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The Inca Fortress of Ollantaytambo


Ollantaytambo in the Urubamba Valley

Ollantaytambo is situated between steep mountains



Situated northwest of Cuzco in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, Ollantaytambo constitutes an important stop over point for tourists who take the train to Machu Picchu Pueblo.


Here is where the Sacred Valley section of the Urubamba Valley ends. from here northwest towards Machu Picchu and further even, it is called simply "Urubamba Valley".

Ollantaytambo is the northwesternmost place still included in the Sacred Valley.

It is located where the Patacancha River flows into the Vilcanota (Urubamba) River.


Ollantaytambo is 2.792 m above sea level. Interestingly, higher than Machu Picchu, but lower than Cuzco.




Ollantaytambo's History


The city was most probably built by Inca ruler Pachacuti (Pachacútec) between 1439 and 1471 AD.


Ollantaytambo is partly built on mountain sides.


When there, you will be able to admire the unbelievable construction. Irrigation systems and other aqueducts are still functioning today, huge stone blocks are perfectly carved and put together, forming solid walls... Agricultural terraces are also present around the city...


Pachacuti must have chosen Ollantaytambo for its strategic location. It was heavily fortified and served for military purposes, as well as civilian. The Inca army could guard the valley from here. In this case too, the fortification was built on higher ground.


Ollantaytambo is considered a fortress due to its immense solid walls, fortified gates, guard houses, very steep slopes.

A potential attacking force could hardly get through such defenses.

Even the conquistadores had a hard time getting in, despite the fact that on previous occasions they easily cut through the Inca army.


The Spanish first attacked Ollantaytambo in 1536, but the fortress was well-defended by Manco Inca, successor of Atahualpa (who was executed by the conquistadores). The conquistadores numbering 100 had 30.000 Inca renegade warriors on their side, while the Inca ruler Manco Capac defended Ollantaytambo with 30.000 of his forces.


During the Battle of Ollantaytambo the Inca defenders used the terrain and the agricultural terraces in their advantage.

The Inca had won over the attacking conquistadores, who have retreated during the night to Cuzco.

Later, the Inca army had to cede Ollantaytambo, because the Spaniards returned with reinforcements.




Ollantaytambo's Purpose


Similarly to Písac, this complex had multiple purposes as well.

The Incas had built a military, religious, administrative-political, agricultural and residential complex. Much larger than the ruins of Písac, but located at a lower altitude.

It is one of the biggest Inca cities discovered by the Spaniards.


Unlike Cuzco, the strategic location of Ollantaytambo is much better. It is on higher ground and it was built by taking account of the mountain's shape.

Strategically-located at the tip of a mountain where 2 valleys meet.


Ollantaytambo has just about everything around it: agricultural terraces irrigated by plentiful water coming from the mountains, gigantic stone walls and labyrinth-like layout behind the entrance, which hardens the invaders' struggle to get inside.




Architecture and Attractions of Ollantaytambo


The 2 main parts of Ollantaytambo are the Agricultural and the Urban Sector. In addition to them, there is a 3rd, smaller part of the city.


The Urban Sector is split into 2 parts as well: the Popular District and the Sacred District. The first one was the one in which most of the population had lived, while the second one was the part reserved to the religious, the high class Incas - this is where the temples are located.

The Popular District is located lower, while to the Sacred District you will have to climb. The "ordinary" people lived below, more exposed to possible attacks, while the high class Incas had the better views and more protection for themselves, at the higher levels.


The Incas had built many of their cities split into 2 main parts. This is also noticeable in the case of Machu Picchu (an agricultural and an urban part).


Ollantaytambo has sort of a suburban area, a bit further from the 2 urban sectors. This is the 3rd part of the city, which is called Arajama and it is situated just across the Patacancha River.


At a distance of approximately 3 km (1.8 mi), you will see a rock quarry. This is called the Cachicata.

Probably this was the site where the Inca workers had extracted the materials necessary for the construction of Ollantaytambo. Many carved rocks are still scattered around the quarry.


The construction of Ollantaytambo hasn't been finished. The reason is not known.


Interestingly, in Ollantaytambo there are buildings that have 2 and 3 floors. Quite unusual, because most Inca buildings (such as the ones in Machu Picchu) have a single floor.


One can distinguish the building types in Ollantaytambo, as well as in Machu Picchu or Písac.


There are colcas (warehouses for grain, potatoes and other food storage), similar to the ones found in Machu Picchu.


