The famous Temple of the sun is the most important religious facility of Incas, and so it is a synthesis of the Inka organization, architecture and religion, which had reached its development top by 1438. It possibly represented the navel of the world, and so the “Navel of the pre- Hispanic Andean World”.
According to history, the first Inka Manko Qhapaq ordered the building of the original temple. But, the ninth Inka Pachakuteq re-built, enlarged, improved and modernized it since 1438. Other authors named it Intiwasi, which means “House of the Sun”. Also it is named Intikancha which means “Palace of the Sun”. While its most popular name Qoricancha means “Golden Palace”.
All the chroniclers coincide stating that the quality of the building was extraordinary, made of gray basaltic andesite stone coming from Waqoto and Rumiqolqa quarries. The walls are of “Sedimentary” or “Imperial Inka” type which is the top expression of architecture in pre-Columbian America. The walls are made of between medium to large size places of stone which outer surface is rectangular. The structure is straight horizontal and convex-shaped like the ones of the most important temples, The joints and the assembly between pieces of stone are so tight and perfectly made that they do not allow the insertion of even a “razor blade”. The cross section structure is “tied up”, with “H’ shaped bronze-clamps or clips in the inner joints which fastened together the lithic pieces avoiding harmful horizontal displacements in case of earthquakes. The walls also have a decreasing vertical structure, having the bigger pieces of stone in the lower part and decreasing in size so that the smaller ones are on the top. So, the walls are thicker in the base than on the top; with the classical inclination inward balanced with the doorways trapezoidal shape, niches and windows. Those features get the walls supported by themselves making a resistant, solid, anti-seismic structure able to resist bad earthquakes. By the way, due to the earthquake activity some Inca walls in this building show cracks. But those cracks are not a result of miss-calculation or failed technique of the Quechua architects, but a consequence of changes carried out in colonial times, the earthquakes and mainly exposition to inclement weather and erosion during after the Incas-time. According to some studies, the finely. carved stone walls had a continuation of sun-dried mud-bricks on the top making up very steep gable ends in order to enable the drainage of the rain water, on the thatched made in wood and straw “ichu” roofing. Ichu is a wild plant used very much to roof the buildings, which modest aspect was decorated for festivity days in showy multicolored rugs made of special feathers. Gasparini believes that the so often mentioned by chroniclers “gold edging” which served as a crown surrounding the whole outer upper side of the temple, served in addition, to dissemble the difference between the fine stone wall and the upper adobe wall. The floor in the open areas of the temple must have been completely and finely paved in flagstones, while the floor inside the enclosures was made of kilned clay, as a way of a solid ceramic block like the treated floors found in Machu picchu.
The temple main gate faced Northeast; almost in the same position the present-time entrance to Santo Domingo Convent has, overlooking the Intipampa (“Plaza of the Sun”) which currently occupies the small plaza in front. According to chroniclers this was a religious facility made up of temples dedicated to several deities. It had a layout very similar to that of a classical “kancha”; with enclosures around a central patio where according to Cieza de Leon, every doorway was covered in gold plates.
The Temple of the Sun outstood from all the facility, taking the space currently the Santo Domingo Church takes. Its eastern end was completely demolished while the western one still stands partially making up what is known as the “solar round building”, which is the semicircular wall overlooking the current Arrayan street and Sol Avenue. The Temple of the Sun had its four walls and even the wooden ceiling completely covered in gold plates and planks, which according to Garcilaso’s description it must had a rectangular floor plan, with a very high wood and thatched roof for ventilation. The famous Cusquenian Chronicler Garcilaso de la Vega gives the most exact and long explanation about this place. The eastern wall of this temple must have been the facade and Main Altar, which as it is known housed a round face and rays and flames shaped in gold plate Sun God allegory. That solar symbol was so huge that it covered all the temple front. As a result of the treasures distribution among the Spaniard invaders, that golden piece corresponded by casting to Mancio Sierra de Leguisamo, an inveterate gambler who lost it playing dices. The Chronicler Sarmiento de Gamboa thinks that Pachakuteq Inka ordered a layout, so that the Sun would occupy the main place along with the Wiraqocha god allegory on its right side; and that one of Chuquiylla (it must be “Chuki Illapa” or thunder, lightning and thunderbolt) to its left side. Also on both sides of that Sun image, the “Mallki” which where the dead Inka Kings mummies or embalmed bodies were placed, according to their antiquity, in fetal position, and over litters made of solid gold.
