A day of architectural contrast
You can start the day renting the service of the tourist streetcar. The tour will take you to forty of the city’s main cultural and touristic sites. It departs from Plaza de Armas. Around the corner, on the same plaza, you will visit the church of the church of The Company (Compañía de Jesús.) It is outstanding by its facade with its Cusquenian baroque, considered one of the most beautiful of the whole Americas. The Jesuit’s eagerness of having a more beautiful church that could eclipsed the Cathedral, annoyed the archbishop who requested to Pope to destroy their temple, In its interior there is an important collection of paintings, among them “The ascension of Jesús,” of Diego de la Puente and the painting that represent the wedding o Martín García de Loyola – Saint Ignatius’ nephew – with Beatriz Clara, the coya – the Inca princess – which is some kind of icon about the origin of Peruvian identity that is still not quite formed.
Another outstanding museum is in the church of Saint Catherine (Iglesia de Santa Catalina), located in the old Inca convent that became Christian in 1601. The Virgins of Sun, or acllas, chosen among the most beautiful women from the region, did their novitiate in this secluded place for three years. Those that didn’t adapt to the religious life were offered to the nobility. The painting collection, marked by a Renaissance style, has some notable works. It is the case of La apoteosis de la fundación (Apotheosis of the Foundation), by Juan Espinoza de los Monteros; La ofrenda a la Virgen (Our Lady’s Offer) by Francesco Albani; and La asunción de la Virgen (Our Lady’s Ascension), by Lorenzo Sánchez. There is also an exhibit of paintings portraying martyrs and Latin saints made by an unknown painter that copies quite precisely the style of Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbarán.
A return to San Blas (something that will never tire me) will enable you to discover the contrasts between the Inca and Spanish architecture. Among the most representative streets there is Hatun Rumiyoc that offers the most representative element of the sophisticated level reached by Inca architecture: the stone of the twelve angles. Assembled with skill and efficiency, its robust and simple design exposes the art marvels of this civilization. Currently, there is a “real” Inca that is always there if you want to take a photo with him for a couple of dollars. Loreto Street also preserves beautiful Inca walls in perfect condition.
Plaza Regocijo is a place worth while visiting. Its name originated from the Quechua traditon, when it was called Cusipata or the Patio of Happiness. During the Colonial period, the place was the scenario of numerous public festivities, such as bullfights.
Plazuela de las Nazarenas is, without doubt, one of the most beautiful and pleasant site of the city. It is located between downtown and San Blas, and is probably the oldest sample of domestic Colonial architecture in the city: a proof of that is the manor house that used to be Almagro’s, and that is currently the site of a hotel – from the Inkaterra chain – with such sophistication that it will blow you away. This plaza is blessed with the adaptation of extraordinary Colonial monuments such as hotels and alike. There is the marvelous Hotel Monasterio that used to be the cloister of San Antonio Abad; very closely, Hotel Cartagena that is located in the adapted manor house of a Spanish noble. However, Casa Cabrera is the most outstanding house of the plaza. With a long history, the old house shows nowadays more of its Republican architectural traces than Colonial. The house was restored in the eighties by what used to be Banco Continental.
Today it is the Cultural Center of BBVA Continental and houses the magnificent Pre-Columbian Art Museum (Museo de Arte Precolombino-MAP) which has an agreement with Lima’s Larco Museum (from where the art works come from.) The collection summarizes three thousand years of Peru’s archaeological history, including the Formative Period and the Cupisnique, Nasca, Mochica, Wari, Chimú, Chancay, and Inca cultures. The exhibition does not have an archaeological perspective, but an artistic one instead, which is completely different to what one is used to see at a museum. The curators, Fernando de Szyszlo and Cecilia Bákula, were very careful to select and group pieces according to the material with which they were made (gold, sea shell, ceramic, stone, and alike), keeping a criteria of universal art, which is reinforced with quotes of artists such as Picasso or Kandinsky. In the museum’s patio there is a huge glass rectangle-shaped cube, very well designed, where the MAP restaurant operates: a place you shouldn’t restrain from visiting. To eat of course and even better if it is during the evening.
During your stroll you will walk through Procuradores, an alley where you will basically find everything: from restaurants of all kinds (Israeli, Arab, Italian and one Korean) to infinity of design and artisan shops. There are also some traditional stores and adventure sports agencies too.
Visiting Centro Bartolomé de las Casas can also be quite interesting. Founded in 1974 as an academic research center of the Andean world, their logo – a lo escucha del mundo andino (listening to the Andean world) – summarizes very clearly their mission statement and work. Along all these years they have also developed aid tools for farmers through their program Casa Campesina (Farmer’s Home.) It also functions as a publishing entity and fosters responsible tourism policies in Andean communities. There is a first-class traditional textile shop too. One of Cusco’s downtown biggest treasures, without doubt, is their magnificent Andean photographic library, known as Fototeca Andina. Acknowledged as the oldest black and white photo collection in the city, it has images registered between 1870 and 1950 made by the most important photographers of that period (around 32,500 photos.)
In the city’s outskirts, about half an hour away from Cusco’s downtown heading south there is a place worth visiting: Casona del Marqués de Valleumbroso, the manor house of the Marquis of Valleumbroso. It was built over Inca remains in the 16th century, and currently is occupied by the restoration workshop of the Ministry of Culture. This palace is one of Cusco’s most impressive and sumptuous, showing off the splendor this Spanish Encomendero’s life, that made a fortune with cattle raise and farming taxes. The restoration workshop is very interesting. Officially admittance is not permitted but if you go during working hours, most probably you will be let into some halls where splendor is given back to hundreds of paintings that come from more than 500 churches, temples and Colonial chapels that are located in the region. Once the works are restored, they are returned to their places of origin.