The combined sacred sites of Koricancha (also spelled Qoricancha or Qorickancha) and Santo Domingo in Cusco vividly illustrate ancient Andean culture's collision with Western Europe. The temple of one culture sits atop and encloses the other.
History of Koricancha and Santo Domingo
The extraordinarily crafted Temple of the Sun (Templo del Sol) at Koricancha was the most sumptuous temple in the Inca Empire. Some 4,000 priests and their attendants once lived within its confines. Koricancha also served as the main astronomical observatory for the Incas.
Dedicated to worship of the sun, the most important deity in the Inca's naturalistic pantheon, the temple complex was a glittering palace straight out of El Dorado legend: Koricancha means "courtyard of gold" in Quechua.
In addition to hundreds of gold panels lining its walls, there were life-size gold figures, solid-gold altars, and a huge golden sun disc. The sun disc reflected the sun and bathed the temple in light. During the summer solstice, the sun still shines directly into a niche where only the Inca chieftain was permitted to sit.
Other temples and shrines also existed for the worship of lesser natural gods: the moon, Venus, thunder, lightning, and rainbows. Terraces that face the Temple of the Sun were once filled with life-size gold and silver statues of plants and animals.
Much of Koricancha's wealth was removed to pay ransom for the captive Inca Atahualpa at the time of the Spanish conquest, but the blood money was paid in vain. After the Spaniards looted the temple and emptied it of gold, the exquisite polished stone walls were used as the foundations of the Dominican Convent of Santo Domingo, forming perhaps Cusco's most jarring imperial-colonial architectural juxtaposition.
What to See at Koricancha and Santo Domingo
The Baroque church of Santo Domingo pales next to the fine stonemasonry of the Incas, which is the main attraction of this site. In an ingenious restoration to recover both buildings after the 1953 earthquake, a large section of the cloister has now been removed, revealing four original chambers of the temple.
The mortarless masonry, earthquake-proof trapezoidal doorways, curved retaining wall, and exquisite carving exemplify the Inca artistic and engineering skills.
Stand on the small platform in the first chamber to see the perfect symmetry of openings in the stone chambers. A series of Inca stones displayed reveals the fascinating concept of male and female blocks, and how they fit together.
The 6m (20-ft.) curved wall beneath the west end of the church, visible from the street, remains undamaged by repeated earthquakes and is perhaps the greatest extant example of Inca stonework. The curvature and fit of the massive dark stones is astounding.
A small museum just down the hill with an entrance on Avenida El Sol documents the history of the site.
Quick Facts on Koricancha and Santo Domingo
|Names:||Koricancha and Santo Domingo|
|Categories:||churches; monasteries; temples; change of religion|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||13.520122° S, 71.975582° W|
|Lodging:||View hotels near Koricancha and Santo Domingo|
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Map of Koricancha and Santo Domingo, Cuzco
Below is a location map and aerial view of Koricancha and Santo Domingo. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.