From Cuzco’s cathedrals to Lake Titicaca
Friday 19th December 2014
Cuzco is a splendid city, full of superb architecture. It has many fine precision-made Inca walls, as well as 16th Century Spanish churches. The oldest church in Cuzco is San Blas built in 1562. The cedar wood pulpit is a masterpiece, which took indigenous Indian woodcarvers twenty years to create. It is rated as one of the finest examples of Cuzcan Indian art in the world. Although a Catholic Church, it has many Native American symbols which can clearly be seen in the frescoes, so coca plants, Peruvian fruits and llamas are depicted. tolerated these symbols, indeed they encouraged them as part of their strategy to convert the native peoples to Catholicism. The altar, covered in 22 ct gold leaf is Baroque in style.
The Palacio del Arzobispo (the Archbishop´s Palace) features a fine collection of artwork from the 16th Century, in what became known as “Cuzcan style”, a mixture of Inca and Spanish techniques and styles by indigenous artists. The lower walls of the palace, up to three to four metres high, are Inca. They are beautifully constructed, showing both techniques that the Incas used for precision stonework. Cuzco was the most important site for the Incas, the heart of their empire, and this is reflected in the superb walls, which have not been reconstructed, simply built on top of. If one walks down The Loreto, off the Plaza de Armas, one can see Inca walls as well; they are another fine example of Inca stonework.
The Cathedral, which dominates the Plaza de Armas, was built on the site of the Suntur Wasi, where the Inca emblems of power were buried. Work started on the Cathedral in 1559. Three earthquakes have destroyed parts of the Cathedral over the years, in 1650, 1950 and 1986, and rebuilding from the latter is still going on. The Cathedral has a beautiful white Gothic beamed ceiling, with fan vaulting in pale grey stone, which makes the building light and airy and off-sets the huge amount of 22 ct gold-leaf used throughout on the altars and side chapels. The Choir is made entirely of Cedar. It took fifty years to complete and again was the work of indigenous craftsmen. On the armrests of the 64 seats the carving is of the Inca Mother Earth, the Pachamama.
Cuzco is a vibrant and colourful city, steeped in history. It is a city full of dogs, street hawkers, perilous traffic and, in the rainy season, people in plastic ponchos! There is no public transport in the city centre, only taxis, which is a minus for the budget traveller. Unlike Quito, where one can ride anywhere for a few centimos, these taxis have “tourist prices” and no metres, so negotiation prior to getting in is crucial and can be a bit tedious in torrential rain. Despite this, it is a great city to visit and we left it with many rich memories.
Saturday 20th December 2014
The journey to Puno took seven hours by coach. It was supposed to be an express non-stop route, but this is Peru! The driver made lots of little detours to pick up and drop off local people, parcels and packages and to buy snacks, as drivers do! The scenery was magnificent, a continual kaleidoscope of brightly and traditionally-clothed field workers, llamas and sheep, snow-capped mountains and adobe-brick houses. The mud and straw adobe bricks predominate as building materials in the Peruvian Andes. Sadly, the road is also strewn with too much rubbish, notably plastic bottles, and yet more dogs, scouring the piles of rubbish on tips along the road.
We finally got to Puno, rather tired but delighted with our accommodation, a nice hotel on the Plaza de Armas: it has a balcony and a hairdryer in the bathroom, so a bit of luxury again! We have a splendid view of the plaza and cathedral. Puno sits at 3,830 metres above sea level beside Lake Titicaca. Since Cuzco´s altitude is 3,399 metres, we are again feeling the effects of altitude, but have bought some coca sweets to suck, which hopefully will help. Apart from the Plaza de Armas, Puno is a pretty drab and uninteresting city, but it´s location is truly special. Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world, is a jewel in Peru´s crown.