Qhapaq Nan is the Andean road system created by the Inca civilization.
They used it for the purposes of communication, trade and defence. It reached its maximum expansion in the 15th century. The central square of Cusco, known as Hanan Hauk'aypata, is the origin of the four main roads that allowed the Incas to easily travel by foot to every corner of their territory.
This is a serial nomination of over 720km of stretches of road and 291 archaeological sites, stretching across Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
Map of Qhapaq Ñan
Visit May 2011, September 2017
With this huge Qhapaq Nan serial nomination, the Andean countries seem to have clustered all Inca-sites of any importance. I visited the area in 2011, and besides Cuzco/Tiwanaku/Quebrada de Humahuaca which are already WHS in their own right I visited some of the "lesser" sites too.
Pachacamac is an easy half-day trip out of Lima. I took one of the dozens of minibuses that leave all the time from Avenida Grau. It dropped me off right at the site's entrance. There's a little museum on site, displaying some pretty Wari ceramics and also textile that has survived the ages due to the extremely dry climate here.
Its location indeed is one of the most remarkable things about Pachacamac - it's out there in the desert, within sight from the sea. The site is totally covered in sand. Archeologists are only slowly making their way to the many temples and other features below. Most of it is off limits to visitors, though the Temple of the Sun can be climbed and other parts like the North-South Street have explanatory boards. You can do a full circuit walk of the large terrain in about an hour (if you have a car, you can also drive).
Pachacamac was a ceremonial and pilgrimage site between 200 and 1535. It was used by different civilizations: the Lima, the Wari, the Ichma and the Inca. Its most distinguishing fact is that it predominantly is a Wari site, a culture which is not represented on the List yet. But it's not the best place to see Wari remains - Pachacamac never was a central site for them, and the Inca added and altered a lot.
Ollantaytambo, the village with the difficult name (they shorten it to Ojanta in everyday speech), is located in the Sacred Valley, between Cuzco and Machu Picchu. Unlike Machu Picchu, the Spaniards have been here. In a famous battle, the Incas led by Manco Inca defeated the invaders.
Against a hillside on the outskirts of the village lie the ruins of a religious complex, built by the Incas in the 15th century. I slowly walked up the stairs along the terraces, which are very steep and tightly constructed. What immediately stands out here are the giant blocks of stone, the monoliths. This is something you do not see Machu Picchu. I always associated them with Tiwanaku, Bolivia.
On top there are a lot of loose, semi-finished stones on the top. And the ruins of a temple. The complex seems to have been abandoned before it was completely finished. Or hit by an earthquake. This is a fascinating place, with beautiful views over the valley. On a mountain slope on the other side you can still see the remains of warehouses that the Incas used to store their agricultural products. My visit to Ollantaytambo rivalled that of Machu Pichu.
In Ecuador in 2017 I visited another one of the associated sites, Ingapirca. The Inca started to expand their empire northwards into Ecuador from Peru only from 1463. They met with a lot of resistance, notably from the Cañari people who were local to the area around Cuenca. The interesting feature of Ingapirca is that it is a mixed Cañari – Inca site. The Inca Túpac Yupanqui ended up marrying a Cañari princess, and the two groups reputedly lived together peacefully afterwards although they kept their own customs.
The guides that accompany visitors to the archaeological site identify themselves as indigenous Cañari, and they are happy to point out especially these remains. The Cañari worshipped the moon, and the remains of their Temple of the Moon cover the first plateau at the site. There’s an interesting communal tomb in front of it, with a vertical monolith on top. Here a woman of high social class was buried together with 10 other men and women who – according to the guide – were sacrificed alive. A bit further into the complex a rock with holes in it represents a Cañari “lunar calender”. The different holes were filled with water to catch the reflections of the moon for each moon-month of the year.
Ingapirca is also the largest known Inca ruin site in Ecuador. The most significant remain of that period is the Temple of the Sun, an elliptically shaped building constructed around a large rock. The typical Inca construction style, that can be seen in the many sites around Peru, is also clearly distinguishable here at Ingapirca. Because of the type of local stones that they used, the temple has an attractive greenish hue.
