The combined sacred sites of Koricancha and Santo Domingo in Cusco vividly illustrate ancient Andean culture’s collision with Western Europe. The temple of one culture sits atop and encloses the other.
The extraordinarily crafted Temple of the Sun (Templo del Sol) at Koricancha was the most sumptuous temple in the Inca Empire. Some 4,000 priests and their attendants once lived within its confines. Koricancha also served as the main astronomical observatory for the Incas.
Dedicated to worship of the sun, the most important deity in the Inca’s naturalistic pantheon, the temple complex was a glittering palace straight out of El Dorado legend: Koricancha means "courtyard of gold" in Quechua.
In addition to hundreds of gold panels lining its walls, there were life-size gold figures, solid-gold altars, and a huge golden sun disc. The sun disc reflected the sun and bathed the temple in light. During the summer solstice, the sun still shines directly into a niche where only the Inca chieftain was permitted to sit.
Other temples and shrines also existed for the worship of lesser natural gods: the moon, Venus, thunder, lightning, and rainbows. Terraces that face the Temple of the Sun were once filled with life-size gold and silver statues of plants and animals.
Much of Koricancha’s wealth was removed to pay ransom for the captive Inca Atahualpa at the time of the Spanish conquest, but the blood money was paid in vain. After the Spaniards looted the temple and emptied it of gold, the exquisite polished stone walls were used as the foundations of the Dominican Convent of Santo Domingo, forming perhaps Cusco’s most jarring imperial-colonial architectural juxtaposition.
Posted on 2009-12-12 16:57:11
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