writer, teacher, traveler, and lazy gardener

Tag: Peru

Machu Picchu: the Real Thing

mona_lisa_by_leonardo_da_vinci_from_c2rmf_retouchedGrowing up, there were two works of art that made a big impression on me. One was the Mona Lisa  and the other was Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Poster-sized versions (24″ x 36″) were mounted in my father’s study, and I’d see them regularly.  They were significant not because I found them beautiful or fascinating, but based on my experience when I saw them in real life for the first time. les_demoiselles_d-avignon-boostedThe Mona Lisa is much smaller and the Picasso is enormous compared to the poster: roughly 8 ft by 8 ft. My expectations of each were turned upside down.  I couldn’t reconcile the indelible image in my mind with the real thing. The Da Vinci was less compelling while the Picasso overwhelmed me. I recall it took me a few moments to view the art as it was—rather than what I thought it should be.

I’ve never felt this more keenly than at Machu Picchu. As a teen I was rabid to visit the Incan ruins once I saw the documentary Chariots of the Gods, based on the Erich Von Daniken book. The movie theorized that aliens were responsible for its construction along with other ancient mysteries, like the pyramids. A place built by aliens? How could I not see that?! Finally, this summer, a teen dream was fulfilled.

For the first hour in Machu Picchu, I had to pinch myself because a) I couldn’t believe I was there, and b) I again had to reconcile my expectations. While the stone ruins were absolutely a marvel of engineering: How were granite stones fitted seamlessly without mortar? How were the structures built without the use of the wheel? Was it a city, temple, agricultural center or all three? … What transfixed me more was the landscape. The breathtaking site was framed by the magnificent Huayna Picchu or “young peak.” No photo can truly capture it.  As the mist rolled in and out during the day, the mysteries of the sacred citadel were amplified even more.

Here are a few photos. Of course, they don’t do it justice, but for me, they are a new placeholder in my mind of the real thing.

As for the alien theory, I’m no longer buying it.


La Compañia de Jesus: the Price of Gold

Recently, I visited Peru and Ecuador, and I prepared for the trip by reading Kim MacQuarrie’s book, Last Days of the Incas. While I already knew about the Spanish invasion and colonization of Central America, I became fascinated by how 168 conquistadors, led by Francisco Pizarro, seized control of the Incan empire of 10 million, using brute force, advanced battle tactics, i.e., horses, and deceit. The vestiges and lasting impacts of South America’s bloody and oppressive history are well documented, particularly in the churches throughout the region.

La Compañia de Jesus, located in Quito’s historical center, is a dazzling and mind-blowing testament to the Spanish conquerors’ obsession with gold and religious dominance. The entire interior is covered in gold leaf—4 tons of it! Their desire for the precious metal had everything to do with accumulating wealth for themselves as well as colonizing and controlling access to the rich lands. As MacQuarrie says the conquistadors were “entrepreneurs with guns.” For the Incans, gold was considered sacred but it had no monetary value like it did for the Spanish.

Iglesia_de_La_Compañía_Quito_Ecuador_altar view

View of the altar

The Jesuits broke ground on the church in 1605 and it was completed 160 years later in 1765. It’s a spectacular example of baroque architecture, craftsmanship and Moorish design influences. It’s an overwhelming sight, especially when you think about its history and what it ultimately “cost” the indigenous culture to help build it.

Photos: Wikimedia Commons

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