Choquequirao, meaning “Cradle of Gold” in Quechua is an archaeological site in the Vilcabamba mountain range, overlooking the Apurimac River in Southern Peru.
Choquequirao was built by the Inca sometime in the 15th – 16th century and covers an area of over 4447 acres at an elevation of 3050 metres. The Inca was a large pre-Columbian Empire that arose in the Peruvian highlands sometime in the early 13th century that incorporated a large portion of western South America.
The cities founding has been credited to Topa Yupanqui, the tenth Sapa Inca (AD 1471–93), fifth of the Hanan dynasty and the son of Pachacuti who founded Machu Pucchu. Some scholars argue that as Choquequirao was built around the same time as Machu Picchu, the commissioning of its construction may be attributed to Pachacuti and simply completed by Topa Yupanqui.
Several sites in the region that includes Machu Picchu, Sayhuite, Chachabamba, Choquesuyus and Guamanmarca all share similar architecture styles and construction techniques.
The site is centred around two main plazas on the crest of a mountain ridge and includes temples, high-status dwellings, fountains, bath systems and common dwellings some distance away. The plazas were levelled artificially and the surrounding hillsides were terraced to allow cultivation and small residential areas.
Choquequirao also contains several religious structures, monuments and a large pyramid-shaped usnu. The site has alignments with the June and December solstices suggesting a strong solar focus and year-round ceremonial activities.
With the collapse of the Inca Empire after the Spanish conquest in the mid-1500s, Choquequirao would remain a stronghold of the Neo-Inca established in AD 1537 at Vilcabamba by Manco Inca Yupanqui but would be abandoned sometime after the death of the last Inca ruler, Túpac Amaru in AD 1572.
Although Choquequirao was known to the present-day indigenous and mestizo communities, the first European visitor was the Spanish explorer Juan Arias Díaz in 1710.
In 1908, Hiram Bingham (an explorer who was controversially credited with re-discovering Machu Picchu) was told about Choquequirao by local officials who had visited the site in search of gold.
Bingham decided to visit Choquequirao in 1909 to determine if it was Vilcapampa, but decided it was merely a frontier fortress and continued his search for Vilcapampa. Choquequirao would remain relatively forgotten until it was excavated by archaeologists in the 1970’s who have systematically excavated around 30–40% of the cities remains.
Header Image – Choquequirao – Image Credit : McGhiever