THE INCA TRAIL: A MILENARY TRAIL THAT CREATED AN EMPIRE
The network of Caminos de los Incas was a system of roads that linked great distances to the most important points of the Coast, the Sierra and the Jungle. The roads vary in quality and size, they could be 6 to 8 meters wide on the coast, but in the mountains the roads were only one meter wide and the road was boldly steep and reached the top of the Andean mountains . The Inca road network is one of the most extraordinary engineering works in the world. By the 16th century it had helped transform a small kingdom into the largest empire in the Western Hemisphere. Sections of 40,000 km network substances survive today, linking hundreds of communities across Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru. Incredibly, it was built entirely by hand, without iron or transport with wheels. They were built taking into account the possibility of seismic events. Sustainability was key to success. The Incas paid attention to local conditions, used local materials and worked with the landscape.
On steep terrain they built steps to dissipate water energy and counteract erosion. At high altitudes they paved the road with local stone to protect the surface from ice and melted snow, and when they needed support walls they left holes for the water to drain.
The Incas worried about preserving the environment and the road is part of Mother Nature. The road is not just a physical path. » It is a cosmological path, and today it is considered a living path. »
The capital and spiritual center of the empire was Cusco, in southeastern Peru. All roads emanated from the city. All the routes and sacred places were marked with wakas, with outcrops of stones, buildings or even the confluence of rivers that serve as altars for the Pachamama (Mother Earth) or the Inti (Sun God).
«The whole environment was alive. Everything from the rocks to the animals, through the cosmos, needed some kind of interaction with a human being, sea through a prayer, connectivity or appreciation.»
«Everything was organized and regulated by the State. You had the masters of the road, the masters of the bridges, the khipu – a device with knots that tracked the people who are traveling on the road -, products, organized censuses and news from all parts of the empire.”
But, ironically, it was that same network of roads that accelerated the disappearance of its creators.
When the Spaniards arrived on the Pacific coast in 1532, they found an empire weakened by internal struggles and smallpox. And the same route that had given the Incas unprecedented access to all corners of their empire gave way to the conquerors. In a year they had consolidated their domination and left Cusco without power, establishing the new colonial capital in Lima. The Qhapaq Ñan fell into abandonment. The routes that had been vital for the Inca communities were despised by the Spaniards, who were more interested in accessing the gold and silver mines of the fallen empire.
The Qhapaq Ñan was a network of roads that united the Inca State and served to integrate politically and administratively, to all the towns that were being conquered by the Incas. The well-known Inca Trail that connects Ollantaytambo with Machu Picchu is no more than a part of the Inca Trail network that connects Cusco with Machu Picchu and other Inca cities.
The Qhapaq Ñan was the main road, the most important, has pre-Inca origin, had a route along the Andes Mountains from Argentina to southern Colombia.
The Inca Trail is paved and is 1.5 to 15 meters wide, it is a central road from which other transversal roads that reached Bolivia, Paraguay, Chile, Argentina, Colombia.
It is a perfectly designed straight path, with presence of walls by sectors.
The roads, which left the valley were wider and there were stacks of stones that marked the steepest points between the hills, these sets of stones were called «Apachetas».
The road has steps or spaces built with rough stones, joined with mortar, to avoid muddy areas.
The roads of the Coast: They left Cusco passed through Nazca, Paracas, Tumbes and northern Peru and arrived in Colombia and through the south reached Argentina and Chile.
The roads of Sierra: They left Cusco passed through Ayacucho, Huanuco, Cajamarca and arrived in Quito and then extended to the Pasto River in Colombia.
There was another road, which left Juliaca through Bolivia (La Paz), the Pampas of Tucuman (Argentina) and Santiago (Chile).
Constructions along the Paths
There were several bridges that allowed crossing rivers or spaces with chasms. These bridges could be woven from straw and were characterized as hanging.
And there were other bridges that were built of tree trunks, supported by stirrups of huge stone blocks.
Along the Inca Trail these types of bridges were always found and we will observe that when the rivers are wide, there are suspension bridges.
Constructions that had the function of shelters and food deposits, wool, firewood, clothing that was stored both for people traveling and for emergencies.
There were tambos, every 20 or 30 km and hosted the «Chasquis» or emissaries who were young runners who went from Tambo to Tambo, carrying the messages of the Inca. It is said that a message could arrive from Cusco, through posts in 10 days to Ecuador (approximately 2,000 km).
The Qhapaq Ñan:
The Qhapaq Ñan, is the word that defines the road system of the Inca Civilization and is definitely the best material test, which can give us an idea of the magnitude of this empire, becoming one of the greatest achievements in indigenous America. An estimated 23 thousand km is calculated, although other studies say that up to 40 thousand km could be registered, from an extensive network of roads, built on one of the most rugged territories in the world, which communicates the cities and settlements of the state most important in America, before the Spanish invasion.
This network of roads crossed the Empire of the Incas, along roads drawn from north to south (from end to end) along the coast, mountains and jungle; through the Cordillera de los Andes, with small sections, which communicated from the east of its territory to the Pacific coast. Designed in harmony with the topography of the place, wide in some areas, very narrow in others, with completely cobbled sections and others simply of land.
Like all the important cities of the Empire, the city of Machu Picchu, connected to Cusco (capital of the Empire), through the Inca Trail that we have traveled so far, at least two important accesses to the Sacred City (Inca Trail and Camino Salkantay), although there may be two others; one that descended through the Urubamba valley from Ollantaytambo, and another that crossed the high part of the Andes. And together with these, a complex network of secondary roads, to communicate the existing settlements throughout the region.
The world-famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, is only part of this complex network of roads, which goes up the Urubamba River basin to the Inca City, named for being the most suitable name. At present it is considered by many, the most beautiful of all, for the complement present between its landscapes and its history, you can visit it in three or four days, on a perfectly planned tour.
This Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, allowed to join production sites, with storage and administration centers. It is located in the middle of the jungle, which provides adequate environmental conditions for the production of specific foods. It is very likely that the entire Empire was supplied from this area. Therefore, this road articulated Machu Picchu with the capital and this with the other cities.
The gigantic network of roads of the Inca empire (Qhapaq Ñan) was built with the main purpose, to keep a huge territory communicated, this allowed to mobilize armies very quickly for the time. But it had other very important uses, as it served as trade routes, acting as an economic articulator, in a civilization with a tendency to redistribution and exchange, in the same way that Machu Picchu’s corn or coca reached Huánuco, In Huánuco, surplus production (potatoes and others) was redistributed in other locations, such as Machu Picchu. Another extremely important purpose was the representation of the central power of the empire, as it was thought ideologically; Yes, I know Cusco because I have seen the road- Then, the road was the essential ideological representation of the Empire’s power, both economic and ideological.
This path, a means of communication and transport par excellence, fundamental in economic articulation and ideological dissemination, was essential for the existence of such a vast territory. It crossed the central squares of the main towns of the Empire, joining places of worship, commerce and administration, passing through water sources, an element (fundamental for life) that symbolized the goodness of Mother Earth and the reproduction of life.