Cusco’s Inca Museum: More than just one empire

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Cusco is the essential jumping off point to Peru’s most famous attraction, Macchu Pichu. The fabled lost city on the mountaintop is a three hour drive from Cusco. This city of 330,000 has enough of its own attractions to keep visitors from leaving too quickly. 

On my agenda while staying in Cusco was the Inca Museum. It is also called the Archaeological Museum of Cusco, a less deceptive name than Inca Museum. It exhibits more than just the Incas; it has exhibits about all the cultures that pre-dated the Incas in the Cusco and surrounding regions. 

The region of interest extended from Lake Titicaca at Peru’s southern border where the nascent Inca world emerged, through the Sacred Valley and to the eventual capital of the empire at Cusco. 

The museum has artifacts from the distant pre-Inca through to colonial times, including ceramics, jewelry, and textiles, all set in context with archeological displays and architectural models. There are objects representing the Nazca, Mochca, Huan, Chimu, Qollas, Chancay and other cultures. 

The museum has the world’s largest collection of qeros, wooden painted drinking cups of the Incas. The star attraction is the collection of Inca mummies, which are the remains of sacrificial victims. Inca rulers were also mummified, although none of these have ever been found. 

The progression of the ancient civilizations displayed in this museum reveals the genius behind the astonishingly successful, if short-lived, Inca Empire. The degree to which engineering, manufacturing and craftwork were all advanced by the Incas compared to their predecessors hints to the origins of their early successes in unifying and homogenizing the previously fragmented Andean cultures. 

The museum explains how the secret of the Inca’s success was their ability to draw upon and then improve on the strengths of all their predecessors, creating a single, powerful entity that many (but not all) rival cultures could choose to accept and adopt as their own. 

It was this insightful approach to nation building that allowed the creation of the vast empire, but possibly sowed the seeds of its eventual breakup once the good times came to an end and civil war replaced stability in the empire. 

The Inca Museum’s philosophy is to present its artifacts as items of art, within the context of their cultures. This was evident at the end of my visit. On the way out, in the courtyard costumed artisans demonstrated traditional weaving methods. 

The museum is housed in a onetime palace (Palacio del Admirante), and is an impressively ornate 17th century structure built on top of the footings of an Inca palace. 

The Inca Museum is located a couple blocks east of the main square Plaza de Armas off a smaller square (Aazarenas Plaza) at 103 Cuesta del Almirante (Ataud at Cordoba del Tucuman, telephone 084-237-380, admission 15 soles. 

Author: Andrew Kolasinski | Source: Living in Peru [August 23, 2011]

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