Discovering mysterious Ollantaytambo

Ollantaytambo is one of the most enchanting tourist destinations in the Sacred Valley.  The modern day settlement was built on its very Inka foundations with the old street grid in the form of a corn on the cob still intact (corn was and is the main crop of the Sacred Valley even today).

When Inka Pachakuteq arrived in this place in the 15th century he had the original inhabitants killed and then resettled people from the Titicaca region there. These immigrants then had to help him to construct one of his most ambitious projects in the region: a major ceremonial complex mirroring a dark cloud constellation found in the Milky Way in the night sky. The ancient ones perceived the Milky Way as the sacred sky river, the sperm of the creator god Teqsi Wiraqocha which finds its mirror image in the Urubamba River, called Willkamayu (sacred river) by the Inkas.  The dark cloud constellation mirrored in the ceremonial complex is catachillay, the llama with its baby. At the time of the June solstice, the first ray of the sun falls into the eye of the mother llama, thus recreating the phenomena of the celestial llamas’ eyes being lit up by Alpha and Beta Centaurus. In late October the llamas’ eyes are no longer visible. The locals tell the story of the celestial llama going to the sea to drink water so that the world would not become flooded and once it has drunk its fill the rainy season sets in…


Ollantaytambo was furthermore a big city complex for the Inka elite revealed by the high quality of stone masonry found in the foundations of the modern settlement and the remains of huge double jamb gates leading into kanchas or individual enclosures that made up the living quarters. The old streets names are still intact (they even bear the old Quechua names)  as are the water channels running through them.

One of the functions of this huge Inka settlement was that of a major tambo, an administrative center which doubled up as a huge granary where surplus produce from all the nearby regions was stored until its redistribution to the areas where it was most needed.

In Ollantaytambo, the qollqas (granaries) have become part of the sacred architecture. The biggest structures form part of a rock image representing the old weather deity Thunupa from Lake Titicaca according to local legends. Thunupa was linked to thunder, hail, and lightning and had to be constantly appeased through offerings so that he would return the gift of water in its positive form (rain) and therefore a rich harvest. The symbolism is very clear: if humans behave correctly they will have plenty of food in return – a case of asymmetrical Andean reciprocity between humans and the gods.


The legends also tell us that Thunupa was really a human being and world teacher who roamed the Andes on a sacred route from the east to the west, before finally disappearing in the sea (everywhere along this route there a remains of temples today). Thunupa was supposedly white in skin colour (which might well explain his long beard in the rock presentation as native Amerindians have no facial hair) and wore a long white tunic.


Over the past years, a path leading to the granaries up the Pinkulluna mountain has been opened and become accessible to almost everyone. That is if you are prepared for a steep breathtaking climb, taking some rather big steps on the precarious trail (remember to take walking sticks if you can help it) and you must be free of vertigo! You will be rewarded with exhilarating views at the end, of both the ceremonial complex opposite as well as old Inkan settlement below, the main square of Ollantaytambo and the fine agricultural terraces on the other side of the Urubamba river.

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