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Qhapaq Ñan: The Great Inca Trail’s Legacy

March 18, 2005

Apowerful historical and archeological tribute to one ofthe most amazing networks of roads in history, “QhapacÑan: The Great Inca Trail” is now on display, courtesy ofthe Peruvian Embassy, at the National Museum in San José.Through this collection of drawings and photographs,we see a rich account of the people and geography that stillsymbolize mystery and innovation.The exhibit comprises 80 photographs by 13 photographers,and ranges from rolling patchwork landscapes ofPeru to sacred rituals celebrating the gods of sun, air,mountains and water. Quapac Ñan (“Great Path” inQuechua) reflects a history of achievement and conquestthrough images of of tombs, ancient agricultural researchcenters, salt flats, ports and more.A richness of color in faces, celebratory costumes andnature is one of the more remarkable aspects of the exhibit.Descriptions of llamas, Nazca Line geoglyphs andprimitive bridge and boat constructions make for an educationalexperience.MANY cultures flourished along the routes of the IncaTrail from the highlands of the Andes to the coastal plains.As seen in the exhibit, commercial and ceremonial centersmarking the heights of the area’s civilizations are amazinglywell preserved.The entire network of roads covers more than 40,000kilometers (25,000 miles), with 23,000 (14,300 miles)recorded by archeologists. Cuzco, “the navel of theworld,” marks the beginning and end of the trail, aroundwhose borders the Incas constructed great fortresses.After developing a highly organized and advancedsociety that flourished from approximately 1450 to 1532,the Inca empire left a legacy of mystery, cultural celebrationand environmental worship. The 1532 arrival ofSpanish soldier Francisco Pizarro marked the beginning ofthe invasion and destruction of the Inca empire in Peru.The conquistador and his men found land rich in miningpotential and landscapes, complete with a complex roadwaysystem.INNOVATIVE engineering and construction feats tella story of their own in the Qhapaq Ñan collection.Drawings dating back to the 1500s depict bridges wovenfrom reeds connecting cliffs and covering gorges. Theexhibit shows how several of the bridges have been rewovenby the community every two years since 1944.The compilation reflects the scale of the extensive trailstretching across some of the globe’s highest peaks. Oneof the most impressive images is of Lake Titicaca, thehighest navigable lake in the world, on the border betweenPeru and Bolivia. Another incredible shot shows theAmazon River, known as nature’s own royal road, meanderingalong the present-day frontiers of Bolivia and Peru.Photos of Machu Picchu, the Lost City, portray the majesticpeaks and ridges of the highland empire.“IN terms of heritage, this is undoubtedly the greatestmonument in the American continent,” said LuisGuillermo Lumbreras, director of the National CulturalInstitute of Peru. “For the thousands of communities thatflourished alongside it, the Qhapaq Ñan is a broken downroute, although saturated with promises of restoration.”Today, the Inca Trail is a mecca for archeologists andhikers worldwide. Looking at this display of photography,we see the attraction and lure of this geographic and engineeringphenomenon.The exhibit will run through April 17 at the NationalMuseum in downtown San José, Av. 2, Ca. 17. The museumis open 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Tuesday throughSaturday, and 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. on Sundays. For information,call 225-9145 or 225-1575.

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