Welcome to Ollantaytambo Peru!
We didn’t take the time to check out this town and another amazing set of ruins when I stayed here with Barton and Dean on the way to Machu Picchu. But when I rode back through on my motorcycle, I knew I wanted to stop and stay here for a couple of days. There is nothing that can out-do Machu, but this place is drawing me in none-the-same.
Ollantaytambo is a fascinating village, one that a lot of people miss because they take the train to Machu Picchu from Cusco. It’s located around 75 km from Cusco in the Sacred Valley of the Incas on the Urubamba River and is sometimes called the “Living Inca City”. The town just below the ruins is said to be built by the Inca’s, however there is a lot of Pre-Inca history here as well.
I wandered around the town and really struck by the fact that it appears so old like the ruins themselves, however people are living behind those walls and those big stone doors! Hence, the living Inca city!
I’m being a bit nosey here, but I can’t help but to wonder how old those houses are. And I get a chuckle, because being in home construction most of my life, what the builders would do to try to make fake walls look like this. They would never attempt to use the real stone at least where I come from.
There are usually four homes inside the doors with a courtyard.
The fresh water flows through from the mountains. Besides how pretty it is, it sounds nice too. I know many people that put a water feature in their house with an electric pump, but the sound of these small streams take water features to a new level! 😉 These water passages through town were built around 500 years ago.
Just on the town’s edge is a large hill with spectacular ruins. I have been enjoying them from a distance as I know the entrance fee is high. You can not just buy one ticket for this one place, you have to buy a ticket for a minimum of three archaeological sites. The cost to get in is 70 Peruvian Soles ($28 USD!!) I didn’t know how many of the sites I wanted to visit yet, and the ticket is only valid for 2 days! That’s hard! I want to visit this place and hang around, not be rushed from site to site. So what I did was peek my head in the door and found a security guard staring back me. I didn’t walk in, I was just looking (and maybe taking a photo or two from the exit door). He was doing his job and telling me if I want to come in, I need to go around to the entrance door and buy a ticket. I explained to him I will when I’m ready to leave, but I’m not ready to spend that much just for the one entrance today and forfeit the other ruins. He understood and let me snap away. But he also was telling me about the history, just like Edwin did at Machu Picchu! I got caught up in the story, went ahead and got the ticket as I was convinced it was worth it. Then I met Victor again who offered to show me some of the ruins while another guard stood at the door for a bit. So nice!
Victor explains why the walls are built at an angle. Earthquakes are common here and he showed me if you stand straight up, it’s easier to fall down than when you stand with your feed at shoulder width or even a bit wider. We are more sturdy in this “stance” and so should be the buildings.
I learned in many of the ruins I visited that these rocks with notches carved out where usually the site of ritual and ceremony. I envision priests with gold and symbols climbing the steps and speaking to the people below.
They managed the water well here. Along with the agricultural terraces, they seem to have their crops and growing seasons down to a fine art. Someone told me (not Victor) that these water troughs are called the Princess Baths.
Victor asks me to walk up the steep steps to the top where he wants to show me some things. He doesn’t have much time before needing to get back to his post.
From here he shows me the ruins. I would have never known if he didn’t tell me. The much older stone walls on the far left of the hill are not Inca ruins at all, they are PRE- Inca Ruins built by the Quilques people who occupied the area. I never found out what happened to those people, if they left or where conquered by the Inca Emperor? When the Inca moved in they built the next set of walls using similar method.
I’m loving the view from up here, and thinking again like I did at Machu Picchu, that I could easily live here. Well except for carrying the groceries home sometimes.. 😉
At the grandest part is the Sun Temple built with these huge pink stones (Rhyolite or Hard Andesite). Actually the temple was never finished. Up to 3/4 of the people died during the Spanish Conquest due to battle or disease that the Spanish brought with them. Anyway, at the angle below you can see some notches carved out. Besides the glimmering of the rock in the morning sun, Victor explains that this is the main stone used for managing the agriculture. This temple was used by the shadow of the sun and how it hits the mark as to when they should plant or harvest the crops.
These super size rose granite blocks are not even from here. They come from a mountain across the valley. The Inca dragged these 50 – 100 ton boulders from the quarry, THROUGH the River Urubamaba, across the valley floor and then UP a steep ramp to where they are building the temple. Incredible!
Victor is pointing to where the quarry is. I wonder if it is just in our human DNA to make things as difficult as possible…. I personally would have considered building the temple with the rock over there!
A view of the ramp of which the moved the big blocks up to where we are standing.
We wandered down to a wall that Victor wanted to show me. We are envisioning the icons they might have had in these little alcoves. And of course, marvel at the craftsmanship of these stones. Ollantaytambo was destroyed by the Spanish Conquest. Any and all pieces that may have been on display were taken or destroyed. Spanish people are very Catholic and they wanted this paganistic civilization destroyed and they certainly accomplished that. The majority of Peruvians today are Catholic.
These stones are laid so perfect that you can not even slide a piece of paper in between them. It seems impossible they can fit these stones so perfectly so long ago without modern technology and machinery. In fact, they are still arguing today about what technique they used to fit these stones. There are theories, but no proven method as of yet! They supposedly wanted to make the walls this way to be earthquake-proof.
When they laid the large blocks, they left two bulging handles at the bottom to use in the positioning. I’d need a bit more than that myself! 😉
Victor’s time is up and he has to go back to his guard duty at the door. What a nice man. He doesn’t speak a lick of English, and I think he was glad he could explain some of his heritage to me in Spanish. He wouldn’t take any money for his time, and that’s how I know he was genuine. Not looking to make a buck off the solo female westerner. And it was only two days ago I had the same experience meeting Edwin in Machu Picchu. What’s with these super nice Peruvian men! And the benefit is all mine. I am not in a tour group, I am being shown their piece of the world, in their own words. I have been told a lot of the tour guides who get paid tips “make stuff up” when they are not sure of the history and the tourists walk away thinking they were told the truth. I’ll never be sure, but I believe Victor explained to me what he thinks is true. A lot of the history here is unknown as mentioned before, but my personal experience was the best with these great local guy who was born and raised in this valley. He seems to be a very proud man and happy to share.
Hasta luego Victor! Muchas Muchas Gracias!!!
So! After my two days in Ollantaytambo, I’ve been told by everyone that I must not miss Pisac (Pisaq). Another small village with amazing ruins just 60 kilometers down the road. On my way!