Cuzco (often spelled Cusco, less frequently Qosqo or Qusqu) is a city in southeastern Peru, near the Urubamba Valley (Sacred Valley) of the Andes mountain range. It is the capital of the Cusco Region as well as the Cusco Province. The city has a population of about 300,000, triple the population it contained just 20 years ago. The altitude of the city, located on the eastern end of the Knot of Cuzco, is around 3,500 m (11,500 feet). The historic capital of the sun-worshipping Inca empire, it has been found in 2006 to be the spot on Earth with the highest UV level.
The first Spaniards arrived in the city on November 15, 1533. Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro, officially discovered Cuzco on March 23, 1534, naming it the “Very noble and great city of Cuzco”. The many buildings constructed after the Spanish conquest are of Spanish influence with a mix of Inca architecture, including the Santa Clara and San Blas barrios. The Spanish undertook the construction of a new city on the foundations of the old Inca city, replacing temples with churches and palaces with mansions for the conquerors. During the colony, the city of Cuzco was very prosperous thanks to the agriculture, cattle raising, mining as well as the trade with Spain. This allowed the construction of many churches and convents, and even a Cathedral, University and an Archbishopric. Often, Spanish buildings were juxtaposed atop the massive stone walls built by the Inca.
The major earthquake that hit Cuzco in 1950 badly destroyed the Dominican Priory and Church of Santo Domingo, which were built on top of the impressive Coricancha (Temple of the Sun). The city’s Inca architecture, however, firmly withstood the earthquake. Many of the old Inca walls were thought to have been lost after the earthquake, but the granite walls of the Coricancha were exposed, as well as many walls throughout the city. While some wanted to restore the buildings to their colonial splendor, a contingent of Cuzco citizens urged city officials to retain the exposed walls. Eventually they won out and now tourists from around the world enjoy looking at these ruins within the living city. The 1950 earthquake was the second time that the Dominican Priory had been destroyed, the first being in 1650 when another major earthquake struck Cuzco.
The original Inca city, said to have been founded in the eleventh century, was sacked by Pizarro in 1535. There are still remains, however, of the palace of the Incas, the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Virgins of the Sun. Among the most noteworthy buildings of the city is the cathedral of Santo Domingo.
The major nearby Inca sites are Pachacuti’s presumed winter home Machu Picchu which can be reached by a lightly maintained Inca trail, or the train, the “fortress” at Ollantaytambo and the “fortress” of Sacsayhuaman which is approximately two kilometers from Cusco.
Other less visited ruins] include Inca Wasi, the highest of all Inca sites at 3,980 m (13,134 feet), Old Vilcabamba the capital of the Inca after the capture of Cuzco, the sculpture garden at Chulquipalta (aka Chuquipalta, Ñusta España, The White Rock, Yurak Rumi), as well] as Huillca Raccay, Patallacta, Choquequirao, Moray and many others.