copyright, Kellscraft Studio
1999-2003                                             
(Return to Web Text-ures)                                             
Click Here to return to
Inca Lands
Content Page

Click Here to return to
previous chapter

 (HOME)   

CHAPTER XIII

VILCABAMBA

        ALTHOUGH the refuge of Manco is frequently  spoken of as Uiticos by the contemporary writers, the word Vilcabamba, or Uilcapampa, is used even more often. In fact Garcilasso, the chief historian of the Incas, himself the son of an Inca princess, does not mention Uiticos. Vilcabamba was the common name of the province. Father Calancha says it was a very large area, “covering fourteen degrees of longitude,” about seven hundred miles wide. It included many savage tribes “of the far interior” who acknowledged the supremacy of the Incas and brought tribute to Manco and his sons. “The Manaries and the Pilcosones came a hundred and two hundred leagues” to visit the Inca in Uiticos.

The name, Vilcabamba, is also applied repeatedly to a town. Titu Cusi says he lived there many years during his youth. Calancha says it was “two days’ journey from Puquiura.” Raimondi thought it must be Choqquequirau. Captain Garcia’s soldiers, however, speak of it as being down in the warm valleys of the montaña, the present rubber country. On the other hand the only place which bears this name on the maps of Peru is near the source of the Vilcabamba River, not more than three or four leagues from Pucyura. We determined to visit it.

We found the town to be on the edge of bleak upland pastures, 11,750 feet above the sea. Instead of Inca walls or ruins Vilcabamba has threescore solidly built Spanish houses. At the time of our visit they were mostly empty, although their roofs, of unusually heavy thatch, seemed to be in good repair. We stayed at the house of the gobernador, Manuel Condoré. The nights were bitterly cold and we should have been most uncomfortable in a tent.

The gobernador said that the reason the town was deserted was that most of the people were now attending to their chacras, or little farms, and looking after their herds of sheep and cattle in the neighboring valleys. He said that only at special festival times, such as the annual visit of the priest, who celebrates mass in the church here, once a year, are the buildings fully occupied. In the latter part of the sixteenth century, gold mines were discovered in the adjacent mountains and the capital of the Spanish province of Vilcabamba was transferred from Hoyara to this place. Its official name, Condoré said, is still San Francisco de la Victoria de Vilcabamba, and as such it occurs on most of the early maps of Peru. The solidity of the stone houses was due to the prosperity of the gold diggers. The present air of desolation and absence of population is probably due to the decay of that industry.


ÑUSTA  ISPPANA

The church is large. Near it, and slightly apart from the building, is a picturesque stone belfry with three old Spanish bells. Condoré said that the church was built at least three hundred years ago. It is probably the very structure whose construction was carefully supervised by Ocampo. In the negotiations for permission to move the municipality of San Francisco de la Victoria from Hoyara to the neighborhood of the mines, Ocampo, then one of the chief settlers, went to Cuzco as agent of the interested parties, to take the matter up with the viceroy. Ocampo’s story is in part as follows:

“The change of site appeared convenient for the service of God our Lord and of his Majesty, and for the increase of his royal fifths, as well as beneficial to the inhabitants of the said city. Having examined the capitulations and reasons, the said Don Luis de Velasco [the viceroy] granted the licence to move the city to where it is now founded, ordering that it should have the title and name of the city of San Francisco of the Victory of Uilcapampa, which was its first name. By this change of site I, the said Baltasar de Ocampo, performed a great service to God our Lord and his Majesty. Through my care, industry and solicitude, a very good church was built, with its principal chapel and great doors.” We found the walls to be heavy, massive, and well buttressed, the doors to be unusually large and the whole to show considerable “industry and solicitude.”

The site was called “Onccoy, where the Spaniards who first discovered this land found the flocks and herds.” Modern Vilcabamba is on grassy slopes, well suited for flocks and herds. On the steeper slopes potatoes are still raised, although the valley itself is given up to-day almost entirely to pasture lands. We saw horses, cattle, and sheep in abundance where the Incas must have pastured their llamas and alpacas. In the rocky cliffs near by are remains of the mines begun in Ocampo’s day. There is little doubt that this was Onccoy, although that name is now no longer used here.

We met at the gobernador’s an old Indian who admitted that an Inca had once lived on Rosaspata Hill. Of all the scores of persons whom we interviewed through the courtesy of the intelligent planters of the region or through the customary assistance of government officials, this Indian was the only one to make such an admission. Even he denied having heard of “Uiticos” or any of its variations. If we were indeed in the country of Manco and his sons, why should no one be familiar with that name?

