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Machu Picchu Engineering and Architecture
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History of the Inca Empire or Tahuantinsuyo
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Empire Creation Myth

    The Legend of the
Chanka attack on

    The first Conquest
of Pachacutec

    The Planning of the
new Cusco

    The Conquests of
Capac Yupanqui

    The Conquests of
Tupac Yupanqui

    Government of
Huayna Capac

    Huascar's Government
    The Inca Empire Fall
    Manco Inca and
Tupac Amaru Rebellions
XVI Century

    The Great Rebellion
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This was the largest and most ancient empire on the American continent. Its imperial seat was the city of Cusco. It dated from 1200 ad. The word Tahuantinsuyo is derived from two quechua words: Tawa, meaning four, and suyo meaning state.

The territorial are of the empire was vast. It occupied over 3,000,000 kilometers, with over 5,000 kilometers (3,107 miles) of Pacific ocean coastline, representing double the present Peruvian territory.

The four suyos or nations had Cusco as their territorial or geographical center, and were distributed as follows: on the northwest was Chinchaysuyo, reaching to the Ancashmayo river in Pasto (Colombia); on the northeast was the Antisuyo, in the sub-tropical valleys., occupying part of the low Amazonian jungle; on the southwest, the Contisuyo occupied part of the Peruvian coast up to the river Maule (Chile); and on the southeast, the Collasuyo, that now occupies a large part of Bolivian territory up to Tucuman (Argentina).

All these lands belonged to the Sun, the Inca and the State. They were distributed in such a way that each inhabitant had a fertile patch of ground to till. The males received at birth a topo or tupu (2700 m; 0.27 ha, 0.67 acres), while women received half a topo.

They could not be sold or inherited, since they were not private property, but belonged to the State; therefore, when a person died, his/her lands were allotted to a new inhabitant.

Get to know in these pages the history of the Tahuantinsuyo or the Inca Empire


The visitor to Cusco is always invaded by a feeling of awe. This is due not only to its beautiful surroundings, combining a sky of cerulean blue with sparkling white clouds and an imposing mountain range, but rather to its history. Along its winding alleys, or in its imposing Plaza de Armas, the city speaks volumes to us. Few places in Peru have had a more active life. This was the sacred capital of the Incas as well as the "El Dorado" of the conquistadors, the cradle of South American baroque art and the scene of the major uprising against the Spaniards. It is no doubt Peru's most precious jewel.

The Pre-Inca Period

Practically all the Inca and Pre-Inca settlements in Cusco are located between 3,000 and 3,200 meters above sea level. Differing from most of the archaeological sites pertaining to the Formative Period (1500 bc to 0 ad), Cusco valley shows no influence from the northern-a ChavÝn culture. Among the oldest sites in Cusco are Marcavalle (1000 bc to 700 bc).

This is followed by the Chanapata, a culture going back to 700 bc. This culture extended all over Cusco valley, and its members were more civilized because they developed agriculture and the breeding of domestic animals.

The Huari

Towards 750 ad the huari appeared in the valley, and brought with them a more developed culture. The complex design of their cities shows the existence of a hierarchical society, an established religion, planning, networks of interchange and good control over a major population that could be mobilized to execute important public works.

The huari are reputed to be ancient Peru's great urban developers. One of the best examples of huari influence in the Cusco valley is Piquillacta, whose name in quechua means "flea-ridden city". As many archaeologists claim, Piquillacta's importance resides not only in its perfect layout and organization, but also in the fact that it was taken as a benchmark city by the Incas.

The creation of Tahuantinsuyo

Few places in Peru have a magic aura like that of the Inca Cusco. Even today, as we walk along its streets admiring those mysteriously perfectly-joined stones, we feel a degree of reverence. It is impossible not to perceive why this city was sacred to the Incas.

According to legends and chronicles, there were thirteen Incas: Manco Capac, Sinchi Roca, Lloque Yupanqui, Mayta Capac, Capac Yupanqui, Inca Roca, Yahuar Huaca, Huiracocha, Pachacutec, Tupac Yupanqui, Huayna Capac, Huascar and Atahualpa. The Incas first appear as lords of the valley around 1200 ad, and build up Tahuantinsuyo in less than a century.

The Spaniards described the Incas as "Children of the Sun". For the inhabitants of Tahuantinsuyo they were divine beings who had the ability to sanctify all that surrounded them.

It is hard to believe that the Incas were able to organize Tahuantinsuyo in less than one century. According to the chronicles, the great organizer of the Inca Empire was Inca Pachacutec, who decided to expand his territories by defeating the Chancas.

Some doubt that this group existed as a people, and claim that the term Chanca could stand for all bordering ethnic groups. What is certain is that the conquests started in the year 1430 ad and soon Tahuantinsuyo had extended to the limits mentioned above.


Inca society was distinguished by a strong hierarchy, with the absolute power of the Inca at the top, followed by the nobles, also called orejones by the Spaniards (big-ears), due to the deformation of their ear lobes through carrying heavy jewelry that differentiated them in rank.

Following the social ranking in the empire were the runas or mitimaes, considered to be the riff-raff or the ordinary inhabitants of the empire, who also had to do forced labor in the mitas. Finally came the yanaconas or yanakunas, who were the household servants.

We know that the Inca nation was a strictly expansive one. Its conquests unified it not only under a single authority but in a single culture, with a religious and cultural expression including the special rites and customs of the Inca empire. That is why they used different mechanisms to smooth out cultural differences. The first was to implant Runa Simi or Quechua as the official language throughout the territory

As a second step, they established a social organization based on moral principles of obedience and a model for social living. These three principles, that summed up how an inhabitant of the Empire had to live, were the basic laws of the Tahuantinsuyo: Ama Sťa (do not steal), Ama Llulla (do not lie) and Ama Kella (do not be lazy).

No one can deny how well organized the Incas were, not only in their running of the vast territory, but also due to the success of the Inca nobility's paternalistic attitude. By comparison with unipersonal European structures (monarchies) of the time, the Inca population never had to go hungry or without basic needs.

This social equilibrium is nowadays analyzed by foreign scholars from two viewpoints: from an understanding of the social classes or castes, comparing them with those of medieval Europe, one can understand it as a system of social-imperialism or as a form of slavery, if one considers the runas, that is to say from the social structures that the Inca system imposed.

Due to the above, Tahuantinsuyo deserves a special mention among the most developed societies of the time, considered from the viewpoints of productivity, art, social planning and politics, as well as its religious ideas which proposed a stable equilibrium between human activities and nature or the environment. Finally, it showed wisdom in accepting all the outstanding achievements in culture and knowledge of its conquered peoples.

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