Every year on June 24, Cusco is the home to one of South America’s largest festivals and maybe one of the oldest; The Inti Raymi Festival. The festival is dedicated to “Inti” or the sun god, the most important god for the Incas and announces the New Year and new harvest. The festival takes place in downtown Cusco and the Inca site Sacsayhuaman located just above Cusco.
The festival is based on the original Inca festival which has been held for centuries to worship the Sun God. The Inca are believed to have celebrated this every year around this time for as many as 9 consecutive days. When the Spanish arrived to Peru, they immediately tried forbidding all native rituals and festivities, including the Inti Raymi festival. The celebration was still being held in secret but the original festival was forgotten till almost 1944.
In 1944 a local group of indigenous people founded a movement to re-create this famous Inca celebration. Even though a lot of elements of the celebration have been forgotten, the group was able to re-create a large part of the celebration based on the famous Inca chronicler Inca Garcilaso de la Vega. Inca Garcilaso de la Vega was the son of a Spanish Soldier who married one of the last Inca Princesses, a granddaughter of the last Inca king Tupac Yupanqui. He got educated in both worlds and cultures and later became the most famous and historical Inca Chronicler.
Based on the chronicles from Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, the Inti Raymi Festival got reinstated for the first time since Inca times on June 24, 1944. Today the festivities take place for an entire day but the preparations can last for months. The festivities are held in three places in and around Cusco. In the early morning people gather at the Temple of the Sun, better known as Qoriqancha. Qoriqancha is where the Temple of the Sun used to be before it was partially destroyed by the Conquistadores and a Monastery was built on top of the ruins. Nowadays it is one of Cusco most emblematic examples of how the fate of history created a unique building style from a combination of two styles, the typical impressive masonry style of the Inca and the Colonial architecture which are merged into this building. It can be seen especially on the outside corner bordering with the Temple garden and on the inside with these huge Inca chambers surrounded by Colonial paintings and the details of this collision of two worlds is remarkable. At Qoriqancha the rituals start with several groups dancing and making offerings to the sun. The reenacting of the Inca Pachaqutec, also makes his first appearance here.
From Qoriqancha the first stop is the Plaza de Armas or Main Square. The main square is set up to create an Inca scene where the Inca Pachaqutec speaks his first words (in Quechua, the ancient Inca language) to the public. The Plaza de Armas is mainly Spanish influenced when it comes to architecture but the foundations are undeniably Inca. In Inca times the Plaza de Armas was home to one of the city’s most important Inca palaces, probably more or less where today the cathedral can be found. The Plaza has also been used by the Spanish to decapitate several members of Inca Royalty. Among these is Manco Inca, the last of the Inca Kings and Tupac Amaru III one of the descendants of Inca Royalty and responsible for one of the largest indigenous uprisings against the Spanish during the colonization.
From the main square the re-enactment goes to Sacsayhuaman, the huge fortress located just above Cusco. Sacsayhuaman means “Satisfied Falcon” and probably reflects the protective means of this fort for the city of Cusco. It is also believed to have been a military camp and it is here that the military starts taking part in the celebrations. The main sacrifice is made here and several groups, all representing the different parts of the Inca Empire and society, present their sacrifices and dance ritual to the Sun God and the Inca King Pachaqutec.
This is definitely a spectacle not to be missed which will leave a lasting impression on all its visitors as it gives a clear view on ancient societies and their gods. To see the importance of the Sun in these parts of the world as the sun represents life for many ancient societies.
June is also a very good month to visit the Peruvian highlands as it is in the dry season during which most days are very sunny and warm. So if you have always wanted to visit Machu Picchu and Cusco, why not combine this vacation with a visit to one of South America’s most emblematic Indigenous festivaqls; the Inti Raymi.
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