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Wordtravels

Sacsayhuamán

Sacsayhuaman, Peru © Leon Petrosyan
Sacsayhuaman, Peru © Leon Petrosyan

Of the four ruins near Cuzco, Sacsayhuamán is the closest and most remarkable. Spanish conquistadors used it as a quarry during their day, given its proximity to Cuzco and the dimensions of its stones. Indeed, the site provided many of the materials for the city's colonial buildings. The Spanish destroyed the original complex to such an extent that little is known about the actual purpose these magnificent buildings once served. That said, the complex is usually referred to as a fortress because of its high, impenetrable walls. Some believe it may just as easily have been a religious or ceremonial centre. The ruins cover an enormous area, but only 40 percent of the original complex remains. History lovers must visit, as the site offers a fine example of the Inca's extraordinary stone masonry. According to estimates, the complex took about 100 years to build, requiring thousands of labourers. The massive blocks of stone fit together perfectly without the aid of mortar. Each one weighs between 90 and 125 tonnes, and stands around 16ft (5m) tall.

History buffs will note that the Inca and Spanish fought at the centre during the infamously bloody battle of 1536. The conflict left thousands of native people dead, providing food for circling condors. Since then, Cuzco's Coat of Arms has featured eight condors in memory of the event. Today, the site holds the annual celebrations of Cuzco's most important festival, Inti Raymi: the sun festival. Tourists should attend the colourful and spectacular affair if at all possible.

Transport: A steep 40 minute (2km) walk up from the Plaza de Armas.