CATHEDRAL BASILICA OF THE VIRGIN OF THE ASSUMPTION, MAIN TEMPLE OF THE CITY

February 24, 2018
catedral cusco

The Cathedral

The amount of artwork and religious treasures in the Cathedral that, by the way is full of secrets, is never-ending. There is an altar frequently visited by the local population of the Lord of Unupunko (“the water doorway), a mournful image half submerged in what was supposed to be an entrance tunnel to the lake on which the Inca city was originally built. Innumerable chapels are displayed in the latreral naves of the huge temple; in each one crammed with a world of imagery, idolatry, hope and syncretism. There is a “Last Supper entrelary” painted by Marcos Zapata, where Christ’s main farewell dish is a guinea pig.

There is a funerary urn with the ashes of Inca Garcilaso de la Vega. But there are also facts of continued line of ideologies that don’t fall into place, that have as maximum expression the so-called “Wiracocha’s egg.” As I already said, the Cathedral was built over Suntur Wasi, the most important Inca temple that also was Wiracocha’s palace. The Spanish construction wiped out all traces that could keep the indigenous connected to their old deities, except for two granite monoliths more than a meter high each, with an oval shape, that were kept inside the Christian site, and two of the most important huacas.

A version assures that a bishop destroyed one of the monoliths due to the amount of worshipping from the locals. His unfortunate decision almost cost him his life. The other monolith has been discreetly place behind one of the main entrance doors of the Cathedral, and that’s where it is and it isn’t. Purposively it shouldn’t be there but it is, and people come all the time to touch the monolith, as if charging themselves with energy when they do so, and they leave flowers. There are also mystical and esoteric tourists that see this egg as one of the Meccas in the world. You cannot make photos, and if you’re touching the egg and a priest sees you, he most probably will tell you not to. It’s called schizophrenia.

One of the temple’s major attractions in its exalted architecture is located in the vaults. You can climb to the roof from where you have a privileged view of the city. The vaults are more than 400 years old. Another highlight is the imposing figure of the bells named María Angola, one of six times a day; also to mark special occasion and call people for great celebrations (such as the procession of the Lord of Earthquakes.) María Angolas has its own legend: don’t be lazy, my dear traveler, and ask yourself.

The Monastery of Santo Domingo was built on top of the Coricancha temple (“gold plaza”), one of the most famous Inca compounds where their most important god, Inty (the Sun), was worshipped. Also known as the “gold building” due to the amount of objects made from this metal, the place was sacked when the Spanish arrived. In one of the buildings there was a huge solid gold disc that represented the cosmic deity, one of the objects that most fed the Spanish fantasy and greed, and that disappeared quite fast once the city was invaded. The temple could be accessed only if you fasted, on bare feet and carrying something on your back as a sing of humbleness according to the indications of the Willaq Umu (Vila oma), or grand priest. The Spanish commissioned Friar Juan de Olías to build a new convent over the Inca ruins. Finished in 1633, the 1650 earthquake damaged the temple so badly that it couldn’t be restored until 1680. By the contrary, the Inca walls that surrounded the Spanish cloister remained intact. The place is interesting because you can see a clear example where Inca ruins and a Spanish construction are superimposed.

So let me continue with a day of “mestizajes.” The sun is bright. Solar radiation in the southern Andes is one of the strongest on the planet: use sun block, but the strong one. The sky, so blue, doesn’t threat with rain, and it’s actually very hot. Now that you are at the Coricancha, go visit a place nearby: the museum of Traditional Textiles which started as an effort of Cusco’s Center for traditional Textiles association that promotes the use of old weaving techniques and traditional materials in Andean communities.

The place also has a nice retrospective showing the importance of weaving for Cusco weavers. The store is worth visiting since you can find an interesting variety of clothing weaved in the artisan and traditional way. The woman that started this place is very special. Born in the community of Chinchero, Nilda Callañaupa (how is now around 50 years old) witnessed how the highly valuable traditional weavings from her hometown were disappearing due to a cheap tourist demand for products with no quality demand.

As a weaver, just like the other members of her community, she had a vision: assure to form a generation of weavers that could keep the techniques and ancestral designs using genuine materials in the process. Nilda studied, travelled around the world, learned languages and connected with people that were interested in such a dream with a wide cultural horizon. She formed the association and started to work with male and female weavers from the Sacred Valley and Mapacho communities, and then opened the magnificent museum at the side of the store. There is an important movement in Cusco nowadays to recover traditional weavings were worth more than gold for the ancient Cusquenians.