Koricancha and Santo Domingo, Cuzco

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.

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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

Site Information
Names:Koricancha and Santo Domingo
Country:Peru
Categories:churches; monasteries; temples; change of religion
Visitor and Contact Information
Coordinates:13.520122° S, 71.975582° W
Address:Cuzco, Peru
Lodging:View hotels near Koricancha and Santo Domingo
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours and prices can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.

References

  1. Frommer's Peru, 2nd edition.

More Information

Side of Santo Domingo. © Jack
The perfect masonry of the curved Inca wall next to the Baroque church. © Nick Leonard
An Inca sun temple with a view of a Dominican convent. © Bruno Furnari
Terraces opposite the Temple of the Sun. © Bruno Furnari
Cloisters of Santo Domingo Convent. © Avery
Gold plate depicting Mother Earth and the Incas. © Jack

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.