Today we spent the day with our guide, Henry, visiting many of the original Inca archeological sites in the morning, and touring the main square (where festivities were in full force) and wandering around the markets of Cusco.

The navel of the Inca world, to be more precise. Just like ‘all roads lead to Rome’, all roads led to Cusco for the Incas. The original Incas came from Lake Titicaca area (where we spent our first couple of days in Peru) then early on came to Cusco and built their dynasty. The Incas were known for three things: conquerers, agriculture (and irrigation) and architecture. They were masters at all three.

First, they were builders. The Inca technique for building temples and houses originated from the Lake Titicaca region. Their expert masons built stone walls that were not only precise (no mortar was ever used), but with massive stones that would be impressive even by today’s standards, and a process that allowed the stone structures to withstand the test of time. Indeed, we noted that with so many of the poor houses in the area of Cusco and Puno falling down, perhaps these people were better at building a thousand years ago than they are today. Their secret to building? Precision; using large stones in strategic areas of a wall or structure to withstand the brunt of any earthquake, and building each wall on a slant to prevent crumbling during an eathquake. Not surprisingly, many Inca walls have survived the last thousand years,whereas Spanish Colonial structures have crumbled and have had to be rebuild several times.

One thing I never understood until today, was why the stone walls they built weren’t flat and polished like their predecessors the Collos’ walls, from which they learned building techniques. Henry told us that the Inca understood that large stones, such as they used for building, expanded and contracted with the sun, heat and elements. Since the Inca didn’t use mortar and their masonry was so exact to have each stone precisely flat to its neighbour, expansion of the stones could prove problematic. Thus the roundness of each exposed part of the stone, which forms an almost crevice near the abutments, keeps it from the sun’s heat and thus prevents expansion at the joints. Brilliant.

Second, the Inca mastered agriculture. They created terraced agricultural land in nearly every area of their kingdom (which was the largest of all dynasties in South America) which allowed the Inca to feed their people. A socialist society for sure, everyone was expected to do their part either as a farmer or warrior, and the government would ensure every person was fed with the vast agriculural system. No one was poor.

Thirdly, they were warriors and conquerers to be sure. But their key to success was diplomacy. The Inca leaders would approach a to-be-conquered people and offer to envelope them into the Inca fold, with the promise of food, education for their children, and the ability to keep their own religion and traditions. This usually worked. If it didn’t, the Inca were fierce warriors and didn’t pause to kill any leader who refused their initial offering. The greatness of the Inca, which enabled their greatness, was that they learned from each people they conquered, taking from each their wisdom in agriculture or masonry and adopting it to progress the entire dynasty. Smart people.