As we traveled from the Spanish re-located town of Pisac up the slopes of the valley toward the original Inca pueblo, the slopes of the mountains began to take on a peculiar shape. Hundreds of feet of terraced land constructed over 500 years ago during the Incan empire helped shape this area and turn the steep sides of Andes’ peaks into farmable and productive land. The construction is nothing short of genius. Not only does terracing the slopes create more land to be farmed, it creates microclimates from which multiple crops can be grown at different levels. For example, the sinkhole-like terraces at Moray, which we visited this past Sunday, trap heat and create different climates at each level, allowing crops to grow tens of feet from each other that normally require thousands of feet of separation to thrive. Furthermore, the rock walls of these terraces are built at an angle in order to ensure support of the land above it. Large terraces are supported by small terraces right below as extra support, and all is crisscrossed with old pathways and stairs up the sides.
- These ancient techniques of farming have fallen out of use since the Spanish conquest, but recent challenges due to climate change have caused some areas of the Andes to reexamine the Inca way of agriculture. Terraces and irrigation systems are being rebuilt, not only because it is more productive, but because it ensures greater protection from drought in the face of global warming. Unfortunately, a lot of the farming and terracing knowledge also disappeared along with traditional Incan farming due to Spanish pressures. The influence of the Spanish can be seen by the relocation of the entire town of Pisac from the mountainside at least a thousand feet up to the valley below, substituting Incan architecture for Spanish-style buildings and Christian churches. It is now the job of anthropologists and archeologists to reconstruct the Inca way of farming if these terracing systems are to be put into use again. Much of the small populations and towns high in the mountains suffer from malnutrition due to lack of variety of foods consumed. Hundreds of years ago the Inca found a solution to this, by terracing the land, creating microclimates in which multiple different crops could grow. This is a beautiful example of the use of space, taking one of the harshest climates and molding it in their favor. While the Spanish may have come for gold and left satisfied, some of the real treasure left in South America is the knowledge and adaptivity of the Inca empire, still do this day seen throughout the mountains etched in stone.