This town sits in the Sacred Valley before Machu Picchu, and is the starting point for trains to Machu Picchu. It is a gorgeous little down in a spectacular setting, and in many ways perhaps evening more amazing than Machu Picchu itself.
A spectacular Inca fortress and temple complex looks over the town, and this was the major holdout of the rebel Inca emperor Manco Capac as he tried to wrest back the empire from the Spanish usurpers. Here he inflicted a major defeat on the besieging Spanish. What is perhaps even more remarkable is that the whole town and surrounding mountains appear to have been a massive observatory with which to observe and celebrate the cycle of the seasons. Again we see this Andean habit of using and modifying the wider landscapes as extensions of the urban and ceremonial living space
This first becomes apparent when you realise that the sacred mountain opposite the temple-fort has been subtly carved to show the shape of a giant bearded face, and behind the face is a giant storehouse containing granary store houses. This is thought to be Tunupa, who in Inca legend roamed the lands at the creation of the Incas and froze into the mountainside here. Then, higher up you notice the silhouette of an Inca face. At the winter solstice, the time of renewal of the annual cycle, the sun rises through this point and casts its light directly through the doors of the solar temple. Moreover, it turns out that the whole mountain is used as a giant sundial, with tree-lined boundaries in the fields marking the points with the mountain casts a shadow at the solstices.
The whole landscape seems layered in significance and hidden meanings. I wonder how much more is out there, in this culture and maybe in other lost cultures, that we are no longer aware of.
Yadvinder Malhi is an ecosytem ecologist and Professor of Ecosystem Science at Oxford University