Pretty much all of South America was once part of the Inca Empire. And, while Peru is known for having some of the finests examples of Inca settlements, Ecuador actually does not fall behind at all! What is nowadays the area of Cuenca, used to be the northern capital of the Empire. As such, there are numerous important Inca ruins around the city. But there’s one that truly steals the show!!!!
Situated just a two hours drive north from the city of Cuenca, the Inca fortress of Ingapirca is a great day-trip alternative. It is considered by many to be, by far, the most important archaeological site left by the Inca Empire in Ecuador. Ingapirca is an absolute gem. It first belonged to the Cañari culture, who had been long occupying the area. They were then conquered by the Incas for a few decades, until the Spanish arrived and took over. So, the ruins have a very rich history, dating back to not only the Incas, but previous societies.
Though the Inca reign was actually short in this area, it still left an important imprint, leaving mysterious remnants such as the Temple of the Sun and its golden-green walls. The main edification is a tall, oval-shaped platform called the Castle of Ingapirca. The chamber of the temple was built so that the sun would pass through certain narrow windows and put sacred elements in a spotlight. What is most interesting is that researchers have found that there were sacred altars that were only directly illuminated during specific moments throughout the year, particularly during the Inti Raymi, the Inca’s “New Year”.
The stones with which the Inca walls were built are perfectly cut and stacked together without using any sort of cement or adhesive. Just like in Machu Picchu and other significant Inca ruins, the architecture and engineering is remarkable, featuring imposing walls. In fact, the name “Ingapirca” means “Inca wall” in Quechua language. So you can get the picture!
But what makes it that much more unique is that the archaeological complex actually features a mix of the Inca and the Cañari cultures. The Inca architecture contrasts with that left by the Cañari, who used coppery-brown adobe blocks and were less smoother in their techniques and therefore created a “rougher” look. But the combination is really interesting to observe. The Cañari worshiped the moon, while the Incas were utterly devoted to the sun. This can all be observed in different areas of the complex. You can also see the culture mix in how the Cañari people dress today. Their traditional clothing have incorporated both Inca and Spanish elements to their original style.
It is believed that Ingapirca had not only a sacred ceremonial purpose, but also must have been an important strategic military fortress, that played an crucial role in the Incas conquest and domination of the northern Andes. The exact history behind this place is not all completely clear, though. The Spanish conquerors played a big role in this, since they did neither preserve, nor record what they found. Some of the stone blocks were actually taken from the site to be used in other constructions. Nonetheless, Ingapirca remains to be impressive and attracting visitors by the heaps.
There is also a museum on-site that is worthwhile visiting to observe some of the ceramics, textiles and other archaeological pieces that were found during the digs. This helps better understand what this site used to be and the meaning it might have had for its inhabitants.
Situated at almost 3,200 meters above sea level, it can get chilly in Ingapirca, so it’s best to bring some warmer cloths with you. However, mornings can also get sunny, so maybe just put all those layers on and be prepared for anything! 😛
Finally, having to go by Cuenca to visit Ingapirca, you must definitely seize the opportunity for exploring this picturesque, World Heritage City. Explore the gorgeous town, enjoying its breathtaking French neoclassic architecture and surrounding landscapes, as well as the valleys nearby.
Tip: this area is home to some superb artisans, so, you might want to have some cash handy to buy a beautiful toquilla straw hat, textiles or some other gem to take back home with you as a memento of your fantastic trip! 😉
Here are a couple of itineraries to get your planning started!