Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Magic of Inca Terraces

If there was one thing in common among the different towns that we visited on our weekend trips, be it Pisac or Maras, it would be the magnificent terraces found everywhere in the ancient Inca Empire ruins. Today, the terraces might only give us aesthetic pleasure, but for the Incas, the terraces were part of an important strategy to maximize their agricultural production. Were it not for the terraces, the Inca people could not survive at a high altitude or withstand the cold weather on the mountains.

The ruins in Pisac were the first major ancient Inca site that we visited. Located in the Sacred Valley which is an hour away from Cuzco, Pisac was once an old town where the Incas lived. After the Spaniards arrived, the conquistadors forced the Pisac citizens to abandon the city and build a new town. Although the old Pisac was emptied since then, the terraces remained and some of them are still in use today. The terraces allowed the local people to grow a variety of crops that otherwise might not have been compatible to grow on the same piece of land. In addition, by separating the hills into different levels, terraces increased the amount of food people could get from one season. Of course, the brilliant Incas also made sure to include different layers of rocks and soils in the terraces so that the rainfalls could go through from the surface, not causing the mountain to slide. In this way, Inca wisdom still benefits the local farmers to this day.

If the Pisac ruins demonstrate how the Incas solved the problem of a lack of land among mountains, then the Moray ruins demonstrate how the Incas combatted the cold weather at high altitude. The Moray ruins are located near a rural town called Maras, which is also an hour away from Cuzco. Although the hike from Maras to Moray was slightly torturous, the view on the way as well as Moray itself was magnificent. Unlike other ruins whose terraces were usually parallel half circles along the mountain, the terraces in Moray were levels of concentric circles. According to the BBC documentary The Inca——Master Of The Clouds, these circles help maintain the temperature on each level because the rocks along the walls absorb heat from the sun in the day and radiated the heat back out during the night. Therefore, the surrounding plants can grow properly at the right temperature.

Nature didn’t give the Incas the best land to survive but they still managed to make the most out of it and maintained their empire for long enough that their creations could still be appreciated today.

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