Perhaps, after all, it is not surprising. The Indians of the highlands have now for so many generations been neglected by their rulers and brutalized by being allowed to drink all the alcohol they can purchase and to assimilate all the cocaine they can secure, through the constant chewing of coca leaves, that they have lost much if not all of their racial self-respect. It is the educated mestizos of the principal modern cities of Peru who, tracing their descent not only from the Spanish soldiers of the Conquest, but also from the blood of the race which was conquered, take pride in the achievements of the Incas and are endeavoring to preserve the remains of the wonderful civilization of their native ancestors. Until quite recently Vilcabamba was an unknown land to most of the Peruvians, even those who live in the city of Cuzco. Had the capital of the last four Incas been in a region whose climate appealed to Europeans, whose natural resources were sufficient to support a large population, and whose roads made transportation no more difficult than in most parts of the Andes, it would have been occupied from the days of Captain Garcia to the present by Spanish-speaking mestizos, who might have been interested in preserving the name of the ancient Inca capital and the traditions connected with it.

After the mines which attracted Ocampo and his friends “petered out,” or else, with the primitive tools of the sixteenth century, ceased to yield adequate returns, the Spaniards lost interest in that remote region. The rude trails which connected Pucyura with Cuzco and civilization were at best dangerous and difficult. They were veritably impassable during a large part of the year even to people accustomed to Andean “roads.”

The possibility of raising sugar cane and coca between Huadquina and Santa Ana attracted a few Spanish-speaking people to live in the lower Urubamba Valley, notwithstanding the difficult transportation over the passes near Mts. Salcantay and Veronica; but there was nothing to lead any one to visit the upper Vilcabamba Valley or to desire to make it a place of residence. And until Señor Pancorbo opened the road to Lucma, Pucyura was extremely difficult of access. Nine generations of Indians lived and died in the province of Uilcapampa between the time of Tupac Amaru and the arrival of the first modern explorers. The great stone buildings constructed on the “Hill of Roses” in the days of Manco and his sons were allowed to fall into ruin. Their roofs decayed and disappeared. The names of those who once lived here were known to fewer and fewer of the natives. The Indians themselves had no desire to relate the story of the various forts and palaces to their Spanish landlords, nor had the latter any interest in hearing such tales. It was not until the renaissance of historical and geographical curiosity, in the nineteenth century, that it occurred to any one to look for Manco’s capital. When Raimondi, the first scientist to penetrate Vilcabamba, reached Pucyura, no one thought to tell him that on the hilltop opposite the village once lived the last of the Incas and that the ruins of their palaces were still there, hidden underneath a thick growth of trees and vines.

A Spanish document of 1598 says the first town of “San Francisco de la Victoria de Vilcabamba” was in the “valley of Viticos.” The town’s long name became shortened to Vilcabamba. Then the river which flowed past was called the Vilcabamba, and is so marked on Raimondi’s map. Uiticos had long since passed from the memory of man.

Furthermore, the fact that we saw no llamas or alpacas in the upland pastures, but only domestic animals of European origin, would also seem to indicate that for some reason or other this region had been abandoned by the Indians themselves. It is difficult to believe that if the Indians had inhabited these valleys continuously from Inca times to the present we should not have found at least a few of the indigenous American camels here. By itself, such an occurrence would hardly seem worth a remark, but taken in connection with the loss of traditions regarding Uiticos, it would seem to indicate that there must have been quite a long period of time in which no persons of consequence lived in this vicinity.

We are told by the historians of the colonial period that the mining operations of the first Spanish settlers were fatal to at least a million Indians. It is quite probable that the introduction of ordinary European contagious diseases, such as measles, chicken pox, and smallpox, may have had a great deal to do with the destruction of a large proportion of those unfortunates whose untimely deaths were attributed by historians to the very cruel practices of the early Spanish miners and treasure seekers. Both causes undoubtedly contributed to the result. There seems to be no question that the population diminished enormously in early colonial days. If this is true, the remaining population would naturally have sought regions where the conditions of existence and human intercourse were less severe and rigorous than in the valleys of Uiticos and Uilcapampa.

The students and travelers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including such a careful observer as Bandelier, are of the opinion that the present-day population in the Andes of Peru and Bolivia is about as great as that at the time of the Conquest. In other words, with the decay of early colonial mining and the consequent disappearance of bad living conditions and forced labor at the mines, also with the rise of partial immunity to European diseases, and the more comfortable conditions of existence which have followed the coming of Peruvian independence, it is reasonable to suppose that the number of highland Indians has increased. With this increase has come a consequent crowding in certain localities. There would be a natural tendency to seek less crowded regions, even at the expense of using difficult mountain trails. This would lead to their occupying as remote and inaccessible a region as the ancient province of Uilcapampa. It is probable that after the gold mines ceased to pay, and before the demand for rubber caused the San Miguel Valley to be appropriated by the white man, there was a period of nearly three hundred years when no one of education or of intelligence superior to the ordinary Indian shepherd lived anywhere near Pucyura or Lucma. The adobe houses of these modern villages look fairly modern. They may have been built in the nineteenth century.

