In less than 100 years, the Incas took over a vast empire in which they left scattered, throughout Peru, beautiful architectural works that we are lucky enough to be able to explore to this day. One of these places is Vilcashuamán, the main Inca archaeological complex that you can find in Ayacucho, in southern Peru. So that you can see that the Inca empire goes beyond Cusco, here we tell you the incredible history of Vilcashuamán and everything you need to know to visit this citadel.
Hidden among the many attractions of Ayacucho is Vilcashuamán, one of the most important cities of the Inca Empire, which continues to surprise its visitors today.
Vilcashuamán means "sacred falcon" in Quechua; its imposing name truly corresponds to the importance that this town had for the ancient Peruvians.
Chroniclers say that when the legendary Inca Pachacútec defeated his bitter enemies, the Chancas, he decided to erect the new administrative center of his empire in the capital of his defeated enemies: Vilcashuamán. The city was of such importance that at its peak it housed more than 40,000 people, several temples, thrones and plazas, and much wealth.
Currently Vilcashuamán is a village of about 16,000 inhabitants. Among its attractions is its Great Plaza, built on the same site as the Inca city square. It is so large that it can hold around 20,000 people. The main attractions of the city are located around the square.
The first thing that stands out in the square is the old Temple of the Sun, located to the south of the square, very well preserved. Its ancient architecture reflects the style of the Incas of Cusco, with a stepped structure and niches. The particular thing is that the Spaniards built a Catholic church, the Temple of San Juan Bautista, on top of the temple, and now both structures coexist as a symbol of the city's Incan and colonial heritage.
One of the most curious buildings in Vilcashuamán is the Ushnu, located to the west of the plaza. It is a kind of pyramid eight meters high, with the usual Inca stepped structure, with a seat at the top. It is believed that the seat was for the use of the Inca on his visits to the city, and that it was formerly covered with sheets of pure gold.
In addition to archeology, Vilcashuamán also has various natural attractions. The Titankayocc is an extensive puya Raimondi forest, a spectacular plant that reaches up to fourteen meters high. The beautiful lagoons of Atinqucha offer a beautiful Andean natural landscape.
The Ayacucho region has been the scene of the development of various Peruvian cultures. Before the Incas arrived, here were the Chancas, a culture that is characterized by having vigorously fought against the Inca empire. But their fight came to an end in 1438, when the Incas, led by Pachacútec, defeated the Chancas, turning the region into a real butchery, and took over all of their territory.
Although Ayacucho does not have Inca traces as powerful as those you can see in Cusco, here is one of the most important administrative centers of the Tahuantinsuyo or Inca Empire: the archaeological complex of Vilcashuamán, a word that in Quechua means "sacred falcon".
According to the history of Peru, the Inca Pachacútec ordered the construction of this building after defeating the Chancas and thus demonstrating the power of his entire empire. Thus, Vilcashuamán served as a main point on the route of the Qapaq Ñan (Inca Trail) and also as a temple of worship to the sun and a place from which to spread the Quechua language throughout the Tahuantinsuyo.
Vilcashuamán became a true work of art of Inca architecture. It has the typical characteristics of the buildings erected by this culture: a trapezoidal plaza, temples dedicated to the sun and the moon, and a sacred throne. Its buildings are totally imposing to this day!
Vilcashuamán surprises from the moment you arrive because of how the town has evolved. Far from being an archaeological center separated from civilization, as is the case with other Inca constructions, the buildings that Pachacútec ordered are now intermingled with the houses of the inhabitants of Vilcashuamán.
Thus, when you walk through this place you will find large and imposing buildings along with humble and small houses. This makes Vilcashuamán a perfect place to meet the people of the area, the living witnesses of how this place has changed and who can tell you the most enigmatic stories and legends of this place.
There are three main places that you have to visit when you visit the archaeological complex of Vilcashuamán. As always, so that you do not arrive at this place from scratch and have an idea of what you are going to find, here we tell you more about these three Inca constructions.
Take a good look, when you visit an Inca construction it is very common to find trapezoidal squares, one of the main characteristics of its Inca architecture. The one in Vilcashuamán was built for different purposes.
On the one hand, being such a large space, it served to house around 20,000 people, so it was ideal for housing the large army that accompanied the Inca on his trips. In addition, according to the history books, human and animal sacrifices were also carried out here, on a rock that is still preserved and that you can see with your own eyes: the sacrificial stone.
In the southern part of the Trapezoidal Plaza is what is surely the most important construction of the entire Vilcashuamán archaeological complex. It is the Temple of the Sun, a place dedicated to the powerful god of the Incas, the Inti. Next to it are other places of interest such as the Temple of the Moon.
With the conquest, Vilcashuamán also suffered the fury of the Spanish. As in the rest of Latin America, the conquerors thought that here was a tremendous treasure and looted this place, with special effort in the Temple of the Sun. After causing serious damage to this sacred building of the Incas, on it they built the Church of San Juan Bautista, which still stands today.
As in many other Inca citadels, the highest ruler of this culture liked to have his throne from which he could control everything that happened and witness the ceremonies. In Vilcashuamán this place for the Inca is the Ushnu, a pyramid with five platforms on which was a chair carved in stone and with gold plates. As you can imagine, sobriety was not one of the main characteristics of the Inca rulers.
Behind the Ushnu there is a building that, according to Vilcashuamán experts, was the palace of Pachacútec, a construction that reflects the great quality of Inca architecture.
Vilcashuamán is located 107 kilometers south of the city of Ayacucho. Being one of the main tourist places in this region, it is easy to get to this archaeological complex on your own.
To do this, you will have to take a bus or a combi at the southern terminal of Ayacucho. It is a long trip, between three and four hours one way, so the buses to Vilcashuamán leave from five in the morning. Try to take the transport as early as possible so you can make the most of the day in Vilcashuamán.
Many are the routes that take you to Machu Picchu, but none is like the Inca Trail Tours, the most famous pedestrian path in the Americas. After flying from the capital of Perú, Lima, you will arrive in Cusco to walk for four days along a path through forests and dense fog, millenary stone steps and discovering the ruins of ancient fortifications and Inca cities, and all the time enjoying majestic views.