Qhapaq Ñan, road network of the Andes

The Incas had an extensive road network in South America, particularly in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Chile. These roads were generally well paved and offered the Incas a relatively quick form of transport through the Andean mountains. The road network had a total length of around 22,500 kilometers and rose to a height of 5,000 meters above sea level.

The Incas did not use wagons and had no horses until the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century. The roads were therefore hiking trails and were also used for transport with llamas and other pack animals.

At the time of the collapse of the Inca Empire around 1532, the Inca Empire was the largest state that had ever existed in the pre-Columbian Americas. However, it could never have grown to such a size without the network of roads that made transportation, communication and administration at a high level possible. Numerous roads ran like arteries to the heart of the empire, the capital Cuzco. This was a strategically good location that greatly stimulated centralization politics. It was the road network on which the greatness of the empire was built. It is therefore not surprising that this system is counted among the largest buildings of prehistoric America.

UNESCO Qhapaq Ñan, road network of the Andes 1
The expansion of the road network

After the founding of Cuzco, the other Andean tribes of the Urubamba-cultural area, which also included the Valley of Cuzco, were subjected and a large army was built up that, as a powerful glue, kept the peoples together as one whole. Around 1438 they were overthrown by the well-organized bureaucracy of the southern Chincha empire. During this early expansion period, another powerful empire raged along the north coast of Peru that, due to its expansion, threw a series of coastal valleys to its knees and annexed its empire: the Chimú Empire. But after a period of much resistance from the Chimus and strategic warfare of the Incas, this empire was also subjected to the Incas. Followed by the areas of Ecuador, western Bolivia, northwest Argentina and all of northern Chile. This turned the Inca empire into a superpower and they became rulers over an empire that stretched in its length over more than 6,000 kilometers. The expansion of the road network probably ran roughly parallel to the expansion of the empire.

Machu Picchu

Today, the most famous and most popular Inca road is the last kilometers before Machu Picchu. Organized tours start at Kilometer 88 (from the Santa Ana train station in Cusco a few stops) or Ollantaytambo. Due to the large tourist influx, walking on this path is heavily regulated.

On the way you pass the ruins of Llactapata, crossing the river Río Cusichaca, to the village of Huyallabamba at 2270 meters altitude. Towards Valle Llullucha up over the plain of the Llullucha Pampa. The first pass is the Abra de Huarmihuaňusca at 4200 meters. Via the Ruinas Runkuracay one walks to the second pass Abra de Runkuracay at 3900 meters. Along lakes to the Ruinas Sayacmarca and Ruinas Phuyupatamarca. In 1941 the ruins of Huiňya Huayna were discovered to the first Inca gate and to the second Inca gate near Intipuncu, near the terminus Machu Picchu.

UNESCO Qhapaq Ñan, road network of the Andes 2
Research on the road network

The real pioneering work takes us back to 1978 when the two-year Inca Road Project carried out by the IAR (Institute of Andean Research) took place. This was the first archaeological investigation into the remnants of the Inca roads and was purely based on field exploration. Since the road network, insofar as it is documented, is about 23,000 kilometers long, it was impossible to examine this in its entirety. For this reason, a selection was made of twelve segments each having a length of approximately 150 kilometers.

The selection took into account various factors that are important in choosing the right segments to start a good research.

diversity of ecosystems that determined the course of the roads,
diversity in late prehistoric cultures that each had an influence on the road network as far as it extended within their local borders,
variety in Inca rule that diversified in different ways,
difference and importance of primary and secondary roads and the geographical distribution of the Inca empire.
The aim of this research was to collect comparable data that could give an idea of ​​the construction, construction and ultimate influence of the environment on these roads. This research has achieved groundbreaking results that provide a solid foundation for future research.

Following the Inca Road Project, several archaeological investigations have taken place, each contributing to the reconstruction of the Inca’s road network. One of these studies is that of UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) and has mainly dealt with the origins and development of Cuzco.

The origin of the road network

The city of Cuzco, which later became the political and religious center of the Inca empire, was raised around 1300 on the ruins of a mountain settlement of the older Killke culture in the Valley of Cuzco and can therefore be the cradle of Inca civilization. be called. This small kingdom was founded here for strategic motives. It was surrounded by a partly intact road network that was built by the older Pan-Andes States Huari and Tiahuanaco that had disappeared 500 years earlier.

Myths put in writing by the Spanish alphabet Juan de Betanzos and explorer Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa speculate that the ruins of the Killke were destroyed by order of the then Inca king Pachacuti, but the actual revelation lies in the former archaeological research at Hotel Libertador Palacio del Inca, Cuzco, which has hinted only a tip of the veil: the city of Cuzco may have exposed pre-imperial walls that were probably part of the Killke culture.

To support this hypothesis to the undeniable, further archaeological research is required. However, these data only suggest that Cuzco was built on the remains of the Killke settlement and left several walls intact. But this original little mountain settlement can not be measured in any way by the grand Inca city that would overshadow the small settlement for good in the following period. This means that the city has for the most part been raised by the Inca civilization itself.

Writings of the conquistador and poet Garcilaso de la Vega from the earliest period of the Spanish colonization testify to formidable building plans based on construction drawings, building models and geographically mapped areas. None of these drawings, models or maps have survived the centuries and there is no tangible evidence, but that is hardly to be expected in the Andean climate.

Anyone who sees a map of Cuzco can see that the layout of the city has been developed systematically, with or without high-quality planning tools. Cuzco is located in the heart of the Inca Empire (Cuzco = navel / center in Quechua) and is surrounded by the four major districts of Chinchaysuyu, Collasuyu, Antisuyu and Contisuyu. From the south side of the eastern part of Cuzco’s center square, Haukaypata, four main roads ran to each of these districts.

For a long time it was believed that these were the only access to the city. But archaeological field research by UNESCO in the 1980s has shown that there were still more than twenty smaller roads that connected Cuzco with its districts. All these roads crossed the zone that isolated the city of pure Incan ethnicity from the hinterland where the Andean peoples who were subject to the Incas lived. Cuzco was, as it were, surrounded by a belt of an estimated 105 hectares of cultivated land from which 25 roads sprouted to the farthest corners of the empire. This was the cradle of the Inca civilization.

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