Pisac is located on the long crest of a 3000m high mountain overlooking the southern end of the Urubamba Valley or Sacred Valley.
Inca Pisac controlled a route which connected the Inca Empire with the border of the rain forest. According to Kim MacQuarrie, Pachacuti erected a number of royal estates after he conquered other ethnic groups to remember the victories. Among these royal estates are Pisac (victory over the Cuyos), Ollantaytambo (victory over the Tambos) and Machu Picchu (conquest of the Vilcabamba Valley) /2/. Other historians suggest that Pisac was established in order to protect Cusco from possible attacks of the Antis nations. The entire hillside is lined with agricultural terraces some of which are still in use today. These terraces were created by hauling richer topsoil from the lower lands by hand.
It is unknown when Inca Pisac was built. Since it does not appear to have been inhabited by any pre-Inca civilization, it was most likely built no earlier than 1440. It was distroyed by Pizarro and the Conquistadores in the early 1530s. The modern town of Pisac was built by Viceroy Toledo down in the valley during the 1570s.
The part of Inca Pisac just above the modern town of Pisco corresponds to the ritual space of Cuntur orrco (Condor Mountain) /1/. The buildings and terraces in this section form the outline of a Condor spreading its wings to take off. The Condor is regarded by the Andean people as the guardian spirit of the dead. Hence it is not surprising to find two cemeteries at the site of Inca Pisac. This interpretation by Fernando and Edgat Salazar puts Pisac into the framework of a bigger scheme across the entire Inca empire with Cusco representing a Puma, Ollantaytambo a Llama and Machu Picchu the bird Llulli (the latter supported by the claim the Machu Picchu as actually spelled Machu Pichiu which means “Old Bird”). In another more mundane interpretation, the narrow rows of terraces beneath the citadel Q'allaqasa are thought to represent the wing of a partridge (pisaca) from which the village and ruins got their name. Certainly the large and powerful Condor is a more impressive connection than that of a partridge. The local guides claimed that the name Pisaca was given to the site by the Spaniards stopping short of calling it an insult. However several sources on the Internet claim that “… the "P'isaq" name is genuine because it is consigned in some chronicles.”
Inca Pisac is divided into several sectors including Intihuatana, Pisaqa, Qanchisracay, Antachaka and Q'allaqasa.
Map of Inca Pisac. Reference: http://www.pomalaza.com
The first complex that is reached by visitors coming by bus is Qanchisracay, a small compound of rough stone buildings. This area probably served as a military garrison and may also have housed local villagers in case of attack. From Qanchisracay one turns to the right and the trail heads up the slope to a plateau called Antachaka. Here one can see a beautiful bath complex (for more information on the water system at Pisac click here.). On the other side of the plateau towers a several tens of meters tall rock wall with distinctive holes can be seen. This is the cemetery known as Tankanamarka, an important pre-conquest site that has been largely looted by grave robbers.
Left: View from the top of Q'allaqasa back to Qanchisracay. The terraces are called Andenes. Right: View Q'allaqasa to the bath of Antachaka. The cemetery of Tankanamarka is to the left (not visible in this picture).
Continuing the hike, one crosses the partially destroyed surrounding wall, in which the trapezoidal doorway named as Amarupunku (amaru = snake, punku = doorway) is located. Up the mountain is a sector known as Q'allaqasa (k'alla = cut, q'asa = pass). It contains many buildings of lesser quality, probably apartments, and storehouses. Following the trail there is a small tunnel drilled leading to the religious sector of Intiwatana (inti = sun, watana = fastener, aka “hitching-post of the Sun”). This is the most important district in P'isaq. It has ashlar type masonry. In the complex' central part is a semicircular building with one lateral straight wall which main gate is toward the south, the Sun Temple. In the middle of this building is a carved which is known as "Intiwatana".
Going down by the stairway towards the southeast of the "Intiwatana" sector is the P'isaqa district that has a somewhat semicircular shape following the mountain's silhouette. It has a few walls with carved stones. All over the complex there are farming terraces built even as far as the edge of precipices.
Left: View from Qanchisracay across the Andenes towards Q'allaqasa. The latter is the collection of buildings on the top. Right: View of P'isaqa with the P'isaqa terraces from the road before reaching Qanchisracay.
1. “Cusco and the Sacred Valley of the Incas”; Fernando and Edgar Elorrieta Salazar, p. 70
2. ”The last Days of the Incas”; Kim MacQuarrie, p. 439