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Coricancha: The Temple in the Center of the Inca Universe

If Sacsayhuaman is the head of the puma shape of Cuzco ("Shape of...a Puma Head! Form Incan City!" ), then Coricancha, the grand temple, is the tail. The story of Cuzco and the construction of Coricancha are linked, and to understand one we must go back to some of the ancient legends.
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The site of the city of Cuzco where Manco Capac turned to stone

A few Inca stories relate the tale of Manco Capac - the founder of the Inca royal family. Apparently, Manco Capac arose out of the waters of Lake Titicaca with his brothers and sisters, and set off with a band of others to find the perfect site to develop a city. After many years, Manco Capac along with his sister and wife, Mama Oqlyo, found the intersection of the Rio Tullamayo and the Rio Huantanay. At this very point, he plunged a golden staff into the ground and, declared this the site of the city of Cuzco, (which is where Coricancha now lies). As that moment, he turned to stone.

Pachacuti or the Earthshaker
Life was peaceful and simple in this village throughout the Inca kings' reign, up until Viracocha Inca. Viracocha Inca's reign did not last long, however, due to the attack from the Chanca in the northeast. Although Viracocha Inca fled, his rebel royal son Yupanqui, resisted, and along with his compatriots defended their homes. The legend explains that during the battle, Yupanqui cried out that the stones in the field became warriors in his defense. The invaders were finally repelled. Yupanqui named himself the imperial title of Pachacuti, or "Earthshaker," and then undertook the great task of molding and shaping the Inca nation from all four directions from Cuzco. Called the "four quarters," these were Chinchaysuyu, to the northwest, Antisuyu, a small region directly northeast, Collasuyu, southeast through what is now Chile and parts of Bolivia and Argentina, and Cuntisuyu, directly to the south.

Inti, the sun god, inspired Pachacuti to take on these great responsibilities. To show his loyalty, Pachacuti constructed Coricancha, or "House of the Sun" as a temple to Inti. This temple is the most elaborate temple in the imperial city, fully embroidered in gold. There is one entrance with six chambers squaring off a large courtyard. I was told that in each of the gold-covered chambers were images of the gods including Inti, Viracocha, Illapa the Lord of Thunder, and Cuichu the Rainbow. Interestingly, the Coricancha had worked similar to a sundial. Since the Coricancha stretches in all four directions, it is claimed that forty-one sighting lines were directed toward the four quarters. Along these rays were 328 ancestral stones, or "huacas," that resemble 328 days in twelve lunar month, as explained by astronomer Tony Aveni. About one-third of the ceques (sighting lines) point to major springs and water sources, similar to the lines of Nazca.

One latter-day conquistador provided an eye-witness account of the grandeur and finery of the temple, describing, "round the wall, half way up, there was a band of gold, two palmos [palms] wide and four dedos [fingers] in thickness. The doorways and doors were covered with plates of the same metal...In one of these houses, which was the richest, there was the figure of the sun, very large and made of gold, very ingeniously worked, and enriched with many precious stones... They also had a garden, the rows of which were made of pieces of fine gold; and it was artificially sown with golden maize, the stalks, as well as the leaves and cobs...they had more than twenty golden llamas with their lambs, and the shepherds with their slings and crooks...all made of the same metal."

The immense quantities of gold that lined the walls and decorated the chambers were melted down for the Spaniards, and unfortunately today, only one golden ear of maize remains in the museum. This golden ear of maize is a relic of the temple that was the center of Cuzco, the center of Tahuantinsuyu, and the center of the four quarters of the Inca world.


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