Question: Where in the world did the wings of a bird grow food for an ancient empire?
Answer: Pisac, Peru
Often overshadowed by Machu Picchu, the mystical Incan ruins of Pisac are no small feat themselves. Considered one of the most spectacular and best-preserved ancient Incan sites, Pisac is filled with impressive agricultural terraces carved into the green hillsides of the Sacred Valley. At the top of the steep cliffs, ancient stone dwellings, a temple carved from pink granite, and the largest known Incan cemetery are found.
Located in the eastern end of the Sacred Valley, Pisac is believed to have been a strategic point for protecting Cusco, the capital of the Incan Empire, from any invaders. However, the spot wasn’t just used for protection—the vast agricultural terraces enabled the production of a surplus of food, something not normally achieved at such high altitudes. To create this bountiful terrain, rich topsoil was hauled from the lower lands high into the cliff sides. Historians suggest that the name Pisac is derived from the word Picsaca, meaning “partridge,” and that the expansive agricultural terraces resemble the wings of a partridge.
The ruins are separated along the scenic ridge into four areas—P'isaqa, Inti Watana, Qalla Q'asa, and Kinchiraqay. Paths wind between these sections and through the deep gorges, offering views from all angles of the curved hillsides. High in the mountains are structural ruins, including those of a sun temple where the Incans worshipped their sun god Inti. Other stone buildings were meant as military garrisons and to provide shelter for villagers in case of war. A massive cemetery—the largest found in the Incan Empire—contains about 3,500 tombs.
At the bottom of the valley is the city of Pisac where locals keep the traditional way of life alive. Each Sunday, farmers sell their fresh vegetables, fruits, herbs, and spices in the city’s large market and other locals share their colorful textiles. Along the city’s narrow cobbled streets, reminders of the Incans are everywhere. All you need to do is look up to see the lasting remains of the powerful empire etched into the mountains.
Incredible Incas: 10 Facts About the Mysterious Empire
- At its height, the Incan Empire covered more than 770,000 square miles (from present-day Ecuador to Chile) with a population between six to 14 million people—making it the largest civilization in pre-Columbian America.
- Despite its size and strength, the empire lasted only about a century, from 1438 until 1533 when it was conquered by the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro. The Inca were overwhelmed by disease and the advanced weaponry of the Spanish invaders and let go of their last resistance in 1572.
- Three realms of life existed in Incan Mythology: Hanan Pacha, the home to gods and goddesses; Kay Pacha, the realm of living things; and Uku Pacha, the Inca underworld.
- The Incas had no form of writing but instead used a record-keeping device made from knotted strings known as a quipu. The knots represent different numbers, with the quipu holding information such as census records or tax obligations. Researchers are still working to figure out all of the information encoded in the knots.
- Their buildings were constructed without the use of mortar and instead found stones that fit perfectly together. This method of dry masonry proved to be highly resistant to earthquakes, helping its structures last over time.
- For transportation across their expansive empire, a highway of road systems was established, covering about 25,000 miles. At the center of this network was a road known as the Capac Ñan which ran from north to south for about 3,700 miles.
- Despite their extensive system of roads, the Incas never used the wheel for their transportation. With the empire covering mountainous peaks and valleys, a more efficient mode of transportation was by pack animals, such as llamas, who could traverse the tricky slopes.
- The Incas also had a system of highly trained and speedy messengers known as chasquis who would relay messages by foot, running up to 150 miles a day. The chasquis would run along rope bridges, interpreting the quipus and delivering oral messages to one another.
- Most of the Incas were farmers and harvested crops such as potatoes, corn, and quinoa grain. The government imposed taxes on the people exacted in the form of their crops. A network of storehouses held high volumes of food that could be distributed during times of famine or harsh weather.
- The Incas had many interesting medical approaches including a surprisingly successful method of skull surgery. Studies of skulls from pre-Columbian Peru show the success of their skull surgeries to treat head wounds and relieve pressure on the brain.
Explore the mystical ruins of Pisac and many other mesmerizing remains of the Incan Empire during Real Affordable Peru.