Inka Universe

The city of Cusco is the principal one of all the cities and is the residence
of the nobles, and is so great and beautiful that it would be worthy of Spain.

—Pedro Sancho de la Hoz, secretary to Francisco Pizarro, 1534

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    Paratia District, Peru, 2014. Photo by Doug McMains, NMAI.


Building the Road

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    Select highlighted words to hear them spoken in Quechua.

    The Inka spoke the Quechua language, which is still spoken today in the Andes.


The Qhapaq Ñan is an engineering marvel: 40,000 kilometers (nearly 25,000 miles) of roadway across grasslands, rainforest, desert, valleys, and mountains. Its builders did it all without wheeled carts, iron tools, or large work animals. Inka engineers tailored their design to the landscape, drawing upon the expert knowledge and labor of local populations.

On hillsides...[the road] is flat as if the land around it were, too. In muddy places and marshes, it is paved, and in abrupt drops and rises, it has steps and sidewalls of stone.

—Miguel de Estete, Noticia del Perú [News from Peru], 1535

Mit’a and Ayni—Labor and Reciprocity

Mit’a was a labor tax. The head of every household under Inka rule had to work for the state for a period of time each year. The work could involve agriculture, road construction, military service, or other tasks. In exchange, the Inka state gave its citizens food and other goods.

This exchange is rooted in ayni (reciprocity), the central code of Andean peoples. Ayni is based on the idea that members of a community support one another.