The stones of Sacsayhuamán

By Mario Vargas Llosa


This is not an abstract by a great modern painter maddened by geometry and symmetries and wild to capture on canvas the blue-violet light that glorifies the evening as the sun says goodnight behind the mountains of Cuzco. Nor are these the bold inventions of a great contemporary sculptor striving to immortalize matter, the mineral world, in his work: colossal constructions of unequal pieces fitted together like the parts of a perfect jigsaw puzzle.


Although they seem to be so modern, so artistic, these stones are ancient, the ruins of a fort constructed by the Incas to protect the navel of the world, Cuzco, the capital of the empire of the Cuatro Suyos, the four regions: Tahuantinsuyo, center of the civilization that until the arrival of the Europeans embraced three fourths of South America. Sacsayhuamán was a fortress and a temple, because to the Incas religion and war were intertwined, a single entity, like the obverse and reverse of a coin. These stones once formed walls, terraces, rooms, oratories, and storehouses for weapons and foodstuffs. From high on their parapets, lookouts could see the four highways that, branching out from Cuzco, joined the imperial city with the countless communities, villages, peoples, and cultures within the empire, all living in peaceful coexistence, in a union-cum-diversity that has not be repeated in our history. The impressive size and solidity of these walls symbolize the power and pride of the leaders of that great empire which, according to historians, succeeded in eradicating hunger throughout its vast territory, another accomplishment that has not survived to modern times. The thousands of men who transported the massive stones, hewed and polished them, then set them together with a skill and knowledge that dazzles us still today, had enormous confidence in their own abilities. They believed that the empire was timeless, like the Andes or the sky, and that was their downfall. Complacency, along with internal strife and dynastic ambitions, precipitated them into internecine wars. The conquistadors took advantage of this upheaval to subdue and destroy Tahuantinsuyo.


The stones of Sacsayhuamán are also witness to that historical tragedy, which made vassals and servants of those who had created one of the most original and advanced civilizations of the ancient world. A tragedy that even several centuries later has left open, suppurating wounds. Like the beautiful breached and crumbling walls of Sacsayhuamán.