Ollantaytambo Gives Insight into the Inca Empire

South America - Editor - 23 April 2008

Ollantaytambo Gives Insight into the Inca Empire

Situated at an altitude of 2792 meters above sea level, Ollantaytambo is a city in the Sacred Valley of the Incas approximately 60 km northwest of Cuzco in Peru’s Southern Sierra region. Although Ollantaytambo is now a modern city, much of the ancient part of the town, with several walled blocks, each with its own entrance leading into a central courtyard surrounded by houses, remains as it was originally built in Incan times. As interesting as the city of Ollantaytambo is, however, the main tourist attraction is the fascinating Inca ruins situated nearby.

The Ollantaytambo ruins once served as an Incan temple and fortress. The massive defense walls of the Ollantaytambo Fortress proved their worth in the battle against the Spanish Conquistadors under the leadership of Francisco Pizarro in the 1530s. After being defeated by the Spanish when attempting to seize Cuzco in 1536, Inca nobleman, Manco, retreated with his forces to the Ollantaytambo Fortress. Francisco Pizarro’s brother, Hernando, led Spanish forces in an attack on the fortress. The Spanish were forced to retreat under an unrelenting assault of arrows, spears and rocks, accompanied by the flooding of the valley by the Incas. Ollantaytambo is generally considered to be the only place where the Incas were able to successfully take a stand against the advancing Spanish forces. Their victory was fairly short-lived though, as Hernando later returned with four times as many soldiers as before. Manco Inca retreated into his Vilcabamba jungle stronghold, and Ollantaytambo fell into the hands of the Spanish.

Ollantaytambo Fortress is a superb example of Inca design and workmanship. Visitors can climb the more than 200 steps to the top of the fortress to see the valley from the viewpoint that Inca warriors did centuries ago. An examination of the skilled Incan masonry work reveals that huge multi-sided blocks of stone were perfectly fitted together without the use of any type of mortar. Various theories have been offered as to how the Incas transported these enormous blocks of stone to the top of the mountain from quarries situated miles away, cut them perfectly to fit into one another and then raised them to put them in place. These just remain as theories, however, as none of them can be confirmed, adding to the mysteriousness of the Inca Empire.

The magnificent Sun Temple was constructed from gigantic red porphyry boulders, which were transported from a quarry high up on the opposite side of the Urubamba River. In a feat involving thousands of workers, the boulders were transported over the river by diverting the waters. The Sun Temple complex was still under construction at the time that the Incas were forced to retreat and was, therefore, never completed. Dozens of these enormous boulders - popularly referred to as “tired stones” - have been abandoned on the route from the quarry to the temple site.

In addition to the awe-inspiring masonry work, the Ollantaytambo ruins have many interesting examples of Inca artwork and carvings. Visitors to Ollantaytambo will gain some insight into an empire which is cloaked in mystery and myth – the magnificent Inca Empire.


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