Peru: Entry 5

8 November 2002: Cusco, Peru

Subject: Peru


Well we've been in Cusco for about a week and have visited most of the attractions in the city and the immediate vicinity. And I can think of no better adjective than "Rubbish"! Cusco calls itself the "Cultural Capital of Humanity", or some such hyperbole, but frankly places like Bridport or a tiny village in Cambridgeshire whose name I can't remember are better at organising a museum.

Here it is normal to find display cases with not a single label. For example, in the Museum of Religious Art there is a pair of rooms containing about a dozen panels of a huge mural painting - recognisably set in Cusco, but without a single word of explanation. Then in another museum they had a room with about four very exotic cloaks, with lots of gold threads and other finery. They could be part of a bishop's regalia, but with not a single word of explanation (in any language) how are we supposed to know? (And these things were held in place in their cases with huge great nails right through the fabric!).

Actually the post-conquest art is more impressive than the Inca stuff, since all of the nice Inca stuff was destroyed and melted down by the Conquistadors. But some records do exist and I'm surprised that there has been no attempt at describing it. The religious center of Inca Cusco was a complex containing temples of the Sun and Moon, the sun temple being plastered in gold and arranged so that sunlight would reflect off everything. Similarly the moon temple was covered in silver. Outside they had fields of maize made from gold and silver. The conquistadors took all the precious metals and eventually built a convent over the ruins. But in 1950 an earthquake partially destroyed the convent, leaving much of the Inca stonework visible. You can now visit this - but there is simply no effort to describe what it might once have been like, or to even tell any of the history. Worse than that the Inca rooms have labels that are essentially made up, such as "Sacrifice Room" - a lump of post-conquest carved stone is placed in the middle of the room to give the impression of an altar.

I'm afraid I don't have any photos of the ghastly places to scan for you: all of the museums ban photography. But they then they don't sell any postcards or guidebooks, so no-one has any record of their visit. Probably best to forget it as quickly as possible.

One day we went out to Chinchero, a village about an hour away with a craft market [you can imagine the glint in Christine's eyes] and some ruins. The ruins were quite impressive - lots of agricultural terraces still being used to grow potatos, and some buildings on the top. But not a word of explanation of course. Then where the temple had been there was a church of rather rustic construction. Despite - or perhaps because of - its rustic architecture it was most splendidly decorated inside: lots of fabulous wall and ceiling paintings. But of course you can't buy any souvenir postcards or take any pictures...

There are various archaeological sites just outside Cusco that are easy to visit, but not one of them has a single word of explanation anywhere. (The Mexicans do far better than this at their pre-conquest sites.) Then there's the question of how much of the stonework is original and how much is modern construction. Quite why they feel the need to build what they think may have been on top of the remaining Inca foundations I really don't know, but it's generally not difficult to tell the difference between the perfect Inca stonework and the modern, which is like a DTCV-quality dry stone wall with cement holding it together! If they could have put just some of the effort that has gone into this contruction work into a few information panels it would be a much better experience.

Here is a picture of part of the ruins at Pisac, north of Cusco (and also featuring a nice craft market....). The central temple complex has some nice stonework that you can see in the background, and the Inca water channels, of which they were very fond, are still working.

Anyway that's enough whinging. I will try and find something nice to say next time.