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Llaqtallaqtayoc: A Little-Known Ruins in the Sacred Valley of Peru

In southern Peru’s Sacred Valley, on a mountain west of the ancient city of Ollantaytambo, lie the ruins of several stone structures. The original name and purpose are not known, but this site may predate the Inca Empire. Its proximity to the ancient rock quarry of Cachiqata has inspired a theory that these buildings once served as an administrative office, or perhaps as a school for masons. Long before the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the 1530s, Andean stoneworkers may have come here to learn the arts of toolmaking, stone-splitting and shaping, as well as methods for transporting and setting these gigantic blocks. In this video, I explore what is left of this complex and how it may have supported construction activities at Cachiqata and Ollantaytambo.

My guide explained that this site is known by two names. The first, Llaqtallaqtayoc, means “big place” or “big town.” However, judging by the small size of this ruins, that name doesn’t seem to apply, unless it’s actually a reference to nearby Ollantaytambo. Or maybe the name had been altered over many centuries. Was it originally called “Llaqta camayoc,” which is Quechua for “village administrator,” in reference to its role as the quarry’s administrative office?

(Above) The nearby quarry of Cachiqata, from which the red rhyolite stones of Ollantaytambo are believed to have been sourced.

Or maybe Choquetakarpo was the original name. But why would these buildings be given a title that translates to “pushing gold”? Was there a gold mine nearby, or was this place a transit point in the shipment of gold? Perhaps metalwork or other related activities were performed here. Again, this may have been a reference to Ollantaytambo.

Then again, maybe the original name was actually Choqetukapu. “Tukapu” has many possible interpretations. It refers to an ancient technique of woven symbols, which have led to claims it is a “lost Inca writing system.” Such motifs may have represented kings or royal families; apparently, their use in Peru continues today. “Tucapu” (or Tucapo) was also the name of Wiracocha’s son. Wiracocha is a legendary figure in Andean history. As the 8th Inca king, he is believed to have expanded Ollantaytambo, as well as to have been the father of Pachacuti – “the one who overturns time and space.” But Wiracocha also refers to the creator god of Inca and pre-Inca mythology, whose profile appears to be chiseled into a cliff overlooking Ollantaytambo. Additionally, “tucapu” can signify “he who writes and records the facts,” which seems to support the idea that this place was an administrative center. Confusion over the name and its meanings not only highlight the mysteries of this site, but the complex, overlapping, and largely unknown history of much of pre-Spanish Peru [1].

(Above) Wiracocha Inca. By Felipe Huaman Poma de Ayala. Public domain. Source.

(Below) Takapu. Public domain. Source.

I began my investigation at lower set of buildings. These were constructed in the pirca style of rough-cut stones and adobe. Several trapezoidal niches and windows are evident. Given the style of stucco employed here, these structures may have been built by the Wari (~400-1000 AD). Alternatively, the Inca could have built them using mitimaes, or workers imported from other parts of the empire. A cursory examination of the stones here reveals a mixture of granite, quartzite, and rhyolite. Reddish rhyolite is also the composition of the megalithic walls at Ollantaytambo, and it has been found at Machu Picchu, as well [2].

(Above) Site layout (by author).

(Below) Inside a building in the site's lower sector. Note the trapezoidal windows and pirca masonry.

As I headed up the hill to the next set of buildings, I reviewed what I knew of Inca and pre-Inca site layouts and architecture. Many cities and religious complexes in ancient Peru were divided into two sectors: an upper (Hanan) and lower (Hurin) sector. No one today is really sure what this division meant, but it may have been a nod to the fundamental force of duality or balance that rules our physical world. Interestingly, Llaqtallaqtayoc also seems to have two sectors – one uphill from the other.

Many Andean sites also incorporate geocosmic alignments into their architecture. That is, buildings were constructed so that walls, doors, and windows provide views of distant mountains or cities, orient along cardinal directions, or align with celestial events like solstices and equinoxes [2]. Llaqtallaqtayoc provides a clear view of Mt. Veronica and the Urubamba River to the northeast, as well as the Sun Gate of Intipunku (also known as the Wind Gate of Huayraqpunku) atop a ridge to the north. Long after returning home, while examining a satellite photo of the site, I noticed that the lower building seems to align with the azimuth of the June solstice sunrise (approximately 65 degrees). The June solstice was a sacred occasion in Inca times, and many structures through Peru are correspondingly angled.

