Why Inti Raymi is the Biggest Festival of Peru
June is probably the most colorful month in the city of Cusco, full of events and activities. The most important day, June 24, is approaching quickly: it’s the day of Inti Raymi.
Inti Raymi is a traditional Inca festival literally translated as sun festival. It is celebrated in villages all over the old Inca Empire in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina. But of course the biggest festival is held in Cusco, the former capital of the Inca Empire.
Inti Raymi was a religious ceremony which honored the sun god (Inti) at the time of the winter solstice. The ceremony was also said to tell tales of the mythical origin of the Incas. It lasted for nine days and was filled with colorful dances and processions, as well as animal sacrifices to give thanks to the Gods and to ensure a good harvest.
The first Inti Raymi was held in 1412, it was a tradition created by Sapa Inca Pachacuti to celebrate the Inca New Year. The last Inti Raymi with the Inca Emperor’s presence was carried out in 1535. After this the Spanish banned the ceremony in an attempt to kill off indigenous culture. The ceremony was re-created for the first time in 1944 mostly based on the writings of Garcilaso de la Vega – a famous chronicler, and son of a Spanish conquistador and an Inca noblewoman. Since 1944 this theatrical representation of the religious ceremony has been taking place at the Inca Fortress of Sacsayhuamán, above the city of Cusco. That’s is about 3km away from where the original ceremony would have taken place in the city´s main plaza.
Nowadays Inti Raymi attracts thousands of tourists each year, both foreign and national. Ceremonies take place at three main locations in Cusco:
- At the Templo del Qorikancha, – which was the main temple in the time of the Inca – the ceremony will begin at 8.00am, they will re-enact the ceremony in which the Inca will make offerings to the gods. El Sinchi (general of the inca army) las accllas (the hidden women) las t’ika t’aqaqkunas (the women who lay flowers on the floor for the Inca to pass) los pichaqkunas (the men that clean the floor) and the Inca´s wife will all make an appearance. After the ceremony they will be led to the Plaza de Armas.
- The Plaza de Armas, is where the second act takes place. More ceremonies are carried out including when the Inca would have sacrificed a llama. They are then led to Saqsayhuaman for the final part of the ceremony.
We took the left rather than the right, though, as we wanted a short easy stroll. We walked along the dirt road on the other side of the river until the next bridge crossing back over, about 2 hours of leisurely walking. Along the whole road we saw ruins, from terracing to small complexes of buildings. The day was beautiful, and the scenery idyllic with cows grazing about us and crops bursting out everywhere, even amongst the ruins.
- At Saqsaywaman, at approximately 1.30pm, the third act of inti Raymi will start. There is a grand ceremony, the most important and impressive of the day. Including the Inka and all his helpers plus the Inca army. All in the spectacular setting of the fort of Saqsayhuaman.