Saturday, September 1, 2012

Bells of Cuzco

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL, "Cuzco, part 11": What's left to recall?  It was the age of Machiavelli. With the Inca siege of Cuzco lifted, the stage was set, the outcome, inevitable. Almagro, one-eyed, proud, a warrior cheated; against the Pizarros, unforgiving adversaries. The intervention of the king's envoy had no effect. The stones of Cuzco's plaza again crackled with flames on an April night in 1537 when Almagro set fire to the old, royal Palace of Huayna Capac that had somehow escaped burning nine months earlier when the Inca's torched the town. Inside the burning palace, Hernando and Gonzalo Pizarro coughed until coughing was almost impossible, and the roof was collapsing. Then they and their men surrendered the town. 

When Almagro had them, he was indecisive, let them get away. Some months later, when Francisco Pizarro himself defeated Almagro and reconquered Cuzco, Hernando Pizarro was less forgiving. He ordered Almagro garroted publicly in the plaza of Cuzco. Not far away across the square, the head of Almagro's general was already aging at the end of a spike and gathering flies.

However, Cuzco and what happened in the old Inca capital had its grasp on the Pizarros. Hernando, when he returned to Spain in 1540, was surprised to find himself arrested based on accusations by "friends" of Almagro. Sixteen years later he was released, prematurely old, penniless, a broken man. 

When Francisco Pizarro was assassinated in 1541 by a partisan of Almagro in Lima, Manco was still embarrassing the Spanish with guerrilla skirmishes from his jungle capital, Vilcabamba, and being worshipped throughout Antisuyu as the Sapa Inca. Vilcabamba was a hundred miles east of the old capital, Cuzco. For more than thirty years Manco and three Incas after him, would continue to perpetrate skirmishes while the Spanish purged the former empire of its cultural heritage; shrines defaced, temples and palaces tumbled to the big stones the Spaniards couldn't move, and on those they built their own churches and palaces.

Gonzalo Pizarro was the last to die after declaring war on his monarch, but the King's new viceroy had little patience for rebellion.  Gonzalo was hunted, caught, and beheaded efficiently on the chopping block in Lima in 1548.

In 1572, the Spanish finally found Vilcabamba, but it was empty, sacked by the Incas themselves who had dispersed to elude discovery.  Not content, the Spanish sacked it some more and moved the remaining farmers so as to erase all memory of the place. And when they finally caught up with the last Sapa Inca, Tupac Amaru, the King's merciful viceroy mercifully took him to Cuzco.  There in the great square, the last Sapa Inca, Tupac Amaru, publicly renounced his religion and accepted God, and then, they tell us, they beheaded him. It was the age of Machiavelli.

The Spanish sought to obliterate Vilcabamba, but it was the jungle which deserves the real credit for the city's utter obliteration. After 1572 vines and roots swelled like muscles prying apart the granite walls, wrapping them in tendrils, draping them in foliage, gripping them like a fist and hiding an entire city 10 times the size of Machu Picchu so thoroughly that Bingham standing beside Vilcabamba in 1911, didn't see it. Time swallowed the town and Bingham named the site, "the plain of ghosts," and by the time it was finally found again, humans were able to fly in space and Machiavelli had been dead for more than four-hundred years.