Tambos were also storage facilities, but these were located along the roads, the Inca Trail.


In other parts of this region you can see similar buildings that might have been tambos: Runcuracay (the "Egg Hut") - located near the Inca Trail leading to Machu Picchu (only accessible if you book in advance with a travel agency), another one is Tambomachay (quite close to Cuzco).


It is believed that Ollantaytambo also served as a tambo, even though it is much more than that, it is a city, in fact.


One of the most visible parts of the Urban District is the Main Square, called Plaza de Armas in Spanish. Just like in the case of Cuzco, this is an open space area. The Inca name for this square is pata. There are patas in Machu Picchu and other cities as well.


Ollantaytambo: the Terraces

Ollantaytambo: the Inca terraces



The Popular District


You will have to walk across the Popular District in order to reach the Sacred District.


The buildings of the low class "ordinary" Incas are located all in the Popular District. They are simple and usually smaller than the ones in the Sacred District.


The population of this part of Ollantaytambo consisted mostly of peasants, the working class etc.

Narrow streets run between the dwellings of this district.


Many of the houses within this sector were built of adobe bricks (hardened mud). This technique was widely used in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and Inner Asia.

Interestingly you will also find it here, in the Andes.


Some buildings have clay-covered walls and yellowish mortar-joined bricks.


Except homes, there are warehouses and interestingly even gardens in the proximity of the houses. 


The Popular District is protected by a wall that is 3 m high (9.8 ft) and 1,5 m (4.9 ft) wide.


The Sacred District


This part of Ollantaytambo is sometimes called "Temple Hill" and it has 3 sub-districts or sectors.


This part of Ollantaytambo has a large number of terraces that are well-preserved. Their walls are mostly intact.


Temples and the Intihuatana are located in this part of the city.


The "Temple of the Sun" is the central building in this district, but unfortunately this structure is partly destroyed. The Spaniards couldn't tolerate non-Christian religions.


If you walk the streets and reach up to the 2 main stairways and you'll find that the Incas haven't finished constructing all of their dwellings. They might have been interrupted by the Spanish Conquest of the Inca Empire or, the hadn't had the time, resources or enough reasons for bringing the work to the end.


The Arajama Part of Ollantaytambo


Located just across the River Patacancha, this is the 3rd and smaller part of Ollantaytambo.

Manco Inca was the last Inca Emperor and he had this part constructed for improving the defense against the Spaniards.




Mysteries and the Unique Values of Ollantaytambo


This place is more than the ruins of "just an ordinary city".

Many ignore Ollantaytambo, because they are attracted by the more renowned attractions like Machu Picchu and Sacsayhuamán. True, the latter ones look more beautiful. But, Ollantaytambo has things that other ruins don't have.


Ollantaytambo bears the marks of pre-Inca cultures and it was discovered by archaeologists that the city sits on older Inca buildings (previously there were some dwellings and Ollantaytambo was built on top of them).


Ollantaytambo is special among Inca ruins also because it reflects multiple construction techniques. Here, one can observe the usage of mortar, adobe bricks, the variety of stones that were used for wall building. In case of Sacsayhuamán, Písac, Tambomachay or Machu Picchu, we know that the dry stone technique was applied.




Coricancha Remains


In the 1930s, a group of archaeologist have come across greenish stones in the ground at Ollantaytambo. These were found under some of the buildings. After analyzing the layout, they figured out that it must have been a Coricancha temple (the one in Cuzco is the most well-preserved Coricancha).




Signs of Pre-Inca cultures


On the stones used for construction, one can observe animal-shapes, carvings. Specialists say that these cannot be attributed to the Inca culture, but to other cultures that must have created them.


Some of these cultures might have been conquered by the Inca or might have "blended in" with them.




Signs of the Tiahuanaco Culture


Tiahuanaco is a famous Inca site in Bolivia.

The "Temple of the Sun" in Ollantaytambo looks very similar to the constructions at Tiahuanaco: the walls look similar, this including the 6 reddish stone clocks that have smaller rocks stuck between them and there is a water and fertility symbol that is also common.




Getting There


The best way is to take the train to Ollantaytambo, but it is also reachable on road, for example by bus.

The distance from Cuzco is 80-90 km (approximately 53 mi) on road or rail. In straight line it is half that much.


Most travelers who travel to Machu Picchu stop over at Ollantaytambo, look around and they continue their trip northwards.



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