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From Tawantinsuyu to the Pumallactan: Cusco, Peru, and the Many Lives of Pachacuti’s City

  • Author(s): Covey, Catherine
  • Advisor(s): Crysler, Greig
  • et al.

The overarching theme of this dissertation is to understand, through Cusco’s historic landscape, the city’s centrality in aspects and intersections of local, national, and international cultural projects. This begins with the story of Inca Cusco, as the imperial capital of Tawantinsuyu, and the way the Andean region entered the historical record as a product of Spanish colonization in the 16th and 17th centuries. Rejecting Spain’s rule in the 19th century, Peru distinguished itself from other Latin American nations by claiming Cusco as a symbol of national culture and the Incas as ancient Peruvians. This linked the Andean past with the ideology of modern sovereignty. Yet, in the 20th century, the production of Peru’s national past continued to be swayed by the colonial accounts. In an attempt to deconstruct these historical layers, the dissertation considers the appropriation of the Andean past, its conditions, and its functions.

As an Andean icon of the Peruvian past, Cusco has been drawn into various cultural projects. In the first half of the 20th century, this revolved around archaeological expeditions and subsequent touristic potential. However, in the second half of the 20th century the city became a cultural laboratory. This began with a cataclysmic earthquake, in 1950, which hurled the city into the global spotlight at the precise moment when the notion of shared cultural heritage and, more specifically, the preservation of historic built environments were becoming international issues. In the following decades, the relationships between Peru and United Nations agencies intensified through policies to both safeguard and modernize the city.

In the late 1960s, the establishment of Peru’s National Institute of Culture (INC) exemplified both a state-level collaboration with UNESCO and a pro-Peruvian response designed to reclaim the national past. Through this process, a national monumental zone was established in Cusco, which formed the legal basis of the city’s nomination as a World Heritage Site in 1983. After two decades of interinstitutional struggle to develop a Master Plan for this Cusco – a UNESCO requirement for World Heritage sites, the INC and Cusco’s municipality reinterpreted the city’s urban form through the Inca legend of the Puma City, or pumallactan. The use of this icon effectively reconnected Cusco, as an urban planning project, to the mytho-historical Inca ruler, Pachacuti, and justified its heritage timeline using the colonial accounts of the city.

Fundamental to this dissertation is the fragmented nature of information on Cusco and the Andes and the ways that Peruvian records and disciplinary boundaries have compartmentalized this knowledge. Through an interdisciplinary and historiographical approach, this study contributes missing history and contextualizes preservation and urbanism in Cusco during the second half of the 20th century. It also demonstrates the critical role of Cusco in the development of national cultural policy and the city’s exceptional relationship with UNESCO and the World Heritage program.

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