Peru is a melting pot of old and new — or rather simply old and ancient — and there’s nowhere better to see it than in the old Inca capital, Cusco.

The first thing I noticed about Cusco is its amazing architecture. Its historic core is lined with beautiful old Spanish colonial buildings with European flare. But as we walked around, I began to notice that many of the foundations of the buildings were made from curious large stone cubes. They were unlike any other foundations I’ve seen in Europe or the Americas.

The reason is because they’re actually Inca.

The Inca were master stoneworkers and no one quite knows exactly how they created such perfect cubes from stone that perfectly fit together without mortar.

Most Inca buildings were single level stone structures with thatch roofs. When the Spanish arrived, they often built directly on top of the Inca stonework, using it as a foundation or basement level.

Perhaps the best example of old and new fused together is the Koricancha.

The Koricancha was the Inca’s Temple of the Sun. It is one of the best preserved examples of Inca architecture because the Spanish colonials simply built their Convent of Santo Domingo around it. As a result, it has been continually maintained and in continuous use since its construction. The picture above shows the Inca walls that were once the exterior of the Koricancha. Now they are part of the interior walls of the convent’s cloister.

But it’s not just beautiful churches that incorporated the solid construction of the Incas.

The entire historic core is filled with examples of colonial and Inca architecture melting together. I stepped into a store off the Plaza des Armas looking for a sun hat and was surprised to see it’s exterior wall was actually Inca. Peaking behind the merchandise, I could even see the iconic Inca niches.

The history of the Americas, and the New World’s first contact with Europe, is a complicated and often bloody tale. The conquistadors were, after all, conquerers.

But seeing the ancient and layered buildings in Cusco is a good reminder that Peru’s story goes back way into the distant past — and that it isn’t over yet.

Related reading:

Three things to do at least one month before you travel to Peru

The one thing I learned about Peru just from glancing at the guidebooks

— Laura Rowley

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Written by Laura Rowley

I am an artist, flight attendant, and travel blogger.

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