Sacsayhuamán (also known as Saksaq Waman, Sacsahuaman or Saxahuaman) is a walled complex on the northern outskirts of the city of Cusco, Peru, the former capital of the Inca empire. The complex is as many other Inca constructions made of large polished dry-stone walls, each boulder carefully cut to fit together tightly without mortar.
Located on a steep hill that overlooks the city, it contains an impressive view of the valley to the southeast. Surface collections of pottery at Sacsayhuaman indicate that the earliest occupation of the hill top dates back at least a millennium
Because of its location high above Cuzco and its immense terrace walls, this area of Sacsayhuaman is frequently referred to as a fortress.Some writers also believe the complex was built specifically to represent the head of a puma, the effigy shape which Sacsayhuamán together with Cuzco forms when seen from above.The importance of its military functions was highlighted in 1556 when Manco Inca lay siege to Cuzco.Much of the fighting occurred in and round Sacsayhuaman as it was critical for maintaining control over the city. It is clear from descriptions of the siege, as well as from excavations at the site, that there were towers on its summit as well as a series of other buildings. For example Pedro Sancho, who visited the complex before the siege, mentions the labyrinth like quality of the complex and the fact that it held a great number of storage rooms filled with a wide variety of items. He also notes that there were buildings with large windows that looked over the city. These structures, like so much of the site, have long since been destroyed.
Other early accounts of Cuzco indicate that Sacsayhuaman included a Sun Temple,which suggests that the complex was the focus of ritual activities as well. The large plaza area, capable of holding thousands of people, is well designed for ceremonial activities and several of the large structures at the site may also have been used during rituals. It is also clear from early accounts that the complex held a great number of storage rooms. Pedro Pizarro, describes the storage rooms that were within the complex and which were filled with military equipment.
The best-known zone of Sacsayhuaman includes its great plaza and its adjacent three massive terrace walls. The stones used in the construction of these terraces are among the largest used in any building in prehispanic America and display a precision of fitting that is unmatched in the Americas. The stones are so closely spaced that a single piece of paper will not fit between many of the stones. This precision, combined with the rounded corners of the blocks, the variety of their interlocking shapes, and the way the walls lean inward, is thought to have helped the ruins survive devastating earthquakes in Cuzco. The longest of three walls is about 400 meters. They are about 6 meters tall. The estimated volume of stone is over 6,000 cubic meters. Estimates for the weight of the largest limestone block vary from 128 tonnes to almost 200 tonnes.
Following the siege of Cuzco, the Spaniards began to use Sacsayhuaman as a source of stones for building Spanish Cuzco and within a few years much of the complex was demolished. The site was destroyed block-by-block to build the new governmental and religious buildings of the city, as well as the houses of the wealthiest Spaniards. In the words of Garcilaso de la Vega (1966:471 [1609: Part 1, Book. Bk. 7, Ch. 29]): “to save themselves the expense, effort and delay with which the Indians worked the stone, they pulled down all the smooth masonry in the walls. There is indeed not a house in the city that has not been made of this stone, or at least the houses built by the Spaniards.” Today, tragically, only the stones that were too large to be easily moved remain at the site.