Empire for the up-coming year. This modern day re-enactment of Inti Raymi still retains all of its majestic glory, albeit without the procession of ancient mummies and just 1 animal sacrifice at the culmination of the day’s celebrations.
The royal entourage continues to Saqsayhuman. (Pictured below), built by the pre-industrial Incans, the three-tiered walls of the Sacsayhuamán complex are a marvel of engineering with some of the biggest blocks ever found in Incan construction fitted together so tightly, mortar was not even necessary. While the site is thought to be the remains of a much larger fortress complex that once stood atop it, the remaining walls of the structure are an impressive reminder of the Incans’ almost unbelievable engineering skills. Over the three stepped sections of the remaining walls, huge stones of all sizes are stacked together like a Herculean game of Tetris. The stones are all carved into roughly square and rectangular shapes, but there is little consistency in their exact dimensions. It seems as though each piece was custom carved to fit in a given space as though the wall was just planned and created as they went along which seems almost impossible given the grand scale of the project.
This ancient Inca archaeological site of Saqsayhuman is where the final part of the re-enactment is played out. Thousands of Peruvian spectators crowed the surrounding hills for a glimpse of the ceremony, whilst premium grandstand seat were available for Kathy and I in the main arena of Saqsayhuman. Below is a video of the royal entourage entering the Saqsayhuman arena with drums and flutes.
Sapa Inca is carried on a golden throne—a replica of the original which weighed about 60 kilos—in a procession to the ancient fortress of Sacsayhuamán.
Sapa Inca is followed by the high priests garbed in ceremonial robes, the officials of the court, and nobles, all elaborately costumed according to their rank. They walk along flower-bedecked streets to music, prayers, and dancing as women sweep the streets to clear them of evil spirits.
(Pictured above), at Sacsayhuamán, huge crowds await the arrival of the procession and Sapa Inca climbs to the sacred altar to give his speech, (Pictured below).
(Pictured below), a white llama is sacrificed (in a very realistic stage act) and the high priest holds aloft the bloody heart in honor of Pachamama, the fertility goddess who presides over planting and harvesting.
As the sun sets, stacks of straw are set on fire and the celebrants dance around them to honor Tawantinsuty, the Empire of the Four Wind Directions, (pictured below).
Then, the ceremony ends with a procession back to Cuzco. Sapa Inca and Mama Occla are carried on their thrones, as the high priests and representatives pronounce blessings on the people, (pictured below).
Below is the video of the Mama Occla leaving the Inti Raymi Ceremony at the Sacsayhuaman arena in Peru.