The Andean Cosmogony thought that the Moon or Mamakilla was the wife of the Sun, therefore the Temple of the moon was located on the eastern side of the Solar Temple. It had a rectangular floor plan with the best quality architecture. Unfortunately it was almost completely destroyed in order to build Santo Domingo Catholic Church. One of its gates is still seen on its eastern wall showing the classical trapezoidal niches, Among those niches, the horizontal dark stripe is located which is believed to be the support zone of the silver plates which wholly covered those walls. In the middle part of the temple, there was a silver Moon allegory, and on both sides of it, the embalmed bodies of the dead Qoyas or Queens were located by their antiquity fashion.
In the eastern side of the Temple of the Moon; divided by a narrow passage with an impressive double jamb doořway which has a 14 angled stone on its outer surface, the Temple of Ch’aska and the Stars (Ch’aska = Venus star) is located. In Inca-times, stars were special deities, considered as “the maids of the moon” important for astral observation and future prediction on their relationship to weather, agriculture, prosperity, welfare, etc. Even at present time, the Andean peasants (descendants of Incas) observe the brightness of stars making up constellations in order to foresee their future. For example, almost always when some stars show very shiny it means there will be droughts during the next farming season. Three walls of the temple are almost complete, the fourth wall toward the west was destroyed during the colonial times, but it was re- built following its original features. Those re-built works sometimes are made using the original material, or other fresh material depending on the possibilities. The Temple of Venus is of a big size and it is surrounded by a wall with 25 trapezoidal niches which of the niches, the horizontal stripe which supported the silver “planks” covering this temple is located. More over, all this inclosure ceiling had star allegories of different sizes “Tike the starry sky”. This inclosure had two very high entrance gates and in the wall, between them, there are two very special trapezoidal niches showing stripe-carvings and hollows around, which Garcilaso calls “tabernacles”. One of those niches overlooks inside the temple and the other one overlooks outside, but they are placed at the same level on both wall sides. Originally, they were covered in gold plates and planks; and “… on the molding corners there were many enchasings of precious stones such as emeralds and turquoises..”. Inside the temple, close to a comer and over the stone-wall, there is a plaster coat showing murals which are a souvenir of this amazing temple colonial invasion. The rear Inka walls were used as foundations for the mud-brick colonial building which is still seen over there at the back wall.
Across from the Stars Temple, on the other side of the current central patio, the Temple of “Illapa” or “Chuki IIlapa” is located. Illapa is a deity compounded by thunder, lightning and thunderbolt which was considered as “servant of the sun”. According to Inca Religion, Illapa was the “Storms God”, the ruler of rain, hail and snow, and the thunderbolts hurler. Its shrine was decorated in gold. It has 3 trapezoidal single-jamb doorways and its current northwestern side wall was partially re-built following its original features. This inclosure is smaller than the previously described temples, with walls showing the classical trapezoidal niches and two windows in its lateral walls. On the upper side of the front wall there are carved moldings which duty is unknown.
To the west of Illapa sanctuary, the Temple of K’uychi (Rainbow) is located, which original size and features were similar to those before mentioned temples; but it was partially mutilated on its northwest part in order to build the Dominican Convent. The Rainbow was another important divinity in the Inca Society, because it was considered that it came from the sun, that is why the Inka Kings adopted it as their emblem because they boasted of being descendants of the Sun. That temple was completely adorned in gold and over one of its walls there was a rainbow painted over the gold plates covering the whole temple. On its eastern wall, there is a trapezoidal window located coinciding exactly in size, shape, height and level with the other two ones of the Illapa temple, creating an excellent perspective. Those three windows are leveled.
Between the K’uychi and Illapa temples, there is an open area on which back wall there are three finely carved channels which are called “phonic channels”, because when being hit they sound “several music notes”. However, what is true is that those channels which are placed on their original ground level, were used to drain the rain water gathered in the central patio. Similar channels are found in all the facilities or buildings which did not have any roofs.
