Cuzco, Capital City of the Inca Empire Illustration

Inca Empire for Kids
Cuzco, Capital City

The capital city of Cuzco was the heart of the empire. It was situated about 11,000 feet above sea level high in the Andes Mountains. It was a beautiful city. There were palaces, temples, schools, houses, and government buildings. It had gardens filled with exotic herbs, trees, and flowers. There was a huge public square for ceremonies and gatherings. The streets were paved. Water was brought in by aqueducts to supply the palaces. (The Incas took frequent baths.)

The famed Temple of the Sun was in the center of the city. The temple had six chapels built around a central courtyard. The walls were made of perfectly fitted stone covered with sheets of gold. 

Most of the buildings were made of stone. The Inca were master builders. Their stonework is shaped so that each piece fit together perfectly, without the use of mortar. Inca stonework is still regarded as the best in the world. Building stones were quarried in the mountains. Thousands of men were organized to hack out enormous blocks and to transport them to building sites.  

The city was always under construction. Each emperor ordered a new palace to be built for his use. They had to, actually, as the palaces of the former Incas were still in use. When a former Inca died, he was not buried. His body was mummified and returned to his palace. There, his family and servants waited on him just as if he was still alive. They were not entombed. They lived their life, and went to the marketplace, and ate wonderful foods, like always. A new palace was built for the new Sapa Inca. Cities had several palaces, but only one palace housed a living Sapa Inca.

Cuzco was a beautiful and busy place. Messengers traveled back and forth with news from across the empire. Armies, engineers, priests, and administrators arrived and left again, traveling to wherever in the empire they were needed. Llama trains arrived with loads of food and goods. There were religious celebrations every month.  

A massive fortress guarded the city. You had to pass through a huge tollgate to enter the city. The gateway guards checked everyone who came and went. They noted everything coming in. They made sure nothing precious was removed from the city without permission.

Most of the people in the Inca Empire were farmers. They lived in farming communities, and would probably never see the capital of Cuzco. The only people who actually lived in or just outside the city were the artisans who made artwork for the temples. People who lived nearby might travel into town for festivals or business. But the city was mainly used for the government.  

The city of Cuzco has many names. Some people spell it Cusco. The people who live in the modern day city of Cuzco seem to prefer the name Qosqo. Still others call the city Qusqu. Confusing, but there it is. However you spell it, Cuzco was the heart of the Inca Empire. It was the home of the ruling Sapa Inca as well as the home of all former Incas who each lived in their respective palaces, surrounded by family, servants, and aids.

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