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.


A Road for Religion

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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.


Worship of Inti, the sun, was a driving force behind Inka conquest. The Inka saw themselves as bringing true religion to all the world, while the natural resources of conquered lands provided rich offerings to Inti. The Qhapaq Ñan made this holy work possible.

Gold, silver, mullu (Spondylus shells), and certain ceramic forms were all very sacred for the Inka.

Ushnus—Altars of the Sun

Ushnus were stone platforms that served as altars for worshipping Inti, the sun. The Inka constructed them throughout their empire. They represented Inka power in a conquered territory.

On the upper platform, a priest would offer a sacred ceremonial drink to Inti—usually chicha (corn beer)—and pour out the liquid to return it to Pachamama (Mother Earth).

The Shapa Inka and His Court

The Shapa Inka (ruler) was regarded as a god. When he traveled on the Qhapaq Ñan, he made it sacred. Servants brushed the road clean before him.

When he was on the road, the full grandeur of the Inka state was on display. His entourage numbered several hundred people, including singers, dancers, guards, warriors, and servants.

Apachetas—Offerings for Safe Travel

Along the Qhapaq Ñan are sacred places, called apachetas, in the form of piles of stone. Here travelers leave offerings in thanks to the road, to Pachamama (Mother Earth), and to the apus (mountain gods) for protecting them during their journey.

Offerings at apachetas could be as simple as a small stone or a few coca leaves, or highly sacred objects such as mullu (Spondylus princeps shells) or figurines of gold or silver. Even today, Andean people often carry items to leave at an apacheta.