During the reign of the Incas, Cusco was the capital of Peru. Its name derives from its original Quechua name, Qusqo, meaning the naval of the world. Today, Cusco is mostly visited by tourists on their way to Machu Picchu.
This attractive city is relatively easy to navigate and has a distinct European flavour; Spanish-style churches and regal buildings lining narrow, cobbled streets.
Cusco thrived during the time of the Inca and attracted visiting tribes from far and wide. Members of other cultures marvelled at the technically advanced architecture of the Inca, a prime example of which is still evident a short walk from the main square, Plaza de Armas.
Turn into Triunfo and head up the hill towards San Blas and you come to Hatun Rumiyoc, an enigmatic building thought to have been the palace of Inca Roca, the sixth Sapa Inca who ruled sometime around 1350. Today the enigmatic Hatun Rumiyoc is home to the museum of colonial art, but the giant polygonal stones of this impressive structure are the central showpiece.
Even today, many visitors to Cusco are familiar with the famous 12-angled stone and eager tourists can often be spotted having their picture taken next to it – and pay a large Peruvian man dressed in Inca costume to pose for them.
But what often goes unquestioned is the mysterious feats of Inca engineering, the technicalities of which are still disputed by experts of the modern era. There are several theories how the Inca were able to fold huge stones into one another without using mortar.
When you get to Hatun Rumiyoc, look for Alex, a guide and authority on the famous building together with Inca history in Cusco. He can normally be found loitering next to the 12-angle stone talking to the big guy in the Inca costume. You can’t miss them!
Alex tells me, “The stone is two-metres deep and made from green diorite.”
Diorite is the second hardest material found on the planet and can only be cut using diamonds. “How did the Inca mould the stones with such precision?” I ask.
“One theory is that the stones were cut using meteorite stones called Jiwaya,” Alex says. “Another theory is the stones were softened using a substance known as Pito which is a mixture of three different Amazonian plants.”
The second theory coincides with what Lindsay Hasluck, an archaeologist and historian had told me when we met in La Paz. Hasluck has covered extensive research in Peru and the Titicaca basin and told me the story about Percy Fawcett, an English explorer who went missing in the Amazon Forest in the early 1920’s.
During one of his expeditions, Fawcett saw a bird making a nest in the side of the rock. When he asked his Amazonian guide how the bird could chip away hard stone, he was told about a plant that, when mixed with the birds saliva softened rock.
It is believed this is how stones, like these at Hatun Rumiyoc could be moulded so tightly together. However, the plant or the bird has never been found to verify the theory.
Scientists speculate the stones were pieced together by carving out the desired shape then slotting them into place from top to bottom. Using diagrams he keeps in a plastic covered notebook, Alex demonstrates how the Inca traced out a pattern like a jigsaw puzzle and suspended the boulders with scaffold until the stone underneath had been slotted into place.
“To make a precise copy of the first boulder’s edge, the builders used a straight stick with a hanging plum-bob,” Alex tells me. “Then they traced the edges and sculptured the next stone by pounded it with hand-sized stones.”
“Doesn’t that sound a little difficult?” I say. “It must have taken them ages.”
“The Inca worked day and night to build the structures,” Alex told me. “They didn’t rest. Of course, this is only a theory.”
A theory it may be, and I like to keep an open mind, but the methodology just didn’t make sense. It seemed like a very convoluted means of building a wall. Considering the Inca were very economically minded, it is hard to imagine they would invest so much time and go to such painstaking lengths to build a wall. If you see the size of Sacsayhuaman where the same building process has obviously been used, this theory sounds even more preposterous.
For me Hatun Rumiyoc is more evidence that our so-called primitive ancestors were much more technically advanced than we give them credit for. The 12-sided stone alone is a good example.
There is also a lot of speculation why this one particular stone has twelve perfect sides. Some commentators have speculated that the number of angles represents the number of months in a year.
“The stone represents the first 12 Kings of Cusco during Inca times,” Alex tells me. This theory didn’t fit either as in folklore there were effectively 13 Inca Kings, 12 actual Kings and the mythical Manco Capac.
However, when you apply astrological thinking which ancient cultures all around the world had a great depth of knowledge about, it does make sense. Manco Capac – the creator God = represents the Sun and the 12 other kings are the houses of the zodiac. We see the same pattern in almost every mythology and religion.
Remarkably there is a stone on the opposite side of the building with 13 sides, but this goes unnoticed Alex tells me because some of the sides are not as well defined as the 12-angled stone.
The most impressive wall is undoubtedly round the far side of building along the short walk leading to Inca Roca. Here you find a distinguished Inca trait of building animal shapes into their structures.
The Inca worshipped three archetypes, the snake representing the underworld and wisdom, the Puma representing the material world and strength, and the Condor representing the Upper World or Spiritual world – an extension of consciousness.
“Without one, you can’t have the others,” Alex tells me. “They all go together.”
In the time of the Inca, all three archetypes were physically present on the Hatun Rumiyoc. Today only the snake and the puma are visible. The Condor which had flown above the Puma near the top of the wall was destroyed by the Spanish who used the stones to build something else, most likely one of the cathedrals in Plaza de Armas.
You have to look carefully but when you know they are there the animals are plainly visible. Alex takes out his guide book and shows me a picture of the archetypes highlighted by a traced line.
“During the summer solstice, the animals in the wall illuminate,” Alex says. “For this to happen the Inca had pasted the stones with gold.” The stone images are impressive to say the least.
In the corner of this street at the very bottom of Inca Roca is a wall which was erected by the Kilkas 1000 years before the Inca built the Hatun Rumiyoc. It is evident by the way the stones are laid out that the architecture was a pre-cursor to the technique the Inca perfected. Though the wall is still standing it is not in good a condition.
Also at this corner, built into the Hatun Rumiyoc building itself we find evidence of the superior building skills the Inca had over the conquering Europeans. Take a look at the photograph on the right hand side and you can clearly see the difference in workmanship. In Cusco, the locals joke, “Here is the wall built by the Inca. Here is the wall built by the Incapable.”
The Inca didn’t keep written records of their history – at least this is what we are told though it is known that the Spanish destroyed all the writing they found in South America and justified this by labelling it the work of the Devil.
But as far as mainstreams historians want us to believe, the Inca made up much of their early history in order to hoodwink tribes into believing their unquestionable greatness. The early Inca were not great warriors or conquerors, but the warrior Kings of the 14th and 15th century didn’t want their subjects to know that.
It was a good example of what great statesmen the Inca Kings of the latter day had become, and I can´t help thinking the same tactics are being used in modern times and the Hatun Rumiyoc in Cusco is just another example of inconsistencies in the history we are told.