While visiting Cusco, we analyzed Incan architecture in terms of building materials to better understand the relationship between architecture, city planning, and social structure. We visited Coricancha, which was one of the most important temples in the Incan Empire. Some pictures that have been taken while in the temples are great evidence for the architectural claim, as they show physical and credible testimony of the buildings. The pictures are also great evidence for the city planning because they demonstrate where these buildings are located.
San Cristobal Cathedral Bell (PHOTO CREDIT: ANTONELLA ANDRADE)
The architecture and city planning of Cusco reveal that the civilization constructed different buildings for the higher and lower classes, and placed them in different places, therefore demonstrating power and wealth within Incan social structure.
We can confirm our hypothesis because architecture in Cusco does reveal that more sophisticated structures were constructed for the higher classes, and simpler buildings were directed to the lower classes. Inca constructions in Cusco differentiate from one another depending on the purpose they served. For example, one of the most complex temple in Cusco was Coricancha, and as explained in Discover Peru, a website created by the Peru Cultural Society, Coricancha “was the religious center of the empire and was reserved for the Sapa Inca, his immediate family, priests and the chosen women to worship. Although it was meant to be a center for pilgrimage, people were not allowed to go inside” (Inca Architecture, n.d., para. 10). Access to Incan buildings and primary sources prove that these constructions were used depending on the social class that was supposed to occupy it, therefore connecting architecture and social structure.
Our research reveals the relationship between social classes and the layout of Cusco. In fact, studies made by historian Mark Cartwright in the Ancient History Encyclopedia affirm that Cusco’s layout directly exhibits a connection to social class. Cartwright claims the city was built in the shape of a puma, relating the city to different constellations worshiped by the Incas. For example, the Sacsayhuaman Temple, believed to have been the head of the puma, protected the city, and as served as an important religious site for the Incas. Until today, Sacsayhuaman is a place of worship, where the Inti Raymi celebration is held. Similarly, Coricancha was a temple located in the center of Cusco, and was built with advanced architectural methods. The walls were perfectly built with rocks, tilted five degrees to support seismic movements; there was no use of cement or other pasting material to attach the rocks used on the walls, and the rocks were purposely used to support the high structures (Cartwright, 2015). The Coricancha Temple, a place where only nobles could worship Inti, was located in the center of the puma. Social classes, the layout and architecture of Cusco were deeply related, as the temples were strategically located in the city, and their purpose depended on these social classes.
Cusco street (PHOTO CREDIT: ANTONELLA ANDRADE)
Furthermore, outstanding differences existed in the way structures were constructed, depending on the social class that would occupy them. Cartwright’s article within Ancient History Encyclopedia clarifies how the architecture and layout highly depended on the social class, “the entire city was also divided into two distinct parts called the hanan and hurin; the former, in the north, was higher in elevation and more prestigious than its lower, southern, counterpart. Five noble families occupied each sector” (Cartwright, 2015, para. 6). Moreover, Cartwright’s articles reveal that the materials utilized in lower class buildings were much less complex than those for the upper class, “more humble structures used unworked field stones set with mud mortar or used bricks of dried mud” (Cartwright, 2014, para. 4). On the other hand, Cartwright explains that buildings designed for the higher classes would be made of either yucay limestone, green Sacsayhuaman diorite porphyry, or black andesite. These rocks were then polished and pounded into shape, for them to interlock perfectly with each other to create a smooth structure for the walls (Cartwright, 2014). With this information, we can conclude that the construction materials and methods depended on the social class, as well as the location of the buildings.
Beyond revealing the social hierarchy of the Inca Empire, both the Sacsayhuaman as well as the Coricancha Temple demonstrate features of Inca construction that are still present today. For example, Coricancha is a building with advanced architectural features, such as walls used to support seismic movements, that was used to worship Inti and to demonstrate the power Cusco had with its architectural buildings. Furthermore, Sacsayhuaman is a religious site at the head of Cusco, which was used both as a place of worship and was used for the Inti Raymi celebration. This information has a connection to the social hierarchy because the construction of the temples was based on the different social classes. Lower classes that lived in poor conditions worked and higher classes that lived in better conditions were the ones that occupied the buildings. People should care about this topic because there are still issues regarding the fact that people live based on the social class they belong to.
Windows in the Temple of the Moon, Coricancha (PHOTO CREDIT: ISABELLA PERILLA)
Andrade, A. (2017). San Cristobal Church Bell. [Photograph]. Self-Published
Architecture and Social Structure in Cusco [Personal Interview]. (17, February 09).
Cartwright, M. (2015). Cusco. Retrieved from http://www.ancient.eu/Cuzco/
Cartwright, M. (March 13, 2014). Inca Architecture. Retrieved from http://www.ancient.eu/Inca_Architecture/
Heart of the Inca Universe. (June 26, 2015) Retrieved from http://nmai.si.edu/inkaroad/inkauniverse/cusco/cusco-experience.html
Inca Architecture. (n.d.). Discover Peru. Retrieved from http://www.discover-peru.org/inca-architecture/
Ortiz, P. (2017). Sacsayhuaman. [Photograph]. Self-Published
Ortiz, P. (2017). A view of the Cusco Cathedral. [Photograph]. Self-Published
Perilla, I. (2017). Coricancha. [Photograph]. Self-Published
Perilla, I. (2017). Cusco Town Square. [Photograph]. Self-Published
Perilla, I. (2017). Windows in the Temple of the Moon, Coricancha. [Photograph]. Self-Published