Once upon a time, around 500 years ago, the Inca Empire stood as the largest nation on the planet. The four districts, or Tawantinsuyu as they called it, that constituted their rule covered an absurd distance that reached as far north as Colombia, went as far south as Santiago, Chile, and even stretched inland into modern-day countries like Bolivia and Argentina. As a result, the Incas have their stake in history for having erected the biggest native state to ever exist in the Western hemisphere.
In the midst of this impressive expanse of land lies the Sacred Valley, and out of all the valleys that carve into the Andes it’s the only one that earned the name “Sacred”. Hundreds upon hundreds of other prodigious locations could’ve scored that designation, and yet this modest 37-mile tract of land takes the gold. Why?
The most commonly known reason is for the Valley’s agricultural benefits; the soil is rich in nutrients, the rain pours, and the sun shines – the obvious criteria for cultivating good crop. Yet, the fact it had such wonderful farming properties in the region it’s in is what separates it from all other valleys. Cusco, which was the capital and centerpiece of the Tawantinsuyu departments, was only a day’s trek from the Sacred Valley, thus making it a crucial pipeline of trade, transport, and rest; a pivotal artery that delivered nourishment to the Inca’s heart.
With food production at its core, the Sacred Valley allowed an easy passage for those from the Colla Suyu (southern) district to reach noteworthy municipalities like Ollantaytambo, Cusco, and Machu Picchu. Such access gave convenient lines to Chinceros and Urubamba, which fostered an industry of exchange for those passing through. This was especially significant since the Incas didn’t do business with hard currency, it was with commodities like food and tools. In turn, the abundance of resources that made their way across the valley provided ample means for citizens to have downtime on longer treks and recuperate.
But, as you’re probably aware, it didn’t last. The Spanish conquistadors made sure of that. With its destruction the Sacred Valley was in danger of getting lost in the annals of time until the accidental discovery of Machu Picchu (a topic in which I’ll touch on later). Instead, it continues to be “sacred” in another sense; it’s beautiful, rich in history, teeming with a vibrant culture, and brings mass amounts of tourism to an area of the world that could use the economic support.
While that may not have the same ring to it, it’s importance in the present shouldn’t be understated. It’s not just about marvelous landscapes or money, it’s a source of pride for the native population. Here, where conditions aren’t as glorious as they are in developed countries, being able to point to the hillsides and share their ancestor’s ingenuity is an indispensable aspect of life for the locals. I hear it in their voice each time they talk about it, they speak with passion and conviction, fully aware of the triumphs that are scattered over their cherished land.
A lot of families here operate differently than I’m accustomed to, the whole concept of “opportunity” and “career-growth” is often lost amongst the necessity to farm, work, and provide for your household. As an adolescent it’s way more problematic to branch off, pay for an education, and leave your parents on the highland to do backbreaking labor; sadly, the future rarely shines as bright here as it does in other parts of the world. With little to look forward to except years and years of toiling in the soil, what do they have? The glory of a time past, reminiscing in the marvels that their own bloodline created.
If something as simple as a venerated homeland can offer someone a sense of belonging in an otherwise tedious lifestyle, wouldn’t you still consider it “sacred”? I know I do.