views updated May 14 2018


Cuzco, also spelled Cusco, a city and department in southeastern Peru. The estimated population of the city in 2007 was 312,140. Geographic diversity characterizes the region as high mountains descend into river valleys that flow to eastern, tropical lowlands. The range of elevations and temperatures creates many distinct ecological zones that influence the economic and social life of the region.

Most likely the city's remote origins lie with pre-Inca groups residing there who were from or associated with the Huari (or Wari) culture. Later, the city of Cuzco became the religious and political center of the Quechua-speaking Inca Empire, or Tahuantinsuyu. Legend dates the founding of the city from the reign of Manco Capac, who may have entered the area around 1200. Under the Inca royal family the city and the empire expanded, especially toward the end of the fifteenth century, when the influence of Cuzco extended north to Ecuador and south to Chile. Tribute was essential to the city's growth. From the lowland valleys came tobacco, coca, cotton, chiles, and yucca; from the highlands, grains, wool, and tubers. Long river valleys, most notably that of the Urubamba, were major population and agricultural centers. Cuzco's location as a crossroad between north and south and highlands and lowlands helped it to emerge as an important economic and political center.

The city of Cuzco became more imposing as the wealth and power of the Incas expanded. In addition to some 4,000 residential structures, granaries, and storage sheds, the city boasted magnificent religious and imperial structures, built of carefully shaped stones. Central to life in the city were the palaces of the former emperors and Coricancha (the Palace of the Sun). Many of the most important buildings were around the central square of Aucay-pata. Just outside the city was Sacsahuamán, a massive fortress or ceremonial structure of crafted walls made from rocks that weighed up to 300 tons each.

Inca dominance of Cuzco was challenged with the arrival of a small group of Spaniards on the coast of Peru in 1532. Led by Francisco Pizarro, Spaniards entered Cuzco in November 1533, and declared it La Muy Noble y Gran Ciudad del Cuzco in 1543. Fighting among Spaniards and resistance from the Que-chua-speaking peoples was intense but did not prevent Spanish control of Cuzco. New buildings rose on the ruins of the old, at times made from the same stones and foundations of Inca structures. The center of the Inca city became the Spanish Plaza de Armas, the site of the seventeenth-century Cathedral and Jesuit Church of the Compañía, built on the Place of the Serpents. Any observer will notice that many of the central Spanish buildings were built on Incan foundations, creating a striking architectural contrast.

Spanish owners of landed estates, mines, and textile factories, along with merchants, bureaucrats, and clerics, relied on indigenous labor to generate the wealth of the city and region. Quechuan resistance continued to challenge Spanish control. Revolts in Cuzco in the eighteenth century, especially the revolt of (José) Tupac Amaru II in 1780, had an influence beyond the region. By the time of this revolt, Cuzco had become a city of complex social and ethnic relationships, a distinctive culture that was the result of centuries of contact between Europeans and Indians. The culture of the old and the new, the Andean and the European, is more evident in Cuzco than in many other Latin American cities. Carleton Beals perhaps captured it best in his Fire on the Andes (1934) when he described Cuzco as "two cities, locked in deadly embrace of love and hate."

Cuzco's cultural history includes significant intellectual and artistic achievements. The University of San Ignacio (1622) gave way to the University of San Antonio Abad (1692), which continued as the intellectual center of the city into the twentieth century. In the eighteenth century, an outpouring of art distinguished the city. Cuzco also had writers who achieved fame, beginning with El Inca Garcilaso De La Vega, best known for his Comentarios reales (1609). In the nineteenth century, Clorinda Matto De Turner captured the memories of Cuzco in her Tradiciones cuzqueñas and won international recognition for her Aves sin nido (1889), a portrayal of Quechuan struggles against the Creole elite in an imaginary town outside Cuzco. The old Incan capital became the Andean center of Indigenismo, a complex intellectual and social movement that sought to understand, protect, and further the interests of the indigenous peoples of the region.

Independence brought economic change to the city. The textile industry, so important during the colonial period, suffered as foreign cloth and garments entered the Peruvian market. But Cuzco still sat astride the old Lima-Potosí trade route and benefited temporarily from the Peru-Bolivia Confederation. With the confederation's collapse and the rise of the guano industry, the coast emerged as the dominant economic region of the country. Population data demonstrate the extent of the collapse. The population of the city dropped from 40,000 in 1834 to 18,370 in 1876. Recovery came slowly, and by 1912 the city still claimed only 19,825 residents. Impetus for growth came from railroad links with the outside and new highway construction. Sicuani was the railroad terminal for Cuzco until the arrival of a railhead in Cuzco. The corvée known as the Conscripción vial, which required men aged eighteen to twenty and fifty to sixty to work on the roads, was reminiscent of colonial labor drafts in the Andes. Cuzco continued to ship out agricultural products and textiles along these routes as it had done in the past. A new direction for growth in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was the montaña, the lower elevations around Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu. By the 1920s the tourism potential of these and other sites was recognized. This potential was realized beginning in the 1960s, as Cuzco and its many magnificent archaeological sites emerged as leading tourist attractions in the Andes.