There’s a stretch of Inca road next to the Temples of the Moon and the Sun that was identified by our guide as ‘Qhapaq Nan’ and part of the UNESCO World Heritage. It is maybe 50 meters long and does not seem to go anywhere in particular. The Inca incorporated their newly won territories in their road network often as much as a symbol of their strength, as well as a means for communication and transportation.
A site like Qhapaq Nan is fairly difficult to grasp. Is it the roads the Inkas built to connect all parts of their empire? Or does it refer to the sites the roads connect? Or a combination of the two? It doesn't really help that the nomination file comes in at 500 MB, the site names are somewhat cryptic IDs and that the GPS coordinates repeatedly do not match the nomination file boundaries. For a detailed discussion using Pachacamac as example, check Solivagants comments in the forum.
To tackle the site I visited multiple points along my trip in Peru and Bolivia. You will find comments for each below. Personally, I would prefer the site to be limited to the actual trails instead of serving as a one size fits all nomination for Inka sites.
Pachacamac is located South of Lima and a tentative site on it's own. It's here that the Qhapaq Nan reached the coast. Unfortunately, I was not able to find any remnants of the trail and the nomination file and the GPS coordinate took me into some random suburb wihere I was unable to spot any archeological traces. To get there grab a bus on the Panamericana heading South to Lurin.
It's in Cusco that I actually found a trail labeled Qhapaq Nan including a sign. It's very well visible (see my picture) and starts near the Templo de la Luna/Chukimarka. The GPS coordinates we show are nearly correct. The trail runs North to Yuncaypata. My recommendation would be to visit Pisac first and on your way back ask the driver to let you get off at Yuncaypata. From the car window I saw the same Qhapaq Nan posting at -13,4883238, -71,9359134, so I would presume that's where the trail starts on the other side. From there it's a downhill hike back to Cusco.
The market square in Cusco supposedly was the nexus of the Qhapaq Nan and according to our connection Exact Locations inscribed twice (or more) should count, too.
I took a tourist bus from Cusco to Puno with multiple stops in between, one being Raqch'i. The Qhapaq Nan runs right through it. Upon entering the site head straight for the map posted at the entry and you will see it. I would recommend ignoring in the tour guide and focusing your limited time on the Qhapaq Nan remains which are well visible here.
This is a strange site to visit - how do you determine whether you have 'seen' it, when it's made up of thousands of kilometres of track all across the continent?
I consider that I have ticked it off because I walked much of the tracks on my way to Machu Picchu in Peru. But you could so it so many other ways - or even spend years walking different routes and still never technically see it all.
I'm glad it has been added to the list, though. It's a really interesting part of national infrastructure and played a huge part in the ability of the Incans to grow their civilisation and conquer so much of South America.
Will UNESCO be tempted to look favourably upon a submission from the US to list the country's interstate highway system now? :)
Read more from Michael Turtle here.
I've visited three major elements of the Qhapac Nan WHS in Peru.
1) Pachacamac is a sacred site that was important to the Inca, but long preceded them. The landscape is striking, because the archeological site is within sight of the Pacific ocean, but is very much a desert. Much of the pyramid shaped structure is buried. Pachacamac is truly a monumental site, and must have been stunning even to the Inca.
2) Cuzco is considered the center of Qhapac Nan, indeed the roads all connect to this high-altitude Inca capital. Several streets near the plaza highlight the precision and boldness of Inca architecture. The blocks are enormous, and they look they were set decades ago, not centuries. Behind the cathedral parts of the Inca era palace foundations and walls are visible.
3) Lastly, Raqchi is an important stopping point along Qhapac Nan. The ruined site and surrounding landscape is exquisite. Wetlands surround part of the site, and the various structures highlight varied structures that are somewhat rare. During my visit, Raqchi was merely a stopping point on the road from Cuzco to Puno. I could not have been more pleased, this pit-stop was well worth my time. Indeed, a well-preserved portion of the Andean road approaches the ruins.
Read more from Kyle Magnuson here.
In Argentina this nomination includes multiple locations throughout the Eastern border from Jujuy to Mendosa. I guess it should include the Quebrada de Humahuaca as well. In Salta Province there is a special Inca site atop the Llullaillaco mountain at the height of 6700 meters! Three mummies and an accompanying treasure were unearthed. They are now presented in the Museum of High Mountain Archaeology in Salta (MAAM) where I would recommend a visit.
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