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The Inca Civilisation of Peru

Peru facts & history in brief       Map of Peru       Inca facts & history in brief

Inca, the pre-Columbian Indian people of western South America.
They comprised Quechua-speaking tribes round Cuzco (their capital), who formed a state contemporary to, and eventually superseding that of Chimu.
Sixteenth-century records indicate that the ruling dynasty was founded c. AD 1200 by Manco Capac, but real expansion did not take place until 1438, forming an empire stretching from northern Ecuador, across Peru, to Bolivia and parts of northern Argentina and Chile by 1525 (some 3,500 km., 2,175 miles, north to south). Three important rulers carried out these conquests and the development of the imperial administration: Pachacuti (1438-71), Topa Inca (1471-93), and Huayna Capac (1493-1525).
After Huayna Capac civil wars broke up the empire of his son Atahualpa just before Spanish troops led by Francisco Pizarro landed on the coast in 1532.
Atahualpa was captured in 1533 and killed shortly thereafter.
In the same year Pizarro captured Cuzco, and by 1537, after the defeat of Manco Capac, most of the empire had been subdued by Spain.
The Sapa Inca, 'Son of the Sun', ruled by divine right and was worshipped as a god in his own lifetime.
Under him was a vast administrative bureaucracy which regulated a complex system of regional capitals (for example, Quito), agriculture, food collection and redistribution, craft production, and roads and bridges.
An efficient army, including a messenger system and strategically placed fortresses (for example, Machu Picchu), kept control; and rebellious populations were transferred wholesale to other parts of the empire.
Although writing was unknown, records were kept on quipus, sets of cords of different colours and thicknessess tied with a system of coded knots.
Inca technology was of a high standard and included specialized factories and workshops producing ceramics, textiles, and metal artefacts, with fine decoration, incorporating many regional styles.
Architecture included accurately fitted stone masonry.
Agriculture was based on systems of hillside terracing and included the potato, quinoa, and maize, and the guinea pig (for food), domestic dog, llama, and alpaca.
Religion was centralized, local gods being respected but secondary to the Sun cult as the divine ancestor of the ruling dynasty and Viracocha, the creator god. South American Indian art, the art and architecture of the native inhabitants of South America, particularly in the period before the Spanish conquest in the 16th century.
In artistic terms the vast area of South America divides into two fairly clear zones: firstly, the central Andean and adjacent Pacific coastal area, which is now mainly within the modern state of Peru; secondly, all the other areas.
These include the northern Andean civilizations of Colombia, such as the Tairona, Quimbaya, and Muisca, all known for the remarkable metalworking techniques, particularly in goldwork, and the vast tropical forest areas, most notably the Amazon.
In this latter area little remains of earlier art-forms, but contemporary Indian societies still exhibit a rich variety of creativity in their vast wood-framed dwellings (which embody in their design the symbolic order of their respective communities), magnificent featherwork, and a rich abstract decorative art.
The pre-eminence of the central Andean cultures has been emphasized by the relatively cool and dry climate of the region, which, unlike other areas, has been favourable to the preservation of more fragile works of art.
Andean civilization is associated above all with the Incas, who, by the 15th century, had established a far-flung empire linked by a road system that was superior even to that of the Romans.
Before this time there was no cultural unity in the Andes; rather, different styles and traditions developed in various river valleys and plateaux.
There was often influence between them, but this was made more difficult by the great natural barrier of the mountains.
There were settled communities before 2000 BC, but the earliest distinct Andean culture, called Chavin, flourished from about 900 BC to about 200 BC.
It is named after the great ruin of Chavin de Huantar in the north-eastern highlands of Peru, which includes a large temple complex built with well-cut stone blocks and decorated with relief carvings.
The Chavin people also produced pottery, goldwork, and textiles, all of which were to be developed to extremely high levels of artistry in the Andes.
Weaving, indeed, is a field in which Peru has a tradition that is unexcelled anywhere in the world; llama wool and cotton were the main materials.
Probably the most remarkable textiles were those made in the Paracas culture, named after the Paracas Peninsula, about 161 km (100 miles) south of Lima.
This culture, which began at about the same time as the Chavin culture and lasted until about AD 400, is divided into two main phases: Paracas Cavernas, so-called because the dead were buried in caverns; and the later Paracas Necropolis, when the dead were buried in cemeteries ('necropolis', Greek 'city of the dead', or cemetery).