The recent history of the city dates from the earthquake of 1950. The rebuilding that took place after the earthquake brought growth and expansion. Accelerated migration from rural areas added to the growth of the city. With the population increase came the barriadas, or pueblos jóvenes, the new communities common to the peripheries of all the major cities of Peru. While Cuzco still retains much of the past, evident in the carefully preserved monuments and architecture, and in the people, language, and culture of the city, it also has become a cosmopolitan hub as tourists from Asia, Europe, the United States, and other Latin American countries pass through en route to Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley, the Inca Trail, or other ecotourism destinations. There is a thriving dining, café, and nightclub scene. A new cultural phenomenon, cazadoras de gringos, inverts and gives new meaning to the old Don Juan trope. The cazadoras de gringos, also called bricheras, are women from Cuzco who hunt gringos (foreign men), whom they seduce with the objective of an intercultural marriage.

See alsoGarcilaso de la Vega, El Inca; Machu Picchu; Manco Capac; Matto de Turner, Clorinda; Sacsa-huaman; Tahuantinsuyu.


Much good writing has been done on the history of Cuzco. John H. Rowe describes the architecture and pottery of the city in An Introduction to the Archaeology of Cuzco (1944). For Cuzco as the seat of the empire, see Burr Cartwright Brundage, Lords of Cuzco (1967); and John Hemming, The Conquest of the Incas (1970). Víctor Angles Vargas, Historia del Cusco incaico, 3 vols. (1988), narrates the early history of Cuzco in detail. Paulo O. D. De Azevedo, Cuzco, ciudad histórica: Continuidad y cam-bio (1982), provides a brief historical overview with specialized attention to architecture and recent problems. José Tamayo Herrera analyzes major changes in the city since independence in Historia social del Cuzco republicano (1978). He is also the author of Historia del indigenismo cuzqueño (1980), a social and intellectual history of Indianist movements in Cuzco. Pierre L. Van Den Berghe and George P. Primov analyze the social, economic, and political structure of Cuzco in Inequality in the Peruvian Andes: Class and Ethnicity in Cuzco (1977).

Additional Bibliography

Bauer, Brian S. Ancient Cuzco: Heartland of the Inca. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004.

Burns, Kathryn. Colonial Habits: Convents and the Spiritual Economy of Cuzco, Peru. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999.

Cadena, Marisol de la. Indigenous Mestizos: The Politics of Race and Culture in Cuzco, Peru, 1919–1991. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000.

Covey, R. Alan. How the Incas Built Their Heartland: State Formation and the Innovation of Imperial Strategies in the Sacred Valley, Peru. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006.

Dean, Carolyn. Inka Bodies and the Body of Christ: Corpus Christi in Colonial Cuzco, Peru. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999.

Escandell-Tur, Neus. Producción y comercio de tejidos coloniales: Los obrajes y chorrillos del Cusco, 1570–1820. Cusco, Peru: Centro de Estudios Regionales Andinos, Bartolomé de Las Casas, 1997.

Matto de Turner, Clorinda. Tradiciones cuzqueñas completas. Lima: PEISA, 1976.

Seligmann, Linda J. Peruvian Street Lives: Culture, Power, and Economy among Market Women of Cuzco. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004.

Tardieu, Jean-Pierre. El negro en el Cuzco: Los caminos de la alienación en la segunda mitad del siglo XVII. Lima: Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú: Banco Central de Reserva del Perú, 1998.

Viñuales, Graciela María. El espacio urbano en el Cusco colonial: Uso y organización de las estructuras simbólicas. Lima: Epígrafe Editores, S.A., 2004.

Walker, Charles F. Smoldering Ashes: Cuzco and the Creation of Republican Peru, 1780–1840. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999.

                                               John C. Super


views updated May 21 2018

Cuzco City in s central Peru; capital of Cuzco department. An ancient capital of the Inca Empire from c.1200, it fell to the Spaniards in 1533. Cuzco was destroyed by earthquakes in 1650 and then rebuilt. It is a centre of archaeological research; nearby sites include the fortress of Sacsahuáman, and the Inca terraces at Pisac and Machu Picchu. Pop. (2002 est.) 282,600.