The Main Andean Road links the peaks of the Andes to the coast, running through rain forests, alleys and deserts in South America. Qhapaq Ñan is an extensive Inca communication, trade and defense network of roads, traversing one of the world’s most extreme geographical terrains.
Main Andean Road
The Main Andean Road was the backbone of the Inca Empire’s political and economic power. The whole network of roads, at least 23,000 km (14,300 mi) in length, connected various production, administrative and ceremonial centers constructed over more than 2,000 years of pre-Inca Andean culture throughout South America.
The main axis of the route, also known as the "Royal Road" runs along the peaks of the Andes which is at it's most discernible between Quito and Mendoza. In addition to this backbone over the highest peaks, other roads also run in a north-south direction along the Pacific coast. The best known portion of the road system is known as the "Inca Trail" to Machu Picchu.
The Inca Empire organized its network on a continent-wide scale; its roads are an invaluable expression of the organizing and planning spirit of the available labor force and constituted a key instrument in unifying the Empire physically and organizationally.
Constructed by the pre-Hispanic Andean communities over several centuries, the network reached its maximum expansion in the 15th century, during the consolidation of the Tawantinsuyu, when it spread across the length and breadth of the Andes Mountains.
The network is based on four main routes, which originate from the central square of Cuzco, the capital of the Tawantinsuyu. These main routes are connected to several other road networks of lower hierarchy, which created linkages and cross-connections.
Qhapaq Ñan, Andean Road System
This World Heritage property consists of 137 component areas and 308 associated archaeological sites, covering 616 km (382 mi) of the Qhapaq Ñan. The serial property highlights the achievements of the Incas in architecture and engineering along with its associated infrastructure for trade, storage and accommodation as well as sites of religious significance.
The road network was the outcome of a political project implemented by the Incas linking towns and centers of production and worship together under an economic, social and cultural program in the service of the State.
The Qhapaq Ñan, Andean Road System, is an extraordinary road network through one of the world’s most extreme geographical terrains used over several centuries by caravans, travelers, messengers, armies and whole population groups amounting up to 40,000 people.
It was the lifeline of the Tawantinsuyu, linking towns and centers of production and worship over long distances. Towns, villages and rural areas were thus integrated into a single road grid.
Several local communities who remain traditional guardians and custodians of Qhapaq Ñan segments continue to safeguard associated intangible cultural traditions including languages.
The Qhapaq Ñan, by its sheer scale and quality of the road, is a unique achievement of engineering skills in the most varied of geographical terrains. The road links snow-capped Andes mountain ranges – at an altitude of more than 6,600 m (21,650 ft) high – to the coast, running through hot rain forests, fertile valleys and absolute deserts.
It demonstrates mastery in engineering technology used to resolve myriad problems posed by the Andes variable landscape by means of variable road construction technologies, bridges, stairs, ditches and cobblestone pavings.