Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Cusco: Temple of the Sun

"Know, whoever you may be who may chance to set foot in this land, that it contains more gold and silver than there is iron is Biscay."           

The Spaniards conquered Peru over the course of several decades in an atmosphere of civil war and chaos.  The Incas had just concluded a war between two brothers, Atahualpa and Huascar when the Spanish arrived on the scene.  Atahualpa had just captured Huascar and was heading south to enter his capital, Cuzco, when he himself was made hostage by the Spanish.  Atahualpa then had Huascar murdered.  After extorting the proverbial king's ransom, the Spanish, in turn, murdered Atahualpa.  The Spanish next marched on Cuzco, the capital and Holy City of the Inca Empire, installing a puppet emperor.  Throughout the period the Incas scurried about trying to hide the most sacred religious items from defilement.        

Gold and silver had no monetary significance to the Incas.   They were considered sacred, with gold regarded as the sweat of the sun and silver as the tears of the moon.  Religious items were made of gold and silver, but they had no worth, other than artistic, to the common man.              Because of their religious significance, gold and silver objects were well hidden and well guarded for generations, never being turned into cash to satisfy short term needs.         

Cuzco's Temple of the Sun, was the most revered shrine in the empire.  Only three Spaniards ever saw the Temple in its full glory.  These men were sent by the Spanish commander, Francisco Pizarro, to speed up the collection of the royal ransom.  The temple had gardens in which everything.....trees and grass and flowers, animals, birds, butterflies, cornstalks, snakes, lizards and snails were all made of hammered gold.  The main room of the temple held the high altar which was dedicated to the sun.  The four walls of the room were hung with plaques of gold, from top to bottom, and a likeness of the sun topped the high altar.  The likeness was made of a gold plaque twice as thick as those that paneled the walls and was composed of a round face, surrounded by rays and flames.  The whole thing was so immense that it occupied the entire back of the temple, from one wall to the other.  The disc was positioned to catch the morning sun and throw its rays into the gold-lined temple, filling it with radiant light.  

On either side of this enormous golden sun were kept mummies of former Inca kings, which were so well preserved that they seemed alive.  The mummies were seated on golden thrones and looked directly out at the visitor.

No comments: