One of the best examples of the megalithic stonework of pre-Columbian Peru is found along Cusco’s Calle Hatunrumiyoc, or “Street of the Great Stone.”
Located just east of the Plaza de Armas, this charming pedestrian alley is flanked by walls of large, polygonal stones that typify the “imperial” style of masonry assembled by a pre-Spanish civilization. Fashioned from green diorite, the blocks are set with mind-boggling precision. No mortar was used, yet their joints are so tight that a knife blade cannot be inserted between them. Perhaps most extraordinarily, these walls have survived at five centuries of earthquakes that devastated many Spanish (and even contemporary) structures.
The most famous aspect of Hatunrumiyoc is the Twelve Angle Stone – so named for its dozen corners. Take a moment to consider the amount of planning, measuring, and engineering that were required to quarry, move, form, and set such a large and intricately shaped stone. Moreover, it fits into the surrounding wall like a piece in a jigsaw puzzle.
How were the walls of Calle Hatunrumiyoc built? The pre-Columbian people of Peru are not known to have had the wheel, or even iron for that matter. Supposedly, workers pounded these boulder-sized stones into form using bronze mallets or quartzite stones. Since they had no large work animals, such as the horse or ox, manual labor is theorized to have been the motor for moving the stones. If so, how many workers would have been needed to push and pull these multi-ton stones over wooden rollers and earthen ramps?
Another mystery of Calle Hatunrumiyoc (and one that characterizes imperial masonry throughout southern Peru) is the knobby protrusions found on many of the stones. Some archaeologists believe they were designed to help leverage the blocks. Perhaps ropes were tied to them, or wooden poles wedged under them, to lift the stones. Yet, the protrusions are not found on every stone, nor are they found on the interior faces of the stones. Rather than aiding construction, perhaps these knobs were simply artistic add-ons, such as signatures of the masons.
Many historians believe the walls of Calle Hatunrumiyoc (as well as those at Ollantaytambo, Machu Picchu, and many other sites) were built by the Incas in less than a hundred years. This accomplishment is especially impressive when one remembers that, just a couple centuries earlier, the Incas were an ordinary tribe living in Peru. Who taught them their advanced engineering skills and masonry knowledge? How did they learn so quickly, and then train a workforce of hundreds of thousands of agricultural workers (who only worked on these projects three months out of each year) to carry out the work?
As with the adjacent Calle Inca Roca and many other streets and alleys throughout Cusco), the masonry of Calle Hatunrumiyoc is as mind-boggling as it is impressive. The expertise and logistics required to complete a project of such magnitude, durability, and beauty is remarkable. But while the Incas are famously credited for the work, there remain many unanswered questions about how and why they did it. Some historians debate whether the Incas were responsible at all, or if they simply claimed these preexisting accomplishments as their own.
The various theories offered in books, journals, and websites seems to point to one conclusion: the mystery of Peru’s ancient architecture is far from being solved.
Originally published 12/05/2017 here. ©Beyond the Range All rights reserved. Feel free to republish so long as credit is given.