‘Festival of the Sun’ Celebrated in Peru

Suramérica, Perú, Cuzco, Inti Raymi


Mysticism, history and tradition all come alive in the Peruvian highlands every year during the last week of June. The “Inti Raymi” celebration marks the Andean calendar, attracting thousands of tourists who come to witness this ancient festival.

This past June 24, more than 200,000 people participated in this “Festival of the Sun” in the ancient capital of the Inca Empire: Cuzco, declared by the Peruvian constitution as the “historic capital” of the country.

Each year, the “imperial city” is the scene of sun worship ceremonies expressing gratitude for the year’s harvest and praying for the land’s continued fertility.

Visitors who choose to visit Peru and the city of Cusco during this time have the opportunity to participate in a trip through the history of Tahuantinsuyo (the Inca Empire) as they experience a pagan festival that dates back more than six centuries.

Tours of these reenactments take travelers to several attractions in the magical city of Cusco, as well as in the nearby Ollantaytambo (“the Sacred Valley of the Incas”) and the legendary Machu Picchu – a journey allows visitors to delight in Inca culture.

Though the Festival of the Sun takes place in many places in the Peruvian highlands, the best known celebration of Inti Raymi is in Cusco. At three sites, ceremonies are performed that impress visitors with their depth and magic. These settings are the Inca temple of the God Qoricancha, the Plaza de Armas, and the Sacsayhuaman Archaeological Park.

Indigenous delegations from different parts of the Peru come to Cusco to honor the Inti Tayta and ask for prosperity for their peoples. The principal ceremony includes various rituals involving colorful parades, indigenous dances, tributes, samples of world renowned Peruvian cuisine, and more than 800 actors.

As is often said, although the day might be cloudy, there’s always a time when the sun comes out during the Inti Raymi festival. “A beautiful chaos, the end of the Cuzco world,” added a correspondent of the Spanish newspaper El Pais.

 Traces of History

Festival    Flicktr credit McKay Savage

According to legend, this festival goes back to the Inca ruler Pachakutik, who initiated this celebration and ordered building of a temple dedicated to Apu Inti (the Inca Sun God) right in the middle of the city. Pachakutik then named this center of worship “Qoricancha.”

It was among the stone walls of this temple where the Incas, who believed themselves to be direct descendants of the Sun, gave thanks to Inti for their existence.

The temple — today one of the city’s main touristic attraction — was once described in detail by Garcilaso de la Vega, who was considered the first “mestizo” in Peru and was the great chronicler at the time of the conquest. Thanks to his writings, we know that in this building could be found the embalmed bodies of the “children of the Sun” sitting in golden chairs in front of golden tables.

From the accounts of De la Vega, we now know that Inti Raymi was part of one of the four grand festivals held in Cusco. These celebrations lasted 15 days, during which time dancing and sacrifices were performed to mark half a year in the Mayan calendar.

This ancestral tradition, which was presided over by Inca emperors until 1535, was banned by a Spanish viceroy in 1572 due to its pagan character. But on the June 24, 1944, Inti Raymi was again declared as a celebration in the nation’s interest, as its antiquity and its historical and cultural significance were again recognized.

Inti Raymi is celebrated by many indigenous communities in the Andean highlands and the Amazon region. What’s more, these festivities are held not only in Peru, but in a number of different Latin American countries – including Ecuador, of course.

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