The Incas lived in South America from
the 14th century to mid 15th century, when they where conquered by Spanish explorers lead
by Pizarro. The Incas had one of the largest empires in the world. They were located in
modern day Peru and around the Andes Mountains, but their empire stretched from Columbia
to Chile (approximately 1,850 miles). Their buildings were simple in plan and design.
Oftentimes their buildings would deal with or center about a puma, also known as a cougar
or mountain lion, which was one of their most sacred animals. For example, the layout of
their capital, Cuzco, resembled the body of a puma. Some temples or buildings would
symbolize the puma's teeth, while others represented the tail. The Incas used adobe,
fieldstone, pirca, clay mortar, and plaster in their buildings. Pirca is formed by
fieldstone set in clay mortar.
Their homes were generally simple structures; small
huts made of thick pirca. The roof was composed of thatch tied to a wooden frame. However,
despite their simple appearance, the design of these homes enclosed heat very well. The
thatch roofs were also a denotation of rank within the Inca society. The Incas had an
uncomplicated style of arranging the grass. For example, in the town of Azangaro, one of
the most important buildings had an intricate thatch made of braided fine grass. None of
the huts had windows, and they contained little furniture. The Incas spent most of their
time outdoors, therefore they did not need much furniture other than necessary items.
The roads built by the Incas were paths between the huts. The streets
were narrow allowing only two men to pass on each side. Down the middle of the road, there
was running water in a small stone-lined path. All the streets were paved and well
The Incas were most famous for their masonry.
Masonry were blocks of stone that were cut, ground, and polished until the surface was
smooth and shaped to perfection. The Incas developed two types of masonry: coursed and
polygonal. In coursed masonry, all stones were rectangular, placed in even horizontal
rows, and tightly joined with sunken joints. The stones became smaller as they were placed
higher on the wall to make the building look balanced. Coursed masonry was apparently
valued more than polygonal masonry, because the walls of palaces and temples used coursed
masonry. Polygonal masonry was generally used for daily buildings and huts. Polygonal
masonry is when the stones interlock at random with the convex of one stone fitting into
the concave of another stone. The finishing product is composed of many different shapes
that all fit together perfectly. The masonry built by the Incas still stands today which
proves that the quality of the masonry is superb. The stones were shaped so precisely that
neither a sheet of paper nor razor is capable of fitting between the cracks.
The cancha, a square or trapezoidal enclosure for
doorways, niches, alcoves, and ground plans, were the hallmark of Inca architecture. Each
cancha was carefully planned to match the purpose of the building.
Qollqas were small square buildings that were built,
about two or three yards apart, in a row, and were very important to the Incas. They were
usually built outside populated areas in high locations to prevent the stored goods from
becoming damp. The distance between them was to prevent any fires that arose from
spreading to other qollqas. The usage of these buildings depended upon the owner; they
were commonly used to hold wealth or riches. Qollqas also held large amounts of food,
weapons, cloth, goods, and anything of high value. Sometimes the qollqas were used for
storage, similar to a bank account in present society. Other times it was used as
insurance. For example, food would be stored to use during a bad harvest. The
religious leaders used qollqas for sacrifices and offerings. These buildings also served
as homes for the mummies of the dead Inca leaders.
All Inca architecture was built using tools made of black obsidian
pebbles from streams since they did not have any metal tools or wheeled vehicles. These
pebbles were used mainly to pound then cut the rocks. The Incas did not use nails in their
architecture, but substituted them with string made of grass.
1. Ferguson, William M., Rohn, Arthur H., Mesoamerica's Ancient Cities,
Niwot, Colorado, University Press of Colorado, 1994