9 Most Intriguing Ancient Inca Cities

The Inca Empire was the largest empire in pre-Columbian America. The Inca civilization arose from the highlands of Peru sometime in the early 13th century, and the last Inca stronghold was conquered by the Spanish in 1572. The Incas were master builders. They created some of the best planned cities in the ancient Americas. Each city was laid out in a grid with a central plaza surrounded by the major temples and public buildings.

According to Inca legend the first Inca ruler founded the city of Cuzco. It soon became the capital of the entire Empire. When the Spanish arrived in Peru, Cusco was a thriving city. The city’s beauty surpassed anything the Spaniards had seen before in the New World and the stonework was better than any in Spain. Besides Cuzco the Quechuan people built many more beautiful Inca cities that still can be found in Peruvian Andes.

#9Huchuy Qosqo

Huchuy QosqoPhoto: Stevage

The small town of Huchuy Qosqo lies at an elevation of 3,600 meters (11,800 feet) above the Sacred Valley. Huchuy Qosqo, which in Quechua means ‘Little Cuzco’, was originally called Kakya Qawani, ‘from where the lightning can be seen’. Pedro de Cieza de León, in his Second Chronicle of Peru, claimed that the town was built by Viracocha, the Eighth Inca ruler. The Spanish took control of Huchuy Quosqo after the Manco Inca rebellion and used the site as a farm.


Llactapata is a small Inca site near Machu Picchu. The location of Llaqtapata along the Inca trail suggested that it was an important rest stop on the journey to Machu Picchu. Subsequent investigations have revealed an extensive complex of structures and features related to Machu Picchu by a continuation of the Inca Trail leading onward into the Vilcabamba. It probably also played an important astronomical function during the solstices and equinoxes.The first published account of Llactapata was by Hiram Bingham as part of his article on Machu Picchu for National Geographic. Unfortunately he left few published details for anyone who might want to return to the site to do just that. Both the map published with the 1913 magazine article and his account were imprecise. It was not until 1982 when David Drew went back to the area, together with a small reconnaissance team.

#7Inca Pisac

Founded in the 15th century, Inca Pisac lies atop a hill at the entrance to the Sacred Valley. The Inca constructed agricultural terraces on the steep hillside, which are still in use today. They created the terraces by hauling richer topsoil by hand from the lower lands. The terraces enabled the production of surplus food, more than would normally be possible at altitudes this high. Písac defended the southern entrance to the Sacred Valley, while Choquequirao defended the western entrance, and Ollantaytambo the northern. Inca Pisac also controlled a route which connected the Inca Empire with the border of the rain forest. Francisco Pizarro and the Spanish conquistadores destroyed Inca Písac in the early 1530s. The modern town of Písac was built in the valley below, about 40 years later.


Ollantaytambo was the royal estate of Emperor Pachacuti who conquered the region in the mid-15th century. The emperor built the town with lavish constructions and undertook extensive works of terracing and irrigation in the Urubamba Valley. The town provided lodging for the Inca nobility while the terraces were farmed by yanakuna, the servants to the Inca elites. During the Spanish conquest Ollantaytambo served as a stronghold for Manco Inca, leader of the Inca resistance against the conquistadors. He fortified the town in the direction of the former Inca capital of Cusco, which had fallen to the Spanish. In 1536, Manco Inca defeated a Spanish expedition near Ollantaytambo, blocking their advance from a set of high terraces and flooding the plain. Despite his victory, however, Manco Inca did not consider his position tenable, so the following year he withdrew to the heavily forested site of Vilcabamba.


VitcosPhoto: feztoo

Vitcos is located on the edge of the jungle in the vicinity of Vilcabamba, believed to have been built by Manco Inca during the Spanish conquest. In 1534 Manco Inca was crowned the ruler of the Inca in Cuzco by Francisco Pizarro, and allowed to rule his people. But he soon realized that he was being used by Pizarro as a puppet ruler for the Spanish conquistadors, who planned to conquer his country and its people. To retake the Empire from the Spaniards, Manco gathered an army of 200,000 Inca warrior and tried to throw the Spaniards out of Cuzco. The siege was ultimately unsuccessful as many of Manco Inca’s warriors succumbed to smallpox. The surviving armies retreated to the nearby fortress of Ollantaytambo, from which they launched several successful attacks against. But Manco’s position at Ollantaytambo was vulnerable so he retreated to Vitcos and finally to the remote jungles of Vilcabamba.


The city of Vilcabamba was founded by Manco Inca in 1539 and was the last refuge of the Inca Empire until it fell to the Spaniards in 1572, ending the Inca resistance to Spanish rule. After the city was abandoned, the tropical forest almost completely covered the city and its location was forgotten. When Hiram Bingham started his expeditions in 1911, his main goal was to find Vilcabamba. He found Machu Picchu however and believed that it was the fabled Vilcabamba, the lost city and last refuge of the Incas. But further researches and comparison of Vilcabamba with Machu Picchu proved Hiram Bingham wrong. Bingham actually continued to explore the region and found some ruins at a place called Espiritu Pampa. This was actually Vilcabamba but Hiram Bingham was so preoccupied with Machu Picchu that he did not realized it’s importance.


The Inca city of Choquequirao is situated about 3,000 meter (1,000 foot) above sea level on a southwest-facing spur of a glaciated peak above the Apurimac River. Choquequirao’s builder, Topa Inca, chose his city’s site and design precisely because of the similarities to Machu Picchu, the city of his father, Pachachuti. The two cities were about the same size and served the same religious, political and agricultural functions. Choquequirao, like all important Inca cities, is laid out in alignment with the movements of the sun and the stars. One building on the central plaza has nooks in which the mummies of important citizens were placed, and it is onto these nooks that the first rays of dawn fall each day. During the Spanish conquest, Choquequirao became the principal religious center for the last Inca state. It was abandoned in the late 16th century. The first Westerner to visit was Juan Arias Díaz, a Spanish explorer who arrived in 1710.


Situated at an elevation of around 3,400 meter (11,200 foot), Cuzco was the capital of the Inca Empire from the 13th century until 1532. The indigenous name of the city is Qusqu. Cusco developed, under the Inca ruler Pachacuti, into a complex urban center with distinct religious and administrative functions. It was surrounded by clearly defined areas for agricultural, artisan and industrial production. When the Spaniards conquered the city in the 16th century, they preserved the basic structure but built churches and palaces over the ruins of the Inca city. Remains of the palace of the Incas, Qurikancha (the Temple of the Sun), and the Temple of the Virgins of the Sun still stand.

#1Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu stands 2,430 meter (7,970 feet) above sea-level, in the middle of a tropical mountain forest, in an extraordinarily beautiful setting. The Incas built Machu Picchu around 1450 as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti. Its three primary structures are the Inti Watana (a ritual stone associated with the Inca calendar), the Temple of the Sun, and the Room of the Three Windows. The Incas abandoned the site around 1570. It is possible that most of its inhabitants died from smallpox introduced by travelers before the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the area. Although known locally, it was unknown to the outside world before being brought to international attention in 1911 by the American historian Hiram Bingham. Bingham wrote a number of books and articles about the discovery of Machu Picchu, the most popular of which today is “Lost City of the Incas”, a retrospective account of expedition and his discovery of Machu Picchu.

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