Inti Raymi is the Andean feast of the Sun and the Earth (Pachamama), celebrated on June 24 in the city of Cusco. During the Inca Empire, it was the most important festival, gathering thousands of people who lived throughout the Inca-ruled regions of the Andes. Today, a reenactment of the ceremony gathers locals and international visitors alike.
Much of what we know about the Inca celebration of Inti Raymi is through the chronicles of Garcilaso de la Vega, the son of a Spanish conquistador and Inca noblewoman, and one of the first known mestizos in the Americas.
The celebration was instituted by the ninth Inca ruler, Pachacuti (or Pachacutec) Inca Yupanqui (1418–1471/1472) in order to celebrate the Andean New Year, or the southern hemisphere’s winter solstice. Fun fact: archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was constructed during Pachacuti’s reign and for his use.
Inti Raymi was (and continues to be) celebrated in the main square of Cusco city, known as Haukaypata in Quechua, which was the center point from which the roads led to the four corners (or suyos) of the Inca Empire. The ceremony lasted 9 to 15 days, and was considered a ceremony celebrating the origin of the Inca people. Offerings were also made to Mother Earth, or Pachamama.
The first celebration, according to the chronicles, was in 1412 and the last one to be enacted with the presence of an Inca Emperor was in 1535. The ceremony was banned with the arrival of the Spanish and the Catholic Church, along with many other Indigenous cultural and religious ceremonies and practices.
The historical reenactment that takes place today was developed by Faustino Espinoza Navarro, a Cusco writer, actor and founder of the Academy of the Quechua Language. Along with the historian Humberto Vidal Unda, they developed the theatrical script based on the chronicles of the ceremony found in the book Comentarios Reales de los Incas by Inca Garcilaso de la Vega (1612).
The first staging of the celebration took place in 1944. June 24 was chosen, instead of the day of winter solstice (June 20/21), in order to coincide with the Día del Indio (Day of the Indian), introduced by the then president, Augusto B. Leguía. The date is now named Día del Campesino (Day of the Farmer).
From the beginning, the reenactment was intended to attract visitors outside of Cusco, and has grown exponentially far beyond its initial intentions.
The Inti Raymi celebration takes place throughout three different historic areas in Cusco. The procession starts out in Coricancha/Qorikancha, the Golden Temple, then heads to Cusco’s main square and moves on to the Inca fortress Sacsayhuaman. This is where the main event takes place and for which there is a cost to attend.
Locals and visitors gather throughout the streets of Cusco to witness the event. There is no cost for those who follow the procession. Yet, tour agencies rent out balconies and spaces along the route and in the main plaza for tourists who want an ensured spot.
The main event in Sacsayhuaman is ticketed, with different pricing. The least expensive ticket costs USD $199, and the most expensive is $249. Children pay $109 and $169.
Inti Raymi has come under fire for its high costs, overcrowding of tourists and waste problem. One of the closest approximations state that 80,000 people watch the event throughout the city, and 3,000+ attend the event at Sacsayhuaman.
Though it is true that the event generates income for many locals, the challenge remains to carry out the event in a sustainable way that also allows for local people to enjoy the event along with visitors. Many locals living in the city and in rural areas do not have the income to attend the ticketed event.
Cover photo: McKay Savage/Flickr
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