Ollantaytambo is a town that sits at the foot of enormous ruins that share the same name.
The town dates back to the late 15th century, contemporary with the ruins, and has some of the oldest continuously occupied dwellings in South America.
It also serves as the gateway to Machu Picchu, since it is the starting point for the famous Inca Trail (for backpackers) and the narrow gauge railway (for the oh-my-aching-back crowd) that are the only ways to reach the legendary Lost City.
As remarkable as the village of Ollantaytambo may be, the archaeological site is the main attraction.
We entered the site, gawking up at the stonework that covers the entire side of a mountain, and our guide, Eddy, gave us some background.
Originally the royal estate of Emperor Pachacutin, it became a bustling agricultural center, and then during the Spanish conquest, served as a fortress for Manco Inca Yupanqui while leading the Inca resistance.
He went on to point out the many stones left sitting where ever they happened to be at the time that work was abandoned, showing how this site was still unfinished when the Spanish arrived in the 1500s.
The freestanding stones gave us a close up look at some of the amazing stone cutting and shaping involved in the construction.
The bulk of the Ollantaytambo archaeological site is covered by huge stone terracing that was specially designed to transform the impossibly steep hillside into usable crop land.
This not only provided level ground for farming, but also prevented landslides and flooding in times of heavy rains.
Alongside these stair-stepped growing areas are granaries built to store up to five years supply of food as preparation in case of drought, blights or freezes.
This was just one of the methods used to guard against a poor harvest in The Sacred Valley .
Crops were also planted at different altitudes to insure proper growing conditions, and many varieties of each crop were developed.
For example, hundreds of different types of potatoes would be sown.
Each were cultivated for certain characteristics such as resistance to insects, cold, heat or dry conditions.
This was all fascinating stuff, but our natural inclination was to climb, so we did, up over 9000 feet. It’s a touch hard to breath up there, but we huffed and puffed, and I-think-I-can, I-think-I-canned our way to the top.
Above all of the agricultural structures is a temple. This was the part still being worked on when Ollantaytambo was abandoned, so it is not overly impressive, but some of the massive stones are, and the view certainly is.
From the top we could see for miles in every direction and make out the path across the valley to the quarry where the stones were originally cut.
From there the giant rocks were hauled down that mountain, over the river, and back up this mountain, all without the use of wheels.
One of the many mysteries that surround the building abilities of the Quechua people when ruled by the Inca is the lack of the wheel.
Eddy offered the theory that the round shape represented the sun and moon and therefore was sacred, so it could not be used for such mundane tasks as moving rocks.
Possibly, but no one knows for certain why they didn’t use wheels.
Another of the mysteries of Ollantaytambo is exactly how the stones were cut, because no metal hard enough to cut granite was available at that time.
The Quechua language was not written and the Spanish destroyed most evidence of methods used in construction.
We may never know the answers.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com