History of Poverty Lies Behind the Gold-Paved Streets of Peru
Byline: Kimberly Priebe
Today I arrived in the center of the Incan Empire, Cuzco, Peru. I am excited to be in this city. It is beautiful, surrounded by mountains and has huge cathedrals and parks in every direction. A lot of the building and street names are in Quechua, the Incan language native to Peru. The streets are cobblestone and a lot of them are very narrow, which makes me feel like a hobbit. What's more, it is amazingly diverse. Tourists from every corner of the earth are milling around, but not dominating the mix of Peruvians of Indigenous, European and African decent. The food is excellent, and there is a nightlife - I really couldn't ask for more out of a place.
After finding somewhere to stay, I visited the Plaza del Santo Domingo and the Temple of Sun in the city center. The Incans created a very ornate temple to the Sun, and when the Spanish arrived they converted it into a Catholic monastery. In 1950 there was a huge earthquake in Peru, and people and buildings were destroyed. However, the buildings built by the Incas held up far better than those of the Spanish colonizers. The Incas put some sort of rolling blocks underneath their buildings so that the foundation would move but the buildings themselves wouldn't when earthquakes occurred. The Spanish did not. For this reason, the Plaza del Santo Domingo is a reconstruction of the original and the Temple of the Sun is not.
I arrived at the museum at 4:30, and the sun was just starting to set, sliding in sideways through the huge arched windows. I felt I was a part of something timeless as I wandered around the buildings, admiring the sharp contrast between Incan and Spanish Colonial architecture and art. It is amazing and comforting to feel like just a tiny insignificant dot on the map of history.
During the height of the Incan Empire, the streets in Cuzco were lined in gold, with temples and palaces and unimaginable riches in every direction. I can imagine it. The way that the sun hits the mountains and buildings in this city makes the whole valley look like it is sparkling when I am standing in the city center. It's almost like a shadow of the grandeur that once was remains hanging over the city.
One of the things that struck me most about the Plaza del Santo Domingo was that almost all of the Peruvian art in the museum was about pain, loss, power, suffering, violence and domination. It isn't all sparkles and temples and gold-lined streets for people in Cuzco these days. As my taxi drove me into town from the airport this morning, the poverty outside of the city center was palpable and harsh and it made me want to cry. In reality, I guess I could ask for more out of this place. I could ask for people to not be living in tiny tin roof huts without clean water or sufficient food. Wouldn't that be a novelty? …