(Above) Huayraqpunku or "Wind Gate" situated on a ridge north of Lllaqtallaqtayoc. Mt. Veronica is located to the north of this shrine.

As I have often noted, Inca structures frequently employ the trapezoidal shape. This motif is very old in Peru, and as conquerors, the Inca seem to have merely adopted it as the symbol of their empire. After all, Spanish chroniclers noted the qualities of the Inca to imitate what they saw; the Spaniards also observed that many of the Inca sites seemed to have been built atop older foundations [3]. Inca architects seem to have been at least partly inspired by the styles at Tiwanaku (~100-1000 AD), a city located in the vicinity of Lake Titicaca in modern-day Bolivia. In fact, Tiwanaku may have provided the Inca with the idea of the double-jamb doorway, although this design may stretch back many centuries earlier to Pukara and Chiripa [3]. Historical timelines and overlap of cultural influences in Peru are not well defined. In any case, the trapezoid is plainly evident here at Llaqtallaqtayoq, though not in the fine, megalithic style of nearby Ollantaytambo.

(Above) The upper sector. Note trapezoidal niche and view of the Wind Gate shrine (Huayraqpunku).

(Below) Trapezoidal gateway at Ollantaytambo. This style of megalithic masonry uses large stones that are precisely cut and assembled without mortar. Note the much cruder "pirca" style on top of the megalithic foundation; was this added later?

The upper sector contains an arrangement of rooms that reminded me of a “kancha.” I discovered evidence of stucco that seems to have once covered a west-facing wall. A similar approach of using stucco over stone is evident at Choquequirao (“Cradle of Gold”), a site which some archaeologists believe was built by Chachapoya mitimaes from northern Peru [2]. Some of the doors in the upper section of Llaqtallaqtayoc face each other and align with interior niches. The trapezoid is very apparent through the structures, as doors, windows, and niches. If this site was built by the Wari, it offers further evidence that the trapezoid predates the Inca. I personally happen to believe this shape was used symbolically, rather than simply for reasons of seismic stability.

(Above) View from inside building in lower section.

(Below) View of upper section.

In the video, I note the stone protuberances found within buildings of the upper sector. These jut out of the tops of walls, and they may have been used to tie down thatch roofs. Similar features are evident at Machu Picchu, although they are of much higher quality than the style here at Llaqtallaqtayoq.

One of the major takeaways from my visit to Llaqtallaqtayoc was this: if the site predates the Incas, than so does the classically "Inca" trapezoid shape. If the Wari (or another pre-Inca culture) constructed these buildings, they were using the trapezoid shape long before the Incas became an empire. Why does this matter? It suggests the trapezoid shape was not just the imperial motif of the Inca, but rather that they adopted it and made the symbol their own. The more intriguing question is: what did the trapezoid symbolize for the peoples who came before the Incas? I will provide my theory is an upcoming series of writings and videos.

My brief investigation of Llaqtallaqtayoc was one of many unexpected but incredibly fulfilling experiences of the Moonstone Trek. That evening, I camped on a hillside that overlooked the Sacred Valley, with the Milky Way overhead and Mt. Veronica in the background. The following day, I would resume my expedition by entering the town of Ollantaytambo, the ancient megalithic city whose massive stones may have been extracted and shaped by the workers at this little-known site of Llaqtallaqtayoc.


[1] O'Neill, P. (n.d.). Inca Shamanic Glossary. Retrieved March 1, 2019, from Definitions and information regarding "takupu." An excellent resource for Quechua and ancient Peruvian terminology.

[2] Ziegler, G. R., & Malville, J. M. (2013). Machu Picchus sacred sisters: Choquequirao and Llactapata: Astronomy, symbolism, and sacred geography in the Inca heartland. Boulder, CO: Johnson Books. Discussion of Choquequirao construction methods, employment of Chachapoyan workers, and use hanan and hurin divisions.

[3] Gasparini, G., & Margolies, L. (1984). Inca architecture. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press.

Discussion of influences upon Inca architecture, including iconic features such as double-jamb doorways and the trapezoid. References other theories (such as by John Howland Rowe) that Pachacuti may have invented much of Inca “history."

Originally published 4/25/2019 here. ©Beyond the Range. All rights reserved. Feel free to republish so long as credit is given.

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