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11 June 2011

Inca art, old and new

10th June 2011

I am so impressed with the works in the Museum of Precolumbian Art (MAP). It’s a great museum in the first place, in a beautiful building with all the works superbly presented. Each piece has information in Spanish, English and French although I have to admit the wording sometimes resembles the incredulously daft descriptions that often accompany modern art. That’s because MAP is trying to present these ancient pieces as a collection of art rather than an archaeological display. It works really well, but only because these beautiful objects – many of them over 2000 years old – really would stand up splendidly in a contemporary art gallery. I might do a photo gallery to show you what I mean.

Wandering around the city, I find that Cusco has a good number of contemporary art galleries and shops scattered amongst all the alpaca sweater vendors. I’m betting there was no “contemporary art scene” when Tim was here a few years ago. The world keeps getting smaller. Rather like Ubud, there’s some good stuff and there’s also plenty of mass-produced banality that would look perfectly fine on the wall of a show-home in Weybridge. These people could do much better by taking a look around MAP and taking their inspiration from there.

But I still haven’t mentioned the stones!

These are what make Cusco astonishing. It was the capital of the Inca empire, and the Spaniards who took over and transformed it into the perfect image of a colonial city did actually manage to leave some of the Inca stonework standing in places. I’d like to think it was out of reverence for the sheer quality of the construction, but more likely there was just no point knocking it down if the walls happened to be in a useful place. So here and there around the city are patches of the most amazing walls the world has ever seen. No question.

Many of the blocks are absolutely titanic, and yet they all fit together with the absolute precision of a jigsaw puzzle. Which is a good analogy, because in external walls these blocks are often of unusual and difficult shapes which just leave me asking the ancient Incas “But why? Why not rectangles?”. Yet not a drop of mortar was used in getting an absolutely airtight fit at every joint. And it must also be remarked that these blocks are of andesite – just about the hardest and heaviest type of stone on the planet. Where other civilisations choose their building stone on the basis of ease of working, these guys picked the stuff that would still look pristine and unweathered five hundred years later. I’m muchos impressed.

Oh yes, and today there are actually more locals than tourists in the Plaza des Armas. That’s because there is a huge parade of schoolkids from all the schools around the area. Each class has donned daft but apparently traditional costumes and mastered a daft but apparently traditional dance in order to try and win the day. Standing and watching them all cavort past was a fun way to occupy a couple of hours while all the art and architecture of ancient Peru settled into my head.

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One Response to “Inca art, old and new”

  1. Jane says:

    Thinks MAYBE the stones that are whacky shapes were sorta those shapes anyway & they just chipped and rubbed away to fit… but oh MY, Mr. Geologist with your fancy ‘andesite’! 🙂

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