Situated in the Peruvian Andes, Cuzco developed — under the Inca ruler Pachacutec — into a complex urban center with distinct religious and administrative functions. When the Spaniards conquered it in the 16th century, they preserved the basic structure but built Baroque churches and palaces over the ruins of the Inca city.
The City of Cuzco (also spelled Cusco), at 3,400 m (11,155 ft) above sea level, is located in a fertile alluvial valley fed by several rivers in the heart of the Central Peruvian Andes of South America. Under the rule of Inca Pachacuteq (Tito Cusi Inca Yupanqui), in the 15th century, the city was redesigned and remodeled after a pre-Inca occupation process of over 3,000 years, and became the capital of the Tawantinsuyu Inca Empire, which covered much of the South American Andes between the 15th and 16th centuries A.D.
The Imperial city of the Incas was developed as a complex urban center with distinct religious and administrative functions which were perfectly defined, distributed and organized. The religious and government buildings were accompanied by the exclusive abodes for royal families, forming an unprecedented symbolic urban compound, which shows a stone construction technology with exceptional aesthetic and structural properties, such as the Temple of the Sun or Qoricancha, the Aqllahuasi, the Sunturcancha, the Kusicancha and a series of very finely finished buildings that shape the Inca compound as an indivisible unity of Inca urbanism.
The noble city was clearly isolated from the clearly delineated areas for agricultural, artisan and industrial production as well as from the surrounding neighborhoods. The pre-Hispanic patterns and buildings that shaped the Imperial city of the Incas are visible today.
With the Spanish conquest in the 16th century, the urban structure of the Inca imperial city of Cuzco was preserved and temples, monasteries and manor houses were built over the Inca city. They were mostly of baroque style with local adaptations, which created a unique and high quality mixed configuration representing the initial juxtaposition and fusion of different periods and cultures, as well as the city’s historic continuity.
The city’s remarkable syncretism is evident not only in its physical structure but also in the Viceroyalty's artistic expression. It became one of the most important centers of religious art creation and production in the continent. It is also important for its population’s customs and traditions, many of which still keep their ancestral origins.
From its complex past, woven with significant events and beautiful legends, the city has retained a remarkable monumental ensemble and coherence and is today an amazing amalgam of the Inca capital and the colonial city.
Of the Inca capital, it preserves impressive vestiges, especially its plan: walls of meticulously cut granite or andesite, rectilinear streets running within the walls, and the ruins of the Sun Temple.
Of the colonial city, there remain the freshly whitewashed squat houses, the palace and the marvelous Baroque churches which achieved the impossible fusion of the Plateresco, Mudejar or Churrigueresco styles with that of the Inca tradition.
The City of Cuzco provides a unique testimony to the urban and architectural achievements of important political, economic and cultural settlements during the pre-Columbian era in South America. It is a representative and exceptional example of the confluence of two distinct cultures; Inca and Hispanic, which through the centuries produced an outstanding cultural syncretism and configured a unique urban structure and architectural form.