If you visit Machu Pichu, you will have to pass through Ollantaytambo, if only by train. It is 45 miles by road northwest of the city of Cusco and on the rail line to Machu Pichu. It is located at an altitude of 2,792 metres (9,160 ft) above sea level in the district of Ollantaytambo, province of Urubamba, Cusco region in the Sacred Valley. During the Inca Empire, Ollantaytambo was the royal estate of Emperor Pachacuti who conquered the region, built the town and a ceremonial center. At the time of the Spanish conquest of Peru it served as a stronghold for Manco Inca Yupanqui, leader of the Inca resistance. Today, located in what is called the Sacred Valley of the Incas, it is an important tourist attraction because of its Inca ruins and its location, which is close to one of the most common starting points for the four-day, three-night hike known as the Inca Trail.
The Sacred Valley, running generally west to east, is understood to include everything along the Urubamba River between the town and Inca ruins at Písac westward to Machu Piccu, 100 kilometres (62 mi) away. Stretching roughly 60 kilometers, it’s an area of fertile farmland and Spanish colonial villages like Pisac and Ollantaytambo. The early Incas lived in the Cuzco area. By conquest or diplomacy, during the period 1000 to 1400 CE, the Inca achieved administrative control over the various ethnic groups living in or near the Sacred Valley. In the 1400s, the Sacred Valley became an area of royal estates and country homes. Once a royal estate was created by an emperor it continued to be owned by descendants of the emperor after his death. The estate of the emperor Yawar Waqaq (ca. 1380 CE) was located at Paullu and Lamay (a few kilometers downstream from Pisac); the estate of the emperor Pachacuti (1438-1471 CE) was at Pisac; and the estate of the emperor Huayna Capac (1493-1527 CE) was at Yucay (near the larger town of Urubamba). Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was built as an estate for Pachacuti.
Agricultural Terraces or Andenes
The valleys of the Urubamba and Patakancha rivers near Ollantaytambo are covered by an extensive set of agricultural terraces or andenes which start at the bottom of the valleys and climb up the surrounding hills. Terraces at Ollantaytambo were built to a higher standard than common Inca agricultural terraces, for instance, they have higher walls made of cut stones instead of rough fieldstones. This type of high-prestige terracing is also found in other Inca royal estates such as Chinchero, Pisaq, and Yucay.
Grainaries or Qullqas
The attraction of the Sacred Valley to the Inca, in addition to its proximity to Cuzco, was probably that it was lower in elevation and therefore warmer than any other nearby area. The lower elevation permitted maize to be grown in the Sacred Valley. Maize was a prestige crop for the Incas, especially to make chicha, a fermented maize drink the Incas and their subjects consumed in large quantities at their many ceremonial feasts and religious festivals. The Incas built several storehouses or qullqas (Quechua: qollqa) out of fieldstones on the hills surrounding Ollantaytambo. Their location at high altitudes, where there is more wind and lower temperatures, defended their contents against decay. To enhance this effect, the Ollantaytambo qullqas feature ventilation systems. It was said that these storehouses had enough food for five years, a precaution against poor weather.
The town of Ollantaytambo is located along the Patakancha River, close to the point where it joins the Willkanuta River. The main settlement is located on the left margin of the Patakancha with a smaller compound called ‘Araqhama on the right margin.
Ollantaytambo dates from the late 15th century and has some of the oldest continuously occupied dwellings in South America. Its layout and buildings have been altered to different degrees by later constructions, for instance, on the southern edge of the town an Inca esplanade with the original entrance to the town was rebuilt as a Plaza de Armas surrounded by colonial and republican buildings. The main settlement at Ollantaytambo has an orthogonallayout with four longitudinal streets crossed by seven parallel streets. At the center of this grid, the Incas built a large plaza that may have been up to four blocks large; it was open to the east and surrounded by halls and other town blocks on its other three sides.
Araqhama is a western prolongation of the main settlement, across the Patakancha River; it features a large plaza, called Manyaraki, surrounded by constructions made out of adobe and semi-cut stones. These buildings have a much larger area than their counterparts in the main settlement, they also have very tall walls and oversized doors. To the south there are other structures, but smaller and built out of fieldstones. ‘Araqhama has been continuously occupied since Inca times, as evidenced by the Roman Catholic church on the eastern side of the plaza.
Plaza de Armas
The Plaza de Armas (literally Weapons Square, but better translated as Parade Square or parade ground) is the name for the main square in many Spanish cities. In the central region of Mexico this space is known as El Zócalo and in Central America as Parque Central (Central Park). While some large cities have both a Plaza de Armas and a Plaza Mayor, in most cities those are two names for the same place. In Ollantaytambo the Plaza de Armas is lined with hotels, hostels, restaurants and small markets. There are a couple of internet cafes and ATMs in and around Plaza de Armas. There are no banks, but several places change money. You can find some wonderful local sweaters and knitted goods which I bought since I packed light and I was a little cold with my light coat.
Ollantaytambo at Night
Everything looks better at night and I thought there would be more people around with all the traffic going to Machu Pichu. Perhaps it was slow because we arrived two days before Christmas. This was actually the warm season for the Sacred Valley, in November and December. Daytime temperatures average about 57 F while the lows at night get down to around 46 degrees F, it seemed colder because of the rain. In June and July the highs are just slightly lower but nighttime temperatures are closer to 36 degrees F. Peru’s seasons are the reverse of those in the northern hemisphere. Summer in Peru is from December to February and winter from July to September. There’s not a bad time to visit Peru, however as a very general recommendation the best time to visit the coast is during the summer (Dec-Feb) and the best time to visit the mountains is in the winter (Jul-Sept). The jungle is hot and steamy all year round with heavy rains in December and January.
Ollantaytambo is really a beautiful and interesting location apart from it’s association with Machu Pichu. If you are planning to visit Machu Pichu, consider a day or two in Ollantaytambo, you will not regret it. As always, I hope you enjoyed the post, please leave a comment.
The Great Web of Percy Harrison Fawcett: http://www.phfawcettsweb.org/urubam.htm
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