I’ve noticed the sky more since arriving in the Andes—
—maybe because the sun’s rays are stronger along the equator, or because higher elevations intensify encounters with that light. Whichever the case, the sky seems closer to the surface of the earth, at least here in the southern part of the country, more moody and brooding, the clouds constantly shifting shape, the weather changing in an instant, from sunny and warm to overcast and cool—and with the arrival of evening or rain, darkening and damp. But even as my experience of the sky has been heightened, the earth’s relative position to the sun shifted the weekend before last, as well, with the arrival of the solstice and two days later, this summer’s “supermoon.”
We celebrated these events with a day-trip to Ingapirca–a site popular on many Ecuador tours.
The most significant Inca ruin in Ecuador, Ingapirca is a Kitchwa word meaning “Inca wall.” A stop for some when hiking the Inca trail, this ruin is in the Cañar province and sits at an elevation of 10,200 feet (3,100 meters). Though not as impressive as Machu Pichu, Ingapirca is worth the two-hour trip from Cuenca, if you want to enjoy a ride through the Andean country side, alone–not to mention appreciate the stunning marriage of Inca and local Cañari architecture at the site.
In the 15th century, as conquering Inca warriors moved north from the Peruvian Andes, they were unable to completely subdue the Cañari people, living in what is now southern Ecuador. Instead the Inca ruler Túpac Yupanqui married a Cañari princess, and together their people built a temple at Ingapirca, on the site where the Cañari, as well, had worshipped.
Once we’d arrived at the ruin, we enjoyed the colorful dress of contemporary Cañari families coming to Ingapirca to celebrate the solstice as their ancestors had.
In the 1960s archeologists began excavating this site (one that the invading Spanish destroyed in the 16th century), uncovering, among other things, a complex system of underground aqueducts the Incas had built to provide water throughout the complex.
Archeologists also uncovered stones that the Cañari had used as calendars. Experts believe, priests filled the stone’s 28 holes with water, and according to shifts in moonlight reflected in that liquid, identified the day in each of their 13 months.
The site at Ingapirca was used primarily for worship by the Incas, who built a temple at the center of the complex, a structure that allowed light to fall in one of four nooks in the innermost wall, according to which solstice or equinox it was.
However, perhaps, most significant and enlightening to us, visiting on a weekend that marked both the solstice and supermoon, was the site’s marriage of Cañari and Inca building practices—the marriage of Cañari worship of the moon with Inca adoration of the sun.
The temple complex, for example, mixes Inca and Cañari architecture, creating the only oval-shaped Inca structure in the world—oval according to Cañari custom, in honor of the moon—but with right-angled mortarless stones—the Inca way, in honor of the sun.
The outer-most walls of the complex were constructed out of stones taken directly from area rivers. The rocks remained uncut and organic, joined with mortar, rough and irregular, but shaped into walls that, to this day, wind and twist and take right angles, all in turn.
We enjoyed seeing what our guide called “collcas,” circular structures where excess grain, especially corn, was stored.
And since we visited on a solstice weekend, we were able to watch reinactments of Cañari and Inca ritual practices, especially those involving music, procession, and dance.
Finally, if your travel to Ecuador includes a visit Ingapirca, be sure to hike, as we did, to see the Inca face carved into a rock face in the nearby countryside.
So, as Sara and I make our way in Ecuador, establishing ourselves in this place that’s new only to us, I hope, we won’t forget our visit to Ingapirca, a site sacred to Cañari and Incas, alike. I hope, we’ll remember, as they did, to mix a bit of new with remains of the old—looking to the sky as they did, appreciating both the greater (solar) and lesser (lunar) lights that shine on our lives in this, their utterly lovely land.