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Altitudinal Zones and Millennia-Old Technologies

Carving the Andes

According to the oldest accounts, two ethnic groups have lived in this region since time immemorial. First, there was the Collaguas, who claimed to be the children of the volcano Collaguata, inside which they were supposedly born. As an old legend tells it, “…from it they came with their weapons, outfits, and headdresses; and they descended the slopes of the snowcapped peak, conquering the region.” Members of this group were notable for their pointy heads, which were intentionally deformed from the time they were newborns in imitation of the volcanic cone they believed to be their guardian, or apu. The second group was the Cabanas, who believed they came from the depths of the snowcapped peak of Hualca–Hualca. They, too, deformed the skulls of their infants. Unlike their neighbors, however, they flattened the crowns of their heads like the silhouette of their pacarina, or mountain birthplace

Both groups used complex agricultural technology to build an extensive system of farming terraces that are still used by the valley’s inhabitants today. With the river’s course located deep down in the canyon, sometimes thousands of meters below their farmlands, they made use of the creeks and springs that ran to the bottom of the valley, fed by the snow on the mountaintops. Using a system of canals and aqueducts, they managed to transport this life-giving liquid to their crops. They also learned the importance of farming at as many different elevations, or “altitudinal zones,” as possible, taking advantage of the different ecosystems to harvest a range of crops and obtain food surpluses that made them the undeniable rulers of this region.

Today, about 4,000 hectares (9,900 acres) are still used as farming terraces, while another 5,000 hectares (12,355 acres) lie fallow, hinting at the immense level of productivity achieved on these lands in pre-Hispanic times.

From there, the valley has been so coveted by the ethnic groups that inhabited the southern andes of Peru before the arrival of the Spanish. Villages and temples One of the main attractions of the Canyon are its unique villages. In this area there are sixteen towns descendants of the ethnic groups Collaguas and Cabanas, who have managed to maintain their original appearance from which they were plotted as "reductions of indians" during the term of viceroy Francisco de Toledo. His level of production was so high that came to concentrate a significant part of the economy of the region, based primarily on the agricultural production and the exploitation of the silver mines. A sample of the peak reached during the Spanish occupation of the valley are its imposing churches, which stand out as the main buildings of the area. Usually mestizo-baroque style, were built between the SEVENTEENTH and EIGHTEENTH centuries, becoming, in some cases, exquisite examples of the art of the time.

One of the main is, without a doubt, the Temple of Santa Ana de Maca. Erected by Simon Soto between 1812 and 1813, the church counts among its peculiarities with a curious "open chapel" in the form of a balcony on the facade, which was used for the display of relics at the service of the native population, which should follow the mass from the atrium. Another temple is remarkable is the Lari. Its sumptuous church —our lady of the Immaculate Conception— contrasts with the austere path of the narrow streets of the village. Stand out in it the solid buttresses, vertical profile, and the roundness of the unique dome erected in the valley of the Colca canyon. The church of Lari is considered the most magnificent of the entire region. Your altar is a unique sculpture: the Immaculate Virgin, for obvious affiliation to the Sevillian School of Martínez Montañés and only in the southern Andes. Finally, it should be mentioned the church of Yanque, formerly headquarters of the franciscan missionaries in the valley. Built between 1691 and 1698 —with alarifes and masons brought from Arequipa and headed by the master Ignacio Aldana—, is contemporary to one of the first notable works of mestizo early: the church of the Company of Arequipa. Highlights in her extraordinary ornamentation in relief, and its two towers, austere in contrast, crowned by a fine iron crosses. Complete this bouquet of buildings, the temples of Tuti, Caylloma, Sibayo, Cabanaconde, Coporaque and Madrigal: all of them, beautiful examples of the quality of the religious art of the time.