Obviously inside the whole facility, there were several enclosures for the “Willaq Uma” or High Priest, and the other priests; as well as spaces for housing the diverse idols coming from the sumitted or incorporated nations which were housed inside the Qorikancha. The conquered people were allowed to cult their own gods in Qorikancha, and this housing was on purpose, so that if there were rebellion attempts in the conquered nations, the reprisals in Cusco were against their gods, thus the religious intimidation taking place which gave many benefits to Inkas.
Located in the southern area there was a terracing facility which reached even as far as the edge of the channeled Saphi River, which flows underground Sol Avenue at present time. Those terraces were part of the Qoricancha solar garden which was probably the most extraordinary example of wealth found in this temple. It was a very special garden, because it contained samples of the regional flora and fauna, and even human sculptures in natural size, made of gold and silver. Early chroniclers wrote that those sculptures showed many animals, from insects to mammals; plants from small flowers to native trees; human allegories as children, men and women, and several other precious metal items by Quechua goldsmiths in this exceptional garden. Until some decades ago, it was argued that chroniclers had written many lies and fantasies about this; nevertheless, archaeological diggings carried out slowly proved it truth, as some golden plant and animal shaped artifacts were found. The magnificence, the quality, and the amount of items placed in this garden left astounded all the conquerors who saw it. Those items were collected making up part of the conquest booty, and later melted down in order to make coins or bars to make it easy its transportation to Spain. That is one of the reasons why in the Peruvian museums there are not important Inca artifacts made of precious metals.
It is evident that Qoricancha was the richest, the most elaborated and the most dazzling temple of the Inca Society; which stored the gold and silver of its territory. Those metals arrived as offerings for the sacred city and the temple. In the Inca Society, precious metals did not have any economic value, but their main value was just religious. There were some other stuff which were even more valuable than gold and silver, For example, the colored shells or “mullu” which came from the Ecuatorian coasts; which were highly appraised because they represented the “Mamaqcocha” or “Mother Sea”. The Inka gold was extracted from diverse veins or mines, and another large part was panned in the Amazonian rivers where gold is found as dust or nuggets in the sand, Silver is abundant in the Andean Countries too. More over, in this vast facility there were 5 Water Fountains, from which flowed clean water transported through underground channels, which water- springs or sources were kept completely secret. Those water fountains had religious duties since water was another deity in the Andean Religion. In colonial times, those water fountains got dried up as a consequence of the lack of maintenance, and on-purpose of destruction. Garcilaso says that he became to see just one of them: the last one which Dominican monks used to water their garden. Since 1975, the convent and church were re-built, being performed at the same time some archaeological digging-works; which finally made possible finding one of those 5 original fountains. That found fountain is located lower, and before the “solar round building”; and water still flows through its finely carved channels. It is possible that in the future, the remains of the other fountains described by Garcilaso will be found. Until 1990 most of the Solar Garden space was covered by several buildings. The Spanish soldier Cieza de Leon wrote “, finally, it was one of the rich temples existing in the world.” In the middle of the cloister central patio, there is an eight sided fountain carved in a single andesite piece of stone, which according to some historians is of Inka manufacture. However, its shape and features are not classical in Inka stone- … masonry. Therefore, if it was carved in Inca times it must originally have had another shape which was re-shaped in colonial times. Also at present time, around the archways there is a collection of paintings representing the life of Saint Dominic Guzman painted by anonymous local Cusquenian School artists.
After the houses and palaces distribution during the Spanish invasion, Qorikancha corresponded to Juan Pizarro who donated it to the Dominican Order represented by the first Cusco City bishop Fray Vicente Valverde, who immediately carried out the building of their church and convent over the most important Inca Temple demolishing it almost completely to adapt it to its new use. That original church was destroyed by an earthquake on March 31, 1650. The current structure was raised as well as the tower in 1780 out of baroque style under the direction of Fray Francisco Muñoz. On May 21st. 1950 another violent earthquake destroyed a large part of the convent, and church, as well as its tower leaving uncovered many Inka structures and the inner area of the “Solar Round Building”. By that time, a strong “Indigenist Movement” suggested the moving away of the church so to get back the Temple of the Sun. Pitifully the Catholic Church political power did not allow that attempt on getting back the major Tawantinsuyo sanctuary facility rests.