Secrets of the architecture in the Sacred Valley of the Incas

Victor Gouvêa

Adriano Fagundes

On a tour of the Sacred Valley of the Incas in Peru, architect Andres Adasme demonstrates how the stars influenced the region's ancient constructions


“They aren't ruins. They are ancient temples that continue to mark the passage of time,” states Andres Adasme, a Chilean architect who resides in Peru. Before a group of tourists sets out to explore Incan structures in his company, he gives a presentation explaining complex theories with the precision of a GPS.


In addition to being responsible for the projects of the luxury accommodations brand Mountain Lodges of Peru and a pathfinder of new trails in the Sacred Valley, Adasme organizes tours to talk about archaeoastronomy, a subject he has been studying since moving to Cusco 14 years ago. It’s the fusion of architecture and astronomy – in other words, the relationship between the Andean sky and the ancestral temples, which he calls “stone clocks.”



Adasme starts by talking about the Incan creation myth, which positions Cusco where it is. According to the legend, Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo were the first Incas, the children of the Sun and Moon, conceived in Tiahuanaco, Bolivia, by the banks of Lake Titicaca. With their golden staff, they marched from there to Cusco in search of land where their people could settle. All fables aside, it's true that you can draw a straight line 310 miles [500 km] long between the two cities, which they are said to have walked, and a 930-mile [1,500 km] route to Cajamarca, northwest of Cusco, which the pair later crossed to disappear into the sea. With no navigation instruments, guided only by the stars, the exactitude is amazing.


These windows into the past are scattered throughout the entire Sacred Valley. But they are more blatant in Cusco and the small village of Ollantaytambo. It is there that the sun’s rays illuminate exact points on the autumn and spring equinoxes, marking the beginning of new stages in agriculture.



If you look closely on March 21 and September 22, a light passes through the Temple of the Sun in Ollantaytambo to touch the window and door to the Pakaritampu Pyramid, drawn on the ground by ancient plantations. According to Adasme, the clarity is not so precise, and this is not due to an error in calculation, but rather to changes in the Earth's angle in space.


Theories like those of anthropologist Brian Bauer of the University of Illinois and astrophysicist David Dearborn state that the luminosity is correct according to the map of the sky 12,000 years ago. Knowing that the Inca Empire reached its apex in the 15th century, this fact reveals societies organized thousands of years before they became the head honchos. The Chilean architect vibrates with these speculations and exalts them.    


“The days are easier to understand, since the only reference is the Sun. When the night is the inspiration, it gets much more complicated,” explains the guide. The temple through which the sunlight streaks is located on the head of an immense drawing of a llama, formed by the terraced farmland, which represents the most important constellation in the ancient belief system. You can see it in its entirety from the Pinkuylluna Alta trail, on the hill on the opposite side of the city.



Directly below it flows the Willkamayu River (or the “Sacred River” in Quechua, one of the country's native languages), known as Urubamba. In the cosmological symbolism, it is the reflection of the Milky Way, which could be clearly seen due to the altitude of the Andean altiplano, like a large belt that crosses the sky from east to southwest.


The original map of the city of Cusco was shaped like a puma, another constellation essential to the Incas. From head to tail, an imaginary line as if it were a spinal column marks the position of the Incan structures in the city (the majority of them destroyed). The one to resist was the complex of Sacsayhuaman, where the animal's head is located. From above, you can see the giant teeth simulated by huge, perfectly interlocked zigzagging stones, which intrigue specialists to this day, signaling a holy site. The Inti Raymi, or Festival of the Sun, is still celebrated there with the arrival of the winter solstice.



There are several theories about how they ended up there, in those conditions. The most accepted involves dirt ramps used, along with the strength of thousands of men, to roll the rocks up to the top. When you observe stones removed from their original places, notice the slot that exists on the inside, as if they were Legos, planned to withstand the earthquakes in the region.


The site upon which the city's cathedral stands, erected with the stones of the former temple in order to signal the sovereignty of the conquerors, was marked by the puma's heart. What remains of the Koricancha Temple, upon the animal's genitals to celebrate fertility, shares space with the Santo Domingo Convent. In the past, when the walls and ceiling were covered in silver and gold, respectively, the sun also invaded a hole to illuminate the sacred chamber with the throne of the emperor. Walking the streets of the Cusco puma, Adasme points out a number of references to the stars, gets excited with original sections of the city and speculations. It even seems like he is not of this world.


Going beyond

You can prolong your immersion in the world of the Incas with a trip to one of the most famous archaeological sites on the planet: the city of Machu Picchu. Though the tour proposed by Adasme does not go there, the specialist offers tips for those who intend to extend their itinerary. 'The division of Machu Picchu's social architecture is clear and can be appreciated from atop the mountain of Huayna Picchu or the terraces in front of the holy city. There are the residential sections, with the walls of the stone houses still standing; the sacred section represented by temples like the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Condor; the area of social interaction marked at the center by green grass; and the agricultural portion, with the terraces on the mountain's steps,' he explains. 



From Cusco, those who want to continue on to the locale can take a train in Poroy, 20 minutes outside the city, to Aguas Calientes – a ride which lasts around two and a half hours. Then take a bus to the attraction's entrance.


LATAM has direct flights to Cusco from Lima, Juliaca, Puerto Maldonado, and 3 other destinations.