Day 4 — A Two-Part Visit to Pikillaqta

Monday — April 6

Today was to have been our day to tour some of the less-visited sites on what is known as the southern circuit (they are actually on the road leading southeast out of the city): Tipon, Oropesa, Pikillaqta, Andahuaylillas … to name a few. We ended up changing our original plans slightly in order to include the Pisac ruins. I was sorry to have yesterday’s little GI incident impact our plans, but our decision to skip some of the southern circuit sites to make room for the Pisac ruins turned out to be absolutely the right one for us.

(By the way, I was right as rain today. No signs of yesterday's GI problems. I didn't have much of an appetite, but as I was planning to take it easy with food, that wasn't an issue. I will be continuing the Cipro regimen for the next couple of days.)

As is usually the case for us, we were up and on the road early. By 8:00a, we were making our first stop of the day at Rumicolca (stone storehouse), an immense structure that is part of the Pikillaqta complex. The 40-foot (~12 m) high structure was an aqueduct built by the Wari empire. (The Wari [also Huari] predated the Inca — 700-1000 AD.) The structure may have also served as a border checkpoint for the Wari empire. It is certain that the Inca later fortified the structure to use it as a gateway into the Cusco Valley.

It's my job to provide perspective for the structure by pretending to climb the floating steps on the side of the aqueduct.
If you look closely, you can see the narrow water channel running along the top of the wall.
(photo by Vidal)

We made our second stop at Pikillaqta (aka Piquillacta) — or “flea town,” if you will — later in the morning to visit the main complex. Before exploring the ruins, we stopped briefly at the small museum at the entrance to see the skeleton and armor of an Ice Age dinosaur — a Gliptodonte (giant armadillo) to be precise. The armor, which was found completely intact, was huge.

Glyptodonts could grow to be the size of a VW Beetle.

The sprawling Wari site of Pikillaqta is the only major ruin of a pre-Inca settlement in the Cusco area. Although there was a 10-foot (~3 m) high surrounding wall that hid what was within from prying eyes, Pikillaqta served no defensive purpose. The layout was similar to that of a city with multi-storey buildings and well laid out streets, but archeological studies have revealed that Pikillaqta was not an urban center where people lived on a regular basis. Rather, it seems to have been a ceremonial center. The buildings and the floors were covered with white gypsum stucco — I imagine Pikillaqta of days gone by was dazzling, in more ways than one, under the brilliant Andean sun.

The mid-day sun was harsh and far from ideal for exploring, but we pressed on, wandering the streets and inspecting the excavated buildings where ancestral mummies were kept in niches. It’s thought that these mummies presided over ritualistic festivities held at the site.

View of the valley from Pikillaqta.

Exploring Pikillaqta with Vidal.

Looking down one of the streets of Pikillaqta.
Note the narrowness of the opening in the wall at the far end; the Wari must have been slight of build.

Next Up: Day 4 — Sistine Chapel of the Americas

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