Coricancha, the temple of the Sun in Cusco
According to legend, when the Spanish conquistadors arrived in Cusco, they asked the Incas what the most important temple in the city was. The Incas replied that it was Coricancha, the temple of the Sun. The Spanish were so impressed by the temple that they decided to build their church. Today, the ruins of Coricancha are still visible, and the church is one of Cusco’s most popular tourist attractions.
Coricancha was built using techniques that were centuries ahead of its time. The walls were constructed with perfectly cut stone blocks that fit together perfectly without using mortar. The roof was made of massive beams of wood held up by columns made of stone. The interior of Coricancha was just as impressive as the exterior. The walls were decorated with murals that depicted scenes from Inca mythology. The floors were covered in gold leaf, and the ceilings were painted with constellations. Coricancha was more than just a temple; it was also a learning center.
The priests who lived there were experts in astronomy and mathematics, and they used their knowledge to teach the Inca people about their place in the universe. Sadly, Coricancha was destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors. They looted the temple of its riches and demolished its walls.
Coricancha was the main temple to the sun god Inti, and it’s believed to be the center of their religious, political, and social life. Coricancha is a testament to the skill and ingenuity of the Incas, and its legacy still lives on today.
What is Coricancha?
Coricancha is an Inca religious site located in Cusco, Peru. The name Coricancha means “Golden Temple” in Quechua, the language of the Inca Empire. The Inca emperor Pachacuti originally built the site as a temple to the sun god Inti. Over time, it symbolized the Inca Empire’s power and wealth. Coricancha was one of the most important sites in the Inca Empire. It was considered the world’s center and a place of pilgrimage for many people.
The temple was filled with gold, silver, and other precious materials. It was said that when the Sun shone on the temple, the whole city would be bathed in light. The Spanish conquistadors destroyed Coricancha in the 16th century. However, parts of the original temple remain and can be seen today. The site is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of Cusco’s most popular tourist attractions.
History of Coricancha
The Coricancha Temple, located in Cusco, Peru, was once the most important in the Inca Empire. The name Coricancha means “Golden Temple” in Quechua, the language of the Incas. The temple was built by order of the ninth Sapa Inca, Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui (1438-1471), and was consecrated in 1450.
The Coricancha was the center of the Inca religious universe. It was here that the sun god, Inti, was worshipped. The temple’s central shrine was decorated with gold, silver, and precious stones. The walls and floors were also lined with gold. Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui is said to have plundered nearby settlements to adorn his temple.
The Spanish conquistadors arrived in Cusco in 1533 and promptly looted the Coricancha of its treasures. They then built a Catholic church using some of the temple’s stone foundations. The church, known as Santo Domingo, still stands today.
While much of the Coricancha Temple has been destroyed, its foundations and some of its walls remain. The site is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a major tourist attraction in Cusco.
The sun god Inti
The sun god Inti was one of the most important deities in the pantheon. He was worshipped as the bringer of life and light and as the giver of warmth and fertility. His festival, Inti Raymi, was one of the most important celebrations in the Andean calendar. Today, Inti remains an important figure in the Andean culture. He is revered as a powerful spiritual being in many indigenous communities.
The Inca calendar
The Inca calendar was a highly accurate system used by the ancient civilization to keep track of time. The calendar was based on the movement of the Sun, Moon, and stars, divided into 12 months, each with 30 days. The Inca calendar was also used to predict eclipses and other astronomical events.
The architecture of Coricancha
The architecture of Coricancha was a perfect example of Inca engineering. The stone walls were built without mortar, yet they fit together so tightly that not even a knife blade could fit between them. The roof was made of massive wooden beams lashed together with ropes from llama hair. This construction method was robust and allowed the roof to withstand earthquakes.
The fall of the Inca Empire
The empire ended in 1533 when Spanish conquistadors led by Francisco Pizarro invaded Peru and captured the Inca emperor, Atahualpa. The fall of the Inca Empire was a devastating blow to indigenous peoples in South America. For centuries, the Inca had been a solid and prosperous empire. But with the arrival of the Spanish, all that changed.
The Spanish were interested in only one thing: wealth. They looted Inca treasures and enslaved the people. The Inca Empire was not the only indigenous civilization to fall victim to the Spanish conquest. All across the Americas, indigenous peoples were forced into submission by the Spanish. It was a dark time for native peoples, losing their land, freedom, and way of life.
Destruction of the Coricancha temple
The Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro arrived in Cusco in 1533. He and his men looted and destroyed the Coricancha temple. They took the gold and silver from the temple and melted it down. The destruction of the Coricancha temple was a blow to the Inca empire. The temple was a symbol of their power and wealth. The Spanish conquest of Peru began a long period of decline for the Inca empire.
The temple’s current state
The Spanish conquistadors looted the Coricancha of its riches soon after they arrived in Cusco. They stripped the gold and precious stones from the walls and took the statue of the sun god as well. They then built their church, Santo Domingo, on top of the ruins of the Coricancha. Today, visitors can still see the remains of both churches at the Coricancha complex. The Inca stonework of the Coricancha is particularly impressive, and it’s fascinating to see how it compares to the Spanish colonial architecture of Santo Domingo.
The Inca temples at Coricancha
- The Temple of the Sun.- It was the main temple of Coricancha; in this room, a representation of the god Inti and Inca mummies were found; this enclosure was protected by the priestesses of the Sun; according to Garcilaso, this temple had the walls covered by gold plates.
- Temple of the Moon.- It is next to the temple of the Sun since it was said that the Moon was the wife of the Sun, its walls were lined with sheets of silver, and there was a representation of the Moon made of silver. In that place, the mummies of the Coyas were kept. The Spanish demolished half of the temple to build the Santo Domingo temple.
- Temple of the Stars.- The stars were worshiped; they were servants of the Moon; The Incas believed that the stars were placed in the sky as a symbol of all the animals on earth.
- Temple of the Rainbow.- It is called that way because the Incas thought that it came from the Sun; according to some chroniclers, in the middle of the temple, there was a plate where the arch of heaven was painted with the seven colors.
- Temple of sacrifices.- In this enclosure, there is a lithic element in the form of a table that is believed to have been used to make sacrifices, which is why they gave it that name.
- Ceremonial fountain.- This is from the colonial time and worked by hand; its function was to store water with an octagonal shape and a quadrangular base. The chroniclers indicate that it was made by the Incas and used to pour the chicha as an offering to the Sun God.
- The lightning enclosure.- Also called the temple of thunder, this enclosure has three access doors intended to worship lightning.
- The Sacred Alley.- This passage leads to the temple of the Sun; it is made up of two enormous perfectly carved stone walls, in which a carved rock of more than 24 angles with a length of 10 meters stands out.
- Sacred gardens.- They were adorned with various Andean flowers and gold and silver works. This garden served as a deposit for the offerings brought by the towns subjugated by the Incas for the Sun God.
You can also visit the site museum that has findings made in the Coricancha; you can see ceramics, some tools used by the Incas, and bone remains; in each of these five rooms, it is explained how the history of Cusco chronologically.