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Cusco (Cuzco, Qusqu, Qosqo) is a city with a rich history. It was the capital of the great Incan Empire for 200 years, but excavations indicate that it was inhabited as much as 3000 years ago.

The Inca referred to their empire as Tawantinsuyu, (in Quechua Tawantin Suyu, Tawantinsuyu means “four parts together”) The empire was divided into four suyus, whose corners met at the capital, Cusco (Qosqo). They did not know other countries, did not travel beyond the seas; their land was the entire world and Cusco was the centre of this world. This explains one of the versions of the word “Cusco”. It can be translated as the “Centre of the World; the Navel of the Earth” from Quechua. Another version of translation of the name is “The Place of Ashes”, i.e. the place of ritual sacrifice. All main temples of Incas were in Cusco and all significant religious ceremonies were also held here.

History of the city
There are many legends about the origin of Cusco. One of them tells how, Manco Capac and his sister and wife Mama Ocllo emerged from the waters of Lake Titicaca with the mission to look for the promised land where the gold staff given to him by his father the Sun, would sink in the ground as a sign of fertility. In another version of this legend the Incan ancestors – four siblings and their sister-consorts emerged from the cave in one of the islands of Titicaca Lake. One of them was Manco Capac who founded the city of Cusco and laid the foundation of the Incan Empire.

Cusco is the place of foundation and end of the great Tawantinsuyu Empire. In 1572 the last Inca stronghold was conquered, and the last ruler, Tupac Amaru, Manco’s son, was captured and executed. This was the fall of the Inca Empire.

Cusco maintained a relative importance as the administrative center of the Viceroyalty of Peru, as the region was called under the Spanish administration. During this period, Incan nobility maintained certain privileges in the valley of Cusco which allows them to live in relative peace and mix with the arriving Spaniards. We say “relative” because there were some uprisings led by Manko Inka in 1536 that continued until 1572 when the last descendant of the ancient Incan Dynasty, Túpac Amaru I, was executed.

In 1821, after many rebellions throughout all of Latin America, Peru gained independence and maintained Lima as the country’s capital. Cusco, however, was chosen as the “Archaeological Capital of South America” in recognition of its historic importance to not only Peru but the whole continent. In 1983 the city was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Good to Know

385.1 km2 (148.7 sq mi)
Languages spoken
Currency used
Area code(s)

Along the Inca Trail near Cusco is the sacred city of Machu Picchu (“Old Mountain” in the Quechua language), archaeological ruins of incomparable beauty located on the mountain summit. It is believed that the city was a holiday residence of Pachacútec, the first Incan emperor who lived from 1438 to 1470. The city played two functions: one of a palace and one as a religious sanctuary. Machu Picchu is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the new recognized Wonders of the World.