Such a theory would account for the very small amount of information prevailing in Peru regarding the region where we had been privileged to find so many ruins. This ignorance led the Peruvian geographers Raimondi and Paz Soldan to conclude that Choqquequirau, the only ruins reported between the Apurimac and the Urubamba, must have been the capital of the Incas who took refuge there. It also makes it seem more reasonable that the existence of Rosaspata and Nusta Isppana should not have been known to Peruvian geographers and historians, or even to the government officials who lived in the adjacent villages.

We felt sure we had found Uiticos; nevertheless it was quite apparent that we had not yet found all the places which were called Vilcabamba. Examination of the writers of the sixteenth century shows that there may have been three places bearing that name; one spoken of by Calancha as Vilcabamba Viejo (“the old”), another also so called by Ocampo, and a third founded by the Spaniards, namely, the town we were now in. The story of the first is given in Calancha’s account of the trials and tribulations of Friar Marcos and the martyrdom of Friar Diego Ortiz. The chronicler tells with considerable detail of their visit to “Vilcabamba Viejo.” It was after the monks had already founded their religious establishment at Puquiura that they learned of the existence of this important religious center. They urged Titu Cusi to permit them to visit it. For a long time he refused. Its whereabouts remained unknown to them, but its strategic position as a religious stronghold led them to continue their demands. Finally, either to rid himself of their importunities or because he imagined the undertaking might be made amusing, he yielded to their requests and bade them prepare for the journey. Calancha says that the Inca himself accompanied the two friars, with a number of his captains and chieftains, taking them from Puquiura over a very rough and rugged road. The Inca, however, did not suffer from the character of the trail because, like the Roman generals of old, he was borne comfortably along in a litter by servants accustomed to this duty. The unfortunate missionaries were obliged to go on foot. The wet, rocky trail soon demoralized their footgear. When they came to a particularly bad place in the road, “Ungacacha,the trail went for some distance through water. The monks were forced to wade. The water was very cold. The Inca and his chieftains were amused to see how the friars were hampered by their monastic garments while passing through the water. However, the monks persevered, greatly desiring to reach their goal, “on account of its being the largest city in which was the University of Idolatry, where lived the teachers who were wizards and masters of abomination.” If one may judge by the name of the place, Uilcapampa, the wizards and sorcerers were probably aided by the powerful effects of the ancient snuff made from huilca seeds. After a three days’ journey over very rough country, the monks arrived at their destination. Yet even then Titu Cusi was unwilling that they should live in the city, but ordered that the monks be given a dwelling outside, so that they might not witness the ceremonies and ancient rites which were practiced by the Inca and his captains and priests.

Nothing is said about the appearance of “Vilcabamba Viejo” and it is doubtful whether the monks were ever allowed to see the city, although they reached its vicinity. Here they stayed for three weeks and kept up their preaching and teaching. During their stay Titu Cusi, who had not wished to bring them here, got his revenge by annoying them in various ways. He was particularly anxious to make them break their vows of celibacy. Calancha says that after consultation with his priests and soothsayers Titu Cusi selected as tempters the most beautiful Indian women, including some individuals of the Yungas who were unusually attractive. It is possible that these women, who lived at the “University of Idolatry” in “Vilcabamba Viejo,” were “Virgins of the Sun,” who were under the orders of the Inca and his high priests and were selected from the fairest daughters of the empire. It is also evident that “Vilcabamba Viejo” was so constructed that the monks could be kept for three weeks in its vicinity without being able to see what was going on in the city or to describe the kinds of “abominations” which were practiced there, as they did those at the white rock of Chuquipalta. As will be shown later, it is possible that this Vilcabamba, referred to in Calancha’s story as “Vilcabamba Viejo,” was on the slopes of the mountain now called Machu Picchu.

In the meantime it was necessary to pursue the hunt for the ruins of Vilcabamba called “the old” by Ocampo, to distinguish it from the Spanish town of that name which he had helped to found after the capture of Tupac Amaru, and referred to merely as Vilcabamba by Captain Garcia and his companions in their accounts of the campaign.

Click here to continue to the next chapter of Inca Lands