Inca Regional Settlement


                                                           Core Region Settlements


1. The settlements of the Inca “heartland” - the Huantanay, Urubamba, and Apurimac Rivers valleys – come closest to revealing the “typical” Inca settlement plan and construction methods.

These were the towns and villages inhabited by highland farmers, not the specialized intrusive centers of foreign imperium.


2.  While such towns do not display the highly specialized characteristics of Inner Cuzco, they do possess strong overall similarities in terms of plan and technique, indicating the underlying Inca construction practices.


Ollantaytambo: A rural town of the Inca heartland.

This town in the Urubamba Valley displays the following features that make it probably the best-preserved example of an Inca rural settlement:


1.  The town is built around a divided plaza (like Cuzco), revealing the Andean concept of duality in practice.  Ritual architecture is located on one side of the plaza, residential architecture on the other, a pattern that also occurs in the more specialized plan of provincial administrative centers.  Probably the most important ritual feature is a huge partially shaped rock.  This is probably one example of the characteristic usnu and intihuatana shrines that always include rocks as central features, probably evoking the concept of natural places as sacred locations in the Andean cosmology.  A storage complex overlooking the town introduces the presence of the state and its laborers.


2.  Large areas of nearby agricultural terraces are separated into those farmed on behalf of the Inca rulers or the religious establishment and those used by the villagers.  These former produced the corn used for chicha consumed at the great state festivals and incorporate carefully constructed stone faces and irrigation channels.  Village fields are not so elaborate.


3.  Water flows from springs associated with ritual architecture to the field terraces through elaborate ritual channeling that corresponds to the Cuzco practice at the Qori Kancha and reflects Inca concepts of water as the life force and its architectural setting as sacred architecure.


Machu Picchu: An Inca royal estate

1.  Machu Picchu was probably a royal “estate.”  Inca rulers owned such establishments, especially in and near the Urubamba river drainage, as their personal properties, both for residence and for the production of agricultural crops required for ceremonial/political purposes in the rituals of power. They can probably be regarded in general as a specialized part of the economic system that gave the Inca ruler direct access to a “third” of the land of the empire.   However, the estates were established in the core Inca area, not conquered lands, thus must be treated as specialized features with somewhat different functions as “planned” settlements rather than purely tribute-generating lands.  


2.  The formal characteristics of Machu Picchu show its special relationship with Inca rulers while at the same time relating it to other Inca settlements by common planning and construction concepts.


- Built around a central plaza with the elaborate ritual architecture largely segregated on one side.

- Residential architecture separated from the corporate.

- Central religious shrines, intihuatana and usnu, comprising rough field rocks and located in the most important part of the site.  The presence of an intihuatana (hitching place of the Sun in Quechua) indicates the presence of the emperor himself.  It is at these special shrines that he acted as royal shaman and communed with the supernatural on behalf of his people.

- Fine agricultural terraces that characterize the royal estates are similar to those at Pisac in the Urubamba Valley – another royal estate.

- Machu Picchu is built over the source of the water that flows down into the agricultural fields.  Its architectural manipulation repeats the ritual emphasis seen elsewhere.


3.  Chinchero and Pisac in the Urubamba region were also probably Inca royal estates displaying the same fine stonework used in Cuzco imperial architecture and the religious zones and agricultural terraces that characterize Machu Picchu.


Religious Centers

1.  Great temples to the official state divinity Viracocha are located throughout the central region.  They were subsidiaries of the center of the state religion at the Qori Kancha in Cuzco, probably run by members of the formal Inca religious hierarchy, and served as the religious component of political power dedicated to the support of the ruling order by asserting its relationship to the supreme supernatural force in the cosmos - the Sun - and its subsidiary weather/climatic forces.


2.  The temple of Huaytará, west of Cuzco, displays the characteristic kallanka architectural form. A steeply gabled roof supported probably on central wooden pillars, now removed, roofed a large rectangular hall whose walls are lined with typical trapezoidal niches.


3.  Raqchi to the south of Cuzco contains an Inca settlement that may well have been an administrative center with storage complexes and elaborate specialized architecture, the largest structure of which was the temple of Viracocha.  This is probably the largest preserved structure of its kind.


4.  The Raqchi temple is a huge rectangular hall whose long axis is divided by a large wall pierced by trapezoidal windows and large access openings.  Two lines of cylindrical masonry pillars support the roof in each of the lateral “naves” of the temple.


5.  Other such temples were located mostly in the central part of the empire.  It is probable that elsewhere the religious sections of the administrative centers with their usnus served the purpose of asserting central religious power in the provinces.


6.  Smaller shrines such as Tambomachay, near Cuzco stood at sacred places such as springs and, as in the case of Tambomachay, represented one of the huacas scattered along the ceque lines that organized the sacred geography of the Cuzco region.





                                                                      Provincial Settlements


                                                                     Administrative Centers


Inca authority was exercised from secondary administrative centers scattered through the provinces.  These included new government establishments that were intrusive into the conquered territory, and existing local centers whose rulers were co-opted into the imperial system as puppet rulers.  Such establishments served as the centers of imperial power (wielded on behalf of Cuzco by a provincial ruler), centers of imperial ritual, centers of imperial storage facilities for state workers and at time the temporary seat of the Inca emperor.


Huánuco Viejo

1.  Administrative centers such as this were located throughout the empire outside of the central Inca heartland and often represented the only architectural expression of Inca presence apart from the trunk roads themselves.


2.  The centers were linked by two major trunk roads that extended north-south through the highlands and along the coast.  These two major roads were links by secondary roads that ran from the coast, up through the coastal valleys into the highlands.  Small tambos or road stations along these roads offered rest and food to state couriers.


3.  The administrative center of Huánuco Viejo, located in the north central Peruvian highlands, represents a typical example.  The main Cuzco road runs directly into the main plaza around which the center is built, dividing it into two segments in the typical dual construction form of all Inca settlements, while other roads divide the plaza and settlement into four quarters


4.  As in other Inca settlements, architecture is segregated around the central plaza by function.  Thus the chief residential structure (of the governor) is located at one end of the plaza.  On another side a long kallanka hall (see description for the temple structures) gave temporary lodging for state workers and soldiers; on a third side was the production areas for fine imperial pottery  (Cuzco style), textiles and chica.


5.  The plaza itself holds an usnu – the site of formal state religion.  In this case a rough rock stood on an elaborate dais approached by a ramp.  The plaza and possibly the large kallanka hall fronting it were the sites of the great state festivals and feasts whereby the Inca state gave its ritual gifts to its subject workers within the Andean concept of reciprocal obligations.


6.  Large storage areas stood nearby on the adjacent hillslopes, housing food for state workers.


7.  The coastal center of Tambo Colorado represents another well-preserved Inca administrative complex and contains the same general composition and plan as Huánuco Viejo.


Defensive Architecture

At the periphery of the empire in Ecuador and Argentina the administrative centers possess structures clearly meant for frontier defense, with strong walls, controlled access, and many weapon remains.