In the Paracas Necropolis culture corpses were wrapped in sumptuous burial cloths, many of which have survived in good condition in the dry soil.
The range and brilliance of the colours are remarkable, and the stylised human, animal, and mythological creatures have immense vigour.
Of the other Andean cultures that flourished before the Incas the best known are the Mochica and the Chimu.
The Mochica culture, which flourished from about 200 BC to about AD 600, is named after the great archaeological site at Moche on the coast of northern Peru.
This includes the remains of the 'Pyramid of the Sun' (the name is modern and its exact purpose is uncertain), a vast structure of sun-dried mud bricks; although badly eroded, it is the largest ancient building in South America.
The warlike Mochica people also built fortifications and carried out hugely ambitious irrigation schemes.
Their genius was expressed most forcefully in pottery, however, for their jugs in the form of realistic portraits of heads mark the high point of Pre-Columbian ceramics.
The Mochica culture was once known as Early Chimu, but there seems to have been a long interlude between the decline of the Mochica and the rise of the Chimu in about 1200.
Until it was absorbed in the Inca empire in about 1470, the Chimu culture was the dominant force in northern Peru.
The capital was at Chan Chan, the ruins of which are near the Pacific coast about 483 km (300 miles) north of Lima; the city, built of mud bricks, had a well-planned layout, with a sophisticated irrigation system, and is estimated to have had a population of 200,000 or more.
Apart from civic design, the Chimu excelled particularly at metalwork, notably in gold and silver.
The Incas have much in common with the Aztecs of Mexico: they emerged at about the same time, quickly established a mighty empire, and then totally succumbed to the Spanish conquistadors.
Much more is known about the Incas than about any of the earlier cultures of South America, for although they had no system of writing (the Maya were the only Pre-Columbian people who had), a great deal of their oral tradition was recorded by contemporary Spanish chroniclers.
'Inca' means 'king' or 'prince', and the Incas saw their history in terms of the succession of rulers from the foundation of a dynasty in about 1200.
Myth and royal propaganda became mixed with fact in this tradition, however, and little is known for sure about the origins of the Incas.
Their great period lasted only about a century, from c.1438, when Pachacutec (or Pachacuti) became ruler, until 1532, when Francisco Pizarro landed and assumed power virtually unopposed.
Pachacutec and his son Tupac (or Topa) have been compared to Philip of Macedon and his son Alexander the Great as conquerors, for under them the Incas established the greatest empire of ancient America; at its peak it stretched more than 4,025 km (2,500 miles) north to south, from the present-day border of Colombia and Ecuador to central Chile.
The state was highly regimented, and the Incas were among the greatest builders and engineers in history, their achievements being all the more remarkable for having been achieved without the knowledge of the wheel.
In major buildings they used immense (sometimes irregularly shaped) blocks of stone, cut with superb precision and fitted together without mortar.
Many of their great walls are still visible in the city of Cuzco (formerly the Inca capital), where they have often been used as the foundations for later buildings; in the nearby fortress of Sacsahuaman some of the stone blocks are estimated to weigh over 100 tons.
The most famous Inca site, however, is Machu Picchu, set in remote mountains about 80 km (50 miles) north-west of Cuzco--the site, which was unknown to the Spaniards, was not rediscovered until 1911.
Its precipitous setting makes it perhaps the most breathtaking archaeological site in the world.
Apart from stonemasonry, the Incas also excelled at weaving, which continues to hold pride of place among the traditional crafts of the Indians of Peru, who still make up about half the population of the country.

Excerpted from The Oxford Interactive Encyclopedia. Developed by The Learning Company, Inc. Copyright (c) 1997 TLC Properties Inc. All rights reserved.

For more information about Inca or Inca civilisation see Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

We've enjoyed our over twelve hours of train ride through the ever changing Andes landscape very much.
Our train went through the main street of some of the villages, which just added colour to our experiences.
Enjoyed the sights and the night Hui Chin and I spent at Puno.
We spent the following day on a boat, island hoping on Lake Titicaca.
Explored the ancient ruins at Puno, Titicaca Island and many other places.
The high light of the day was visiting some of the Floating Islands of the Uru people.

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