Excerpts from the Lonely Planet – Peru:
Dominated by two massive Inca ruins, the quaint village of Ollantaytambo is the best surviving example of Inca city planning, with narrow cobblestone streets that have been continuously inhabited since the 13th century. After the hordes passing through on their way to Machu Picchu die down around late morning, Ollanta is a lovely place to be. It’s perfect for wandering the mazy, narrow byways, past stone buildings and babbling irrigation channels, pretending you’ve stepped back in time.
The huge, steep terraces that guard Ollantaytambo’s spectacular Inca ruins mark one of the few places where the Spanish conquistadors lost a major battle. It was to this fortress that the rebellious Manco Inca retreated after his defeat at Sacsaywamán. Then in 1536, Hernando Pizarro (Francisco Pizarro’s younger half-brother) led a force of 70 cavalrymen here, supported by large numbers of indigenous and Spanish foot soldiers, in an attempt to capture Manco Inca.
Pizarro’s men were showered with arrows, spears and boulders from atop the steep terracing and were unable to climb to the fortress. They were further hampered when Manco Inca, in a brilliant move, flooded the plain below the fortress through previously prepared channels. The Spaniards’ horses were bogged down in the water and Pizarro ordered a hasty retreat – which almost became a rout when the conquistadors were followed down the valley by thousands of Manco Inca’s victorious soldiers.
The Incas’ victory was short lived, however. The Spanish forces soon returned with a quadrupled cavalry force and Manco fled to his jungle stronghold in Vilcabamba.
Though Ollantaytambo was a highly effective fortress, it was as much a temple as a fort. A finely worked ceremonial center is at the top of the terracing. Some extremely well-built walls were under construction at the time of the conquest and have never been completed. The stone was quarried from the mountainside 6km away, high above the opposite bank of the Río Urubamba. Transporting the huge stone blocks to the site was a stupendous feat. Their crafty technique to move the massive blocks across the river was to leave the blocks by its side then divert the entire river channel around them!
This is one of the most spectacular sights in the whole Cuzco area. Thousands of saltpans have been used for salt extraction since Inca times. A hot spring at the top of the valley discharges a small stream of heavily salt-laden water, which is diverted into saltpans and evaporated to produce a salt used for cattle licks. It all sounds very pedestrian but the overall effect is beautiful and surreal.
The impressively deep amphitheater-like terracing of Moray, reached via the small town of Maras, is a fascinating spectacle. Different levels of concentric terraces are carved into a huge earthen bowl, each layer of which has its own microclimate, according to how deep into the bowl it is. For this reason, some theorize that the Incas used them as a kind of laboratory to determine the optimal conditions for growing crops of each species. There are three bowls, one of which has been planted with various crops as a kind of living museum.
Known to the Incas as the birthplace of the rainbow, this typical Andean village combines Inca ruins with a colonial church, some wonderful mountain views and a colorful Sunday market. The colonial church is built on Inca foundations and its interior, decked out in merry floral and religious designs, is well worth seeing.
The most extensive Inca ruins here consist of terracing. If you start walking away from the village through the terraces on the right-hand side of the valley, you’ll also find various rocks carved into seats and staircases.
On Sunday, traditionally dressed locals descend from the hills for the produce market, where the ancient practice of trueco (bartering) still takes place; this is a rare opportunity to observe genuine bartering.
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