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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    Camana, Peru, 2014. Photo by Doug McMains, NMAI.


Contisuyu—The Road to the Sea

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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.


Contisuyu, the smallest of the four suyus, gave the Inka important resources from the sea. Here, breathtaking vertical slopes rise from sea level to the heights of the western Andes. A land of dramatic peaks, volcanoes, and deep gorges, Contisuyu presented complex problems for Inka engineers.

Building the Road

Colca Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in the world. Its name comes from the idea that the canyon forms one immense storehouse or granary (colca). Many of its slopes have been reshaped by terracing.

Colcas—Storehouses for an Empire

Surplus food, clothing, raw materials, and other items were kept in state storage facilities called colcas. Colcas were part of the Inka system of collecting food and goods from every suyu and redistributing them among the empire’s inhabitants. This system guaranteed the survival of the empire and its people in years when harvests were poor.

More than 1,000 colcas—the largest group known—have been found at Mawkallaqta, Peru.

There are houses that store contributions brought to the chiefs as tribute.... Feathers...shields, armor, utensils, footwear, copper plaques to cover house walls, knives and other tools, breastguards for soldiers...all in such quantity.

—Pedro Sancho de la Hoz, secretary to Francisco Pizarro, 1533


Terraces were carved out of mountainsides to create level ground for crops. The changes in altitude from mountain peak to sea level create microclimates for a great variety of plants. No other Andean culture built terraces on the same scale as the Inka.

Ocean Resources

Contisuyu gave Cusco direct access to the ocean and its riches, including fish, shells, seaweed, and wanu (guano, seabird droppings used as fertilizer).


A highly coveted wild cotton grew in the coastal valleys of Contisuyu. Strong, thick, resilient, and durable, it was used to make sturdy textiles, blankets, fishing nets, and ropes. The Inka state closely controlled its production, distribution, and consumption.

The wild cotton of Contisuyu changes color as the plant matures, producing shades of white, tan, brown, and gray.

The eight-pointed star is an important Inka motif, reserved for persons of high rank. The design was particularly prevalent in Contisuyu.