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Pachacuti, the greatest of the Incan Emperors

Secondary Categories: Machu PicchuFeature

Last week we learned about Manco Capac, the first Inca Emperor, but now we wind the clock forward seven generations, to Pachacuti – arguably the greatest of all the Inca Emperors and a central figure in many of South America’s most glorious myths, legends and tales. Pachakutiq Inka Yupanki, to use his full name, means ‘he who shakes the earth with honor’ and that epithet pretty much sums him up.


Construction of Macchu Picchu began in about 1450 at the height of Pachacuti's reign. (Picture: Jeff Cremer)

When Pachacuti became Inca in 1438 the Tawantinsuyu (the name of the Inca empire) was a small empire surrounding the modern city of Cusco. When he died 33 years later it covered a large swathe of the Peruvian Andes as far as Lake Titicaca in the South and Huanuco in the North. In the years that followed his death, the Tawantinsuyu spread into modern day Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Ecuador and Colombia…but none of this would have been possible were it not for Pachacuti’s incredible ambition.

Pachacuti redesigned Cusco by dividing it into four sectors, and he was also responsible for building some of the great monuments we visit today, most notably Qurikancha, Saksaywaman and – most scholars agree – Machu Picchu. Pachacuti also developed a system of forced colonisation, whereby peasants were relocated to the fringes of the empire to shore up support for the rulers and establish much needed stability in these volatile areas.


The ruins at Saksaywaman (Picture: Andrew Carman)

Pachacuti wasn’t a very loving or sympathetic Inca (not many of them were) but he was definitely more than just a bloodthirsty warlord. The poems and literature of the time represent him as a great administrator, planner, philosopher and student of human psychology as well as being a charismatic general. Pachacuti was also a revered poet and his Sacred Hymns make beautiful reading even today. Here’s an extract from one of my favorite verses:


Oh Creator, root of all,

Wiracocha, end of all,

Lord in shining garments

Who infuses life and sets all things in order,

Where are you?

Outside? Inside?

Above this world in the clouds?

Below this world in the shades?

Hear me!

Answer me!

Take my words to your heart!

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