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Ollantaytambo, Peru: Walking Back in Time

Under the late-afternoon sun, the bus arrived at the charming city of Ollantaytambo. The people live here today as they did hundreds of years ago, providing a glimpse into ancient Inca and Andes cultures. It’s a living museum, where visitors can mingle with Inca ancestors and explore the magnificent Ollantaytambo ruins, walking back in time on the same paths as the ancient Incas.
Nestled at the foot of the mountains in the Sacred Valley in Peru, between Cusco and Aguas Calientes, Ollantaytambo is most often a stopover before continuing to Machu Picchu. Ollantaytambo, however, is a destination in its own right and just as worthy as Machu Picchu.

The Sacred Valley and surrounding towns of Ollantaytambo offer fertile agricultural landscapes. Quechua speaking communities are scattered throughout the valley. The Urubamba Mountain range rises above, part of the Peruvian Andes, a symbolic protector of the Sacred Valley.
Ollantaytambo consists of the village located in the valley, and the archaeological site built on the nearby mountain slope. In the village, I stroll along the cobbled stone streets, pass impressive stone retaining walls, and meander through a highly organised grid network of streets, evidence of notable Inca city planning.
Water from the mountains and nearby rivers flows through a fully operational aqueduct system in and around the town’s streets, proof the Incas were highly skilled engineers with an understanding of irrigation and hydraulics. The homes are simple, constructed of adobe bricks or branches with clay mortar. The roofs are covered with straw, reeds, or puna grass.

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The women dress in traditional Quechua style

The local energy of the village is as vibrant as the colourful flags strung from roof to roof. It’s where the Inca ancestors live and work and the Quechua language flows freely. Shop owners sell their handcrafted Alpaca fleece hats and blankets. Mothers tend to do chores with their babies on their backs and alpacas in tow.
The women dress in traditional Quechua style with brightly coloured full skirts, embroidered shawls, and vibrant hats. They make their own clothing, the tradition of weaving handed down from Inca times or earlier. Dyes made from plants and bugs and wool from llamas and alpacas are woven into an array of patterns (Pallay).

Quaint cafes beckon tourists with coca leaf tea, a helpful remedy for altitude sickness, as this town sits at an impressive 9,160 feet above sea level. Locals consider coca leaves as well as corn, chicha (beer), and local potatoes (over 4,000 native varieties), as having sacred significance. They follow indigenous practices that honour Pachamama or Mother Earth, who grants fertility and to whom sacred offerings are regularly made.

In addition to the traditional sacred foods, unique cuisine includes roasted guinea pig (cuy), alpaca, and river trout, available for visitors to taste. I tried the alpaca stew, made of lean red meat, deliciously tender with a slightly sweet flavour. Experiencing the local cuisine is another way to appreciate the culture of this village.
Just off the town’s main square, there’s a sign, Boleto Turistico Del Cusco (Cusco Tourist Ticket Booth). I pay and enter.
The archaeological site, a massive breathtaking vision of Inca stonework known as Temple Hill, is in full view. This is a towering stone’s presence. The climb is 200 steps to the top.

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his stone complex was built at the peak of the Inca Empire

The ancient Inca stepped stone terraces take centre stage. They are one of the best examples of agricultural engineering developed by the Incas. Built-in position to the sun, the platforms create discrete microclimates, ensuring maximum growth in higher or lower altitudes for their main crops of potatoes, corn, and coca.
The higher the climb, the more impressive the panorama of the town below. Clouds hovered, voices hushed, and llamas wandered nearby. The Veronica and Quellorjo mountains thrust towards the heavens, swaddling the site like a baby. For the native population, the mountains are sacred places and protectors. There is sacred energy here, other-worldly, and mysterious. I could feel Pachamama, Mother Earth.

It’s believed that this stone complex was first built at the peak of the Inca Empire in the mid-15th century by Emperor Pachacuti as a religious and ceremonial center. It proved to be important strategically from which multiple valleys could be monitored.
At the top is the Temple of the Sun. Six large segments of stone, The Wall of Six Monoliths, stand erect like soldiers on guard. Spanning 36 feet wide and 14 feet high, weighing 50-100 tons a piece, it’s called cyclopean masonry. This is megalithic architecture. Perfectly straight cuts, impeccably polished, no mortar, and not a single piece of paper can be placed between them. They are not just a bunch of rocks. Even though abandoned before its completion, many believe these immense stones have astronomical significance. The distance and height of these stones were moved, which amazes scholars and engineers today.

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Conclusion

The stones, quarried from a mountainside almost four miles away, were placed on rollers made from smaller stones and wood. Through masterful engineering, they were then floated on diverted segments of the river. With ropes made from llama and alpaca fibres, they were pulled up and over to the other side of the mountain to the site. Without the invention of the modem day wheel, this was an incredible feat.
On the side of Pinkuylluna mountain are the granaries. These storehouses for grain and corn were built at high altitudes because lower temperatures preserve and protected the village’s food from spoiling. Nearby, on the same mountain, there’s a profile of a face. It is said to be that of the Inca God Huiracocha, creator of all things. He keeps a watchful eye on this sacred site and the village below.

In short, if you want to know more about Ollantaytambo, click on Boulevards and Byways.

However, if you want to know more about the culture of any country, look at our Blog.

Author: Sandy Ruyack from Boulevards and Byways.

Ollantaytambo

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