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Vilcabamba – The Last Inca City

Vilcabamba, also called Willkapampa and Espíritu Pampa is an archaeological site and former capital of the Neo-Inca State, located in the Cuzco Region of Peru.

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. After the Spanish conquest of the Empire in the mid-1500s, a new Neo-Inca rump State was established in AD 1537 by Manco Yupanqui.

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Early settlement at Vilcabamba dates from around 700 AD, with evidence of the Wari culture first occupying the site. The Wari were a middle horizon civilisation that flourished in the south-central Andes and coastal area of modern-day Peru, from about AD 500 to 1000.

The Inca arrived in the region around AD 1450 and later established several major Inca centres in the vicinity such as Machu Picchu, Choquequirao and Vitcos. Vilcabamba was founded as a retreat for Inca royals. With the establishment of the Neo-Inca state, Vilcabamba became the administrative capital in AD 1539.

Image Credit : AgainErick – CC BY-SA 3.0

The city consisted of multiple levelled plazas that covered an area of 37 acres, with the upper plazas reserved for the ruling Inca class. Each plaza contained stone rectangular dwellings that were roofed with ichu – a type of grass imported from the highlands.

Over the next three decades, the city served as a staging area for raids against the invading Spanish. Following the death of Manco Yupanqui in 1544, the city was ruled by Syri Tupac, Titu Cusi Yupanqui, and finally Túpac Amaru.

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After several decisive battles, the Spanish led an expedition in 1572 to subdue the last refuge of the Inca. The campaign was led by the conquistador Martin Hurtado de Arbieto who wrote in his account “they marched into the city of Vilcabamba, all on foot, for it is the most wild and rugged country, in no way suitable for horses.” What they discovered was a city built “for about a thousand fighting Indians, besides many other women, children, and old people” filled with “four hundred houses.”

Shortly after the fall of Vilcabamba, the Spanish pursued Túpac Amaru for over a month until he was eventually captured. Túpac Amaru was taken to Cusco where he paraded on a mule and placed on trial for the murder of several priests. Túpac Amaru was found guilty and subsequently beheaded, bringing to an end the last dynasty of Inca rule.

Header Image Credit : AgainErickCC BY-SA 3.0

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Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,500 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.
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