I’ve been seeing so much garbage on YouTube from people claiming that they can tell Inca stonework and construction easily because the Incas only used one style.
First of all, it drives me crazy that they would be such liars to even begin to think that that was true. It’s often used to support the fantastic notion that most of the magnificent Inca stonework was actually done by some “ancient megalithic civilization” from thousands of years ago.
Second, anyone should question the obvious fact that this mysterious civilization(s), despite all their engineering genius, apparently left absolutely nothing else that could identify them through the centuries. Nothing? Are they serious?
Why is that? Because it’s completely made up, that’s why. It’s a lie that gets millions of views on YouTube and makes people a lot of money. Of course, there’s the conmen who spread the same lies so they can sell medicine show tours for thousands of dollars to unsuspecting victims who don’t know any better.
I won’t even waste time with the claims of extraterrestrial or vitrification.
Keep in mind that the Incas occupied Cusco for over 300 years. Each successive leader built his own imperial palace among other important buildings over the centuries in what is now the city’s historical center, so there are lots of beautiful examples of stonework and construction techniques to be seen — more than I was able to photograph today.
A Walk Through the City
Today I decided to grab my camera (Canon 90D) and a single lens (Sigma 18-35 1.8 Art) and walk through the historical center of Cusco photographing many different types of Inca stonework and construction styles.
It turned out to be quite a revelatory experience. As is usually the case when I take my time and walk slowly through any place looking carefully at everything I pass, what I notice and learn are things that are virtually unknown often even to the locals. Today was no different.
I’m not sure the best way to approach sharing all this with you, but since I know some will want to find some of the places that I photographed, I think I’ll just list the streets that I passed and show the stonework examples along each one.
It was a beautiful day in Cusco with lots of sunshine and beautiful clouds, but that also makes for really poor photographic conditions when the sun is strong so these aren’t as good as they could be, but I had fun anyway and I think you’ll still find them interesting. (As always, you can click on each photo to see a larger version.)
I always spell the name of this very famous street wrong every time — and that’s if I can even remember it at all! It’s best known for the famous 12 Angle Stone where every guide will take you and every tourist will pose for a pic.
It’s a relatively small generally rectangular stone — maybe a meter in length and a little less in height — but the fact that it has 12 angle cuts all around that are supposed to make it unique. (The fact is there are stones with far more angles, but this one is good both for the tourist business and for blocking foot traffic along the narrow pedestrian path along which it sits.
The 12 Angle Stone makes up one really spectacular wall of large stones places together without any obvious plan. That’s what makes this particular type of wall construction so impressive since the stone workers had to specifically cut each stone to fit a particularly unique place. As was normal with Cusco stonework, though not everywhere in the Inca empire, the most important places used construction techniques devoid of mortar. Stones sit incredibly tightly together where, as I’m sure you’ve heard before, a razor blade could not be passed between them.
(Note that that there are gaps in some places. Despite the mythology about being able to survive any earthquake, nearly 600 years in a highly active geologic zone results in some cracks and gaps, but probably less than one would expect.)
Despite being one of Cusco’s most popular photographic spots, this is only the second photo I’ve ever taken of this stone. The other was during the depths of the COVID pandemic in 2020 one afternoon when there literally was not a single soul except myself on the street and the next block up Cuesta San Blas.
On the other side of the wall is a completely different style of stonework. The wall uses a wider variety of smaller stones that are generally rectangular in shape. I photographed one spot where the wall had shifted considerably and there was some stabilization done, but most was basically unchanged for hundreds of years.
Calle Inka Roq’a
This small pedestrian street receives far less visitors than those just a few meters away, yet it has a very interesting wall. The lower section is similar to the large stones on the other side of the bock on Calle Hatunrumiyoq, but appears to have not been completed as many of the stones are relatively unfinished and still have the support “pegs” extended out that have not been removed. Also, a good bit of the wall has obviously been completed at a later date — probably during the colonial period.
A good bit of the later stonework also show some serious cracking probably due to earthquakes, but perhaps due to some other kind of shifting since a considerable amount of both adobe mortar and filler rocks was used between the stones.
Calle Palacio and Siete Culebras
Multiple styles of construction can be found next to other on this street with one of the most famous pedestrian walkways in Cusco branching off from the side.
Siete Culbras (“Seven Snakes”) is named for the multiple snakes carved into the stones on the walls of the boutique hotel Palacio Nazarenas. What most people don’t realize is that there are lots of other snakes carved into various stones all across centra Cusco.
Córdoba del Tucumán
This entryway into a small shop across from the Inka Museo is a great example of how Inca walls and doorways are a part of every day life all across Cusco.
Plaza de Armas
While much of the Plaza de Armas was rebuilt by the Spanish using repurposed Inca stones, there is only one remaining piece of wall that still exists on the northwest side opposite the cathedral where an Inca imperial palace once stood, but now forms the outer wall for shops and restaurants.
One thing that can be observed very clearly is along the wall outside of the KFC restaurant next to the Cathedral is the “cobbling” method that Inca stone workers used to slowly form stone into their final shapes by using progressively smaller stones.
(One of the favorite claims by some is that the Incas could not have done all this stonework because they didn’t have the tools hard enough to cut the stones. Of course, they did, but the fact that those tools are still around is just an inconvenient fact to those who like to make up fantasies about the Incas.)
Calle Intiq’ijllu (also known as Calle Loreto)
This pedestrian street is one of the busiest in Cusco as it goes south from the Plaza de Armas between Starbucks and the Jesuit church. Inca walls of completely different styles sit on both sides of the street.
A good bit of one wall has been reconstructed for likely a multitude of reasons over the centuries since the Spanish took over Cusco.
I was particular interested in the drainage hole that I had never noticed before. Notice how the stones stair-step geometrically on both sides.
One of the most impressive walls in all of Cusco is that which forms the outside of Scotiabank and continues down the block.
The center of Inca religion, the Q’oricancha (which can be found spelled countless different ways), has some amazing stonework — probably the best in the entire Inca empire considering it’s profound importance. Not much is left, but what is there will leave you truly amazed.
The famous outer curved wall on one corner is particularly impressive as it is actually made up of two levels of extremely smooth stones. Like other parts of the site, it appears that the inside was not finished, but is still very impressive.
I didn’t spend a lot of time photographing the Q’oricancha’s interior as I’ve taken so many photos there in the past. (Indeed, I took more photos of the rest of the site today than I did of the stonework.) It’s one of those places that, for 15 soles, you have to see to believe. It’s a MUST visit site when you come to Cusco.
This short street is on the edge of the Inca buildings, but there are some interesting stonework and even more snake carvings.
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This was a fun day out with my camera and I found unique stuff that I had never noticed before, but that’s always the case when you walk slow and look.
Even the least bit of observation shows that there are many types of Inca stonework and construction styles that can be seen just in Cusco itself. Availability of different types of building materials and different craftsmen working over three centuries across an empire that eventually spread across much of the continent makes it inconceivable that the Incas used only one style.
There is certainly lots of other proof, but I hope this is a start.