Footprints of acllawasi
Ecotourism

Inca Ruins in Cuenca, Ecuador

“Everything has crumbled and in ruins but you can still appreciate how grand it was.”
— Pedro Cieza de León, 1547, chronicler of the Spanish conquest, speaking about Tomebamba

 

Visiting Inca ruins in Cuenca, Ecuador by city bus is easy because they are in the middle of the city.

 

Northern Inca Capital

The Inca conquered the Cañari people in 1470 and established the city-state of Tomebamba (Large Plateau) high in the Andes mountains. Emperor Huayna Capac (ruled 1493-1525) selected Tomebamba, where he was born, to be the Inca northern capital.

It was a short lived capital. A civil war between Incan brothers in the 1520s led to it’s destruction. When the Spanish arrived in 1532, it was already in ruins. They established the modern day city of Santa Ana de los Ríos de Cuenca, burying most of the ruins under new buildings.

 

Pumapungo Archaeological Park

Today, the remains of the old capital are in the historic center of Cuenca, Ecuador’s third largest city. Visit Pumapungo (Puma Gate) Archaeological Park, located near the Tomebamba river, to stroll among Inca ruins in the middle of a city.

The features include footprints of buildings, a pool, ovens, gardens, terraces, canals, and a mausoleum.

 

Acllas (also called Chosen Women, Virgins of the Sun, and Wives of the Inca)

On top of the terraced hill are footprints of acllawasi (house of the chosen women) buildings where sequestered young women lived and learned. The acllas were selected when they were between ages 8 and 10. Families whose girls were selected saw their own social status rise as their daughter left home for training. During their 4 years in the acllawasi the girls learned to produce luxury items like fine woven cloths, to prepare ritual foods, and other skills to service the social elite.

Once trained, some of the acllas were given as wives to warriors who distinguished themselves in battle. Others were concubines for the emperor and a few lived out their lives in the acllawasi. Those deemed most perfect were selected for human sacrifice during religious rites.

Footprints of acllawasi
Footprints of acllawasi

 

Next to the acllawasi remnants are two huge ovens. One can imagine wood burning in the middle layer with food on the top layer.

 

Inca oven
Looking into an Inca oven

The door on the bottom right was for emptying ash and adding wood.

Pool, Terraces, and Gardens

The artificial pool at the foot of the terraced hill is spring fed and canals carried water from the pool to the gardens.

 

Inca terraces
Terraces behind the pool

 

The pool and the gardens are some distance from one another. A long canal leads from the edge of the pool to the gardens.

 

Inca water canal
Canal from pool to gardens

 

Gardens shaped like a large cloverleaf emerge at the other end of the canal. Today, gardeners plant the same vegetables in the same areas as during Inca times.

 

Inca terraces
View of terraces from gardens

 

Inca gardens in cloverleaf shape
View of gardens from terraces

Mausoleum

While walking up the hill from the garden, a locked gate is in the middle of a terrace wall. A tunnel leads to a room high enough for humans to stand and more than 30 meters (100 feet) long. It was a mausoleum where mummies were held for worship and veneration.

 

Tunnel leading to mausoleum
Tunnel leading to mausoleum

Admission

A great aspect of this park is that admission is free. Since it is in the middle of the city, residents can walk to the park or take a city bus. I have seen groups of teenagers, couples and families walking around. It is popular to hang out on the grass, enjoying the surroundings. Everyone seems to be respectful of the rules to stay off the stone walls.

Did you know there are Inca ruins in Ecuador?

Inca Ruins in Cuenca, Ecuador

Click here to read more about Cuenca, Ecuador.

Emily is a US Expat in Ecuador. She grew up on a Minnesota farm, worked in IT in California's Silicon Valley, then moved to a coastal Ecuador fishing village. Emily's goal is to share Ecuador with you, one snippet at a time. Topics include attractions, compassion, ecotourism, Ecuador products, everyday Ecuador, and flora and fauna. Please let Emily know what you would like to read more about!

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