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Cusco is best known for its Incan and colonial periods; however, those two epochs represent only about one-third of Cusco’s settled history. The city’s first settlements, located in the eastern part of the current city, date as far back as 3,000 years. As a result, some consider Cusco to be the longest continually settled city in the Americas. In the years those first residents, various settlers have come and gone, including the Wari invaders around 750 AD—a period which preceded the construction of the buildings which today are called Pikillacta.

The Inca Civilization began around 1200 AD, and with it came the development of Cusco into a major political and religious center, one that could serve a relatively large population. A large expansion phase began around 1400 AD, when the Incas laid out the city in the shape of a Puma, their sacred animal. The expansion was short-lived as the Spanish would arrive next century, on November 15, 1533. Thus began violent and ruthless attempts to conquer the city. In 1536 the Incas rebelled against the Spanish in an attempt to regain control of the city. The ensuing war lasted 36 years, finally ending when the head of Túpac Amaru, the Inca dynasty’s last emperor, was lopped off in Cusco’s Main Square.

Cusco experienced a large earthquake in 1650, after which nearly every colonial building needed to be rebuilt (further emphasizing the quality of the Inca architecture, much of which remains standing today). A valiant attempt at emancipation was attempted in 1780 by José Gabriel Thupa Amaro Inga. When he was betrayed by his followers, and he and his whole family were executed in Cusco’s Main Square. Independence was finally achieved in 1821, following a long, bloody process that served as the template for Latin America. Cusco was declared the capital of its own department by the Peruvian government, marking its importance within the country.

More recently, another major earthquake occurred in 1950, causing destruction throughout the city. Many colonial-era buildings were severely damaged; the Inca architecture however withstood the earthquake, as it had done many times before.

Since the 1990s, Cusco has become Peru's most important tourist destination, aided by the presence of nearby Machu Picchu, and accolades such as UNESCO's declaration of Cusco as a World Heritage Site in 1983. Today, Cusco offers one of the finest mixes of pre-Colombia, colonial and modern mestizo culture of any South American city.


Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Cusco: Manco Capac: Lake Titicaca and the Founding of Cusco,

16 Mar 2012

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