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The mystery of Ollantaytambo: How did the Incas build the giant steps

Ollantaytambo is a town and an Inca archaeological site in southern Peru some 72 kilometers (45 mi) by road northwest of the city of Cusco. It is located at an altitude of 2,792 meters (9,160 ft) above sea level in the district of Ollantaytambo, province of Urubamba, Cusco region.

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During the Inca Empire, Ollantaytambo was the royal estate of Emperor Pachacuti who conquered the region, built the town and a ceremonial center. At the time of the Spanish conquest of Peru, it served as a stronghold for Manco Inca Yupanqui, leader of the Inca resistance.

Nowadays, located in what is called the Sacred Valley of the Incas, it is an important tourist attraction on account of its Inca ruins and its location en route to one of the most common starting points for the four-day, three-night hike known as the Inca Trail.

Ollantaytambo ruins. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The ruins at Ollantaytambo are mostly of religious significance, although they were also important strategically. Built in the 1400s, the large Inca fortress (also known as Temple Hill) and the Temple of the Sun with its monolithic stones soar above the town’s cobbled streets.

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Ancient symbol-like marks in relief still adorn these huge stones. The complex also includes a stepped terrace as well as an area known as the Princess Baths, where ceremonial bathing took place.

A climb up the 200 steps to the top gives a visitor a close-up look at the remains of several fountains and temples. Those local to the area also like to point out the Inca face carved into the cliff above the valley.

Ollantaytambo was a strategic military, agricultural and religious place to manage and control the Sacred Valley of the Incas, this follows from the constructions that were presumed agricultural reservoirs and for military use as walls and watchtowers (probably to protect against jungle ethnicities).

Ollantaytambo Ruins

There are 150 steps that separate the top from the lower part and observe the perfect carved stones, obviously, dedicated to water worship, with a great similarity to Tipon (South Valley of Cusco).

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This place is a ceremonial center and worship of water purification. The archaeological site includes a series of over-imposed terraces, showing the impressive and large blocks of stone finely carved and located on the upper terrace (Temple of the Sun).

The Inca ruins in Ollantaytambo are vestiges of the people who was ordered the construction by Pachacutec, after submitting its inhabitants and conquer these lands, imposing works of agricultural infrastructure, composed of hundreds of platforms and channels to ensure the farmlands, checkpoints and watchfulness are in the hilltops, domestic and ceremonial buildings.

Also, they had a bridged to connect the village with Inca Trail, and raised urban satellites on the route to Machu Picchu.


The site also features beautiful fountains, a “Temple of the Condor,” and numerous rocks and stones with a variety of indentations and grooves that may have been used for astronomical observations.

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The most remarkable of these is a vertical rock face with protruding knobs that some say is a solar clock that marks the December solstice and the zenith of the sun.

In fact, the whole of Ollantaytambo serves an astronomical purpose, the site is said to be laid out in the shape of a llama and high up on the mountain, a stone enclosure called the “eye of the llama” catches the first rays of the solstice sun.

Some believe that the stonework is so incredible made that it could impossible be made by humans. In his series of books beginning with Chariots of the Gods, The famous Swiss scientist, adventurer and author Eric Von Daniken, launched a theory that the Andean stone -constructions were built by Aliens who visited the earth for a long ago, and brought civilization to primitive humans living at that time.

It`s a fascinating theory, but it could also be understood as an underestimating of people in the past.

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It`s still a mystery today how the Inca’s could build such an enormous and well-constructed complex based on stones. At that time they had no iron tools or knowledge of the wheel, but anyway they were able to dig out the huge stones, transport them across the valley and a river, bring them up to the top of the mountain, shape and place them in remarkable structures.

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Zoe Mitchell

Zoe Mitchell is an independent researcher and writer specializing in extraordinary topics. With a degree in journalism, she delves into the mysteries that lie beyond the surface of our reality.