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The Inca Agricultural Terraces (Andinas)

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The Ancient Inca Agricultural Terraces Still Functional Today!


Agricultural Terraces Near the Town of Písac

Andinas or Agricultural Terraces near the town of Písac



The Incas had built extensive agricultural cultivation and irrigation systems that still work today. These produce just like they did 5 centuries ago!

In Spanish, the stepped agricultural "systems" are called "andinas", which comes from the word Andes. The name of the mountains that stretch from Venezuela through Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, then further down to Bolivia, Chile and Argentina.


The vast majority of these agricultural terraces are built on the sides of mountains and hills. The Incas planted potatoes, crops and other plants.

Reasons for creating stepped agricultural "fields" are various...

If you notice on the map, the Sacred Valley region is surrounded by very high mountains. The sun's rays don't reach deep enough in the valley, which remain cooler in their bottoms. The mountain sides ensure more intense sunlight for longer time during the day.

In some parts there is little space in the valleys, so the usage of steps actually increases the area available for agriculture.

Another reason is the fact that they could better control the amount of water used for the irrigation of the plants.


Nevertheless, the stepped agriculture is complex, requires hard work for creation, but ensures food over a long period of time.

Benefits include defense against possible landslides, floods. This way the water doesn't accumulate and run down on the towns below. The rocks used for creating the steps strengthen the sides of the mountains, thus protecting what is in the valleys from possible mudslides during heavy rainfall.

The Incas had had to cope with floods that could have destroyed their agricultural fields and homes in the valleys. Higher ground protects the plantations from disaster. The Vilcanota River can be terrifying when its affluents and intense rain increase its volume. Recently, in early 2010 it has shown its force once again, twisting railway lines, demolishing buildings.


During the glorious period of the Inca Empire (some 500-700 years ago), the Sacred Valley must have been one of the most agriculturally productive regions in the World. When the Europeans were waiting for the rain to come, the Incas were controlling the irrigation of the terraces by diverting small quantities of water from mountain rivers.

This way, the threat of drought was practically eliminated. Unlike in the case of the Maya civilization, which had collapsed partly because of a long period of rainlessness.

The Incas used different types of earth for different species of plants. They also controlled the quantity of water used accordingly. Some plants require more moisture, others less...,of course.


Parts of Machu Picchu are also covered with terraces. On some areas tourists can see how aqueducts are still transporting water. Even today, they function perfectly!


Remarkably, the Sacred Valley is Peru's most productive agricultural region today. Locals use the old terraces to produce their food, just like their ancestors did many hundreds of years ago.


A very unusual terrace cultivation site is the one near Moray (called the Moray Terraces). It consists of "sunken" circular terraces. They were dug into the ground and resemble meteorite craters. It is believed that the Incas were experimenting by planting under different conditions: it was colder deeper in the craters, warmer on the higher levels and again, different types of soil were used according to plant species and the sunlight intensity was also variating from higher to lower ground.



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