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


Chinchaysuyu—Innovative Engineering and Valuable Resources

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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.


Chinchaysuyu was the largest suyu and the empire’s most important agricultural region. The territory covered much of modern-day Peru, Ecuador, and part of Colombia. The landscape featured large open valleys, deep canyons, high plateaus, coastal valleys, and deserts, giving road builders many challenges.

Chinchaysuyu and Antisuyu together formed the hanan, or upper half, of Tawantinsuyu.

The road to Chincha passed through many villages.... It was paved, and bounded on each side by a wall.

—Francisco Xerez, assistant to Francisco Pizarro, 1534

Chinchaysuyu map

Building the Road

Bridges: Q’eswachaka Suspension Bridge

The Q’eswachaka suspension bridge on the Apurímac River in Peru has been in use for 500 years. Made of grasses, vines, and other perishable materials, the bridge is rebuilt regularly. Villages join together to do the work, accompanied by rituals, music, dance, and feasting. Every chaka (bridge) on the Qhapaq Ñan was built to meet local conditions, using local resources and the knowledge of local people.

The Q’eswachaka is the last surviving suspension bridge built with Inka techniques. Suspension technology is still being used around the world today to build bridges.

We found bridges like nets over a very large and powerful river...which was a marvelous thing to see.

—Francisco de Xerez, assistant to Francisco Pizarro, 1534


A source of food, drink, and offerings, corn was highly prized by the Inka. They introduced the crop to every conquered territory and built agricultural terraces on mountainsides to make room for the many varieties. The most revered was a white corn called Mamasara (Mother Corn).


Mullu—shells of the thorny oyster (Spondylus princeps)—were sacred objects, symbolizing water and fertility. They are found only off the northern coast of Chinchaysuyu. The abundance or scarcity of mullu was a predictor of weather for the next 12 months. In times of drought, priests offered mullu to deities to ask for rain.

Mullu were found at depths of 50 meters (165 feet). Obtaining these shells was difficult and dangerous, which made them rare and valuable.