Cusco’s Plaza de Armas

The focal point of the historic center of the UNESCO World Heritage listed city of Cusco is Plaza de Armas. It is one of the most beautiful plazas I’ve ever visited and is full of action at all times. The main plaza in the former capital of the Inca Empire of Tawantinsuyu is surrounded by buildings rich both in history and in beauty.

Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru

Plaza de Armas

Children playing football in Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru

Children playing football in Plaza de Armas

Before colonial times, the Incas used to celebrate Inti Raymi (Sun Festival) there each year. They called the plaza Huacayapata (Warriors’ Square). Many significant events took place there. Francisco Pizarro claimed Cusco for Spain in the plaza, and Túpac Amaru II, leader of a native uprising, was beheaded there in 1781.

Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru

Plaza de Armas

The center of the plaza features a 19th century fountain with a gold painted statue of an Inca on top. The statue was placed there in 2011 and has caused much controversy.

Fountain in Plaza de Armas, Cusco, Peru

Fountain

Inca statue in Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru

Inca statue

Fountain in Plaza de Armas, Cusco, Peru

Fountain

Arched portals supporting beautiful wooden balconies surround the plaza on parts of all four sides. Many of these balconies are restaurants and bars with great views overlooking the plaza.

Portals and balconies on Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru

Portals and balconies

Portals and balconies on Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru

Portals and balconies

The most important building on Plaza de Armas is the Catedral Basílica de la Virgen de la Asunción, or simply, Catedral del Cusco. Started in 1560, it was built on top of the Inca palace of Viracocha. It has two chapels attached. Admission is included with the Boleto Integral.

Catedral del Cusco on Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru

Catedral del Cusco

The interior of the cathedral and chapels is stunning. I wish photos were allowed because the artwork and craftsmanship in my opinion are unmatched in any South American cathedral I have visited. The unique painting of The Last Supper by Marcos Zapata shows Christ and his disciples eating a guinea pig and drinking chicha from Inca cups. The main altar, built in 1803, is made of Bolivian silver. The choir was carved from cedar in the 17th century and features figures of saints and popes.

The Last Supper at Catedral del Cusco (Image from Wikipedia article on Marcos Zapata) on Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru

The Last Supper at Catedral del Cusco (Image from Wikipedia article on Marcos Zapata)

One of the attached chapels, Iglesia El Triunfo, was the first church in Cusco, built on top of the old Inca armory in 1538. The other chapel, Templo de la Sagrada Familia, was built in 1573. Next to that is the tiny Capilla de Santísimo Sacramento.

Iglesia El Triunfo on Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru

Iglesia El Triunfo

Templo de la Sagrada Familia on Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru

Templo de la Sagrada Familia

Capilla de Santísimo Sacramento on Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru

Capilla de Santísimo Sacramento

The most beautiful building on Plaza de Armas is another church, Iglesia de la Compañia. It was built in 1571 on top of the palace of Inca ruler Huayna Capac. It was rebuilt after an earthquake in 1650.

Iglesia de la Compañía on Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru

Iglesia de la Compañia

Pay attention to the detail on the exterior of the church. It involves Inca elements in order to convince natives to convert to Christianity.

Iglesia de la Compañía on Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru

Iglesia de la Compañia

A visit costs S/15 and is well worth it. The interior is not as ornate as the cathedral but still spectacular. You are also able to climb to the first level of the bell tower through a tiny passageway and up a steep staircase. The views of the plaza are priceless from there.

View of Plaza de Armas from Iglesia de la Compañia on Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru

View of Plaza de Armas from Iglesia de la Compañia

The area around the plaza is also full of many surprises. If you are looking for a cheap meal, need a drink, or want to shop for bargains, the alley to the north, Procuradores, will lead you to what you are looking for.

Procuradores near Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru

Procuradores

An alley near Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru

An alley near Plaza de Armas

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