This painting shows legendary Inca warrior Túpac Amaru.

Lost Incan City, Last Refuge of Warrior Túpac Amaru, Found at Last?

Steve Russell

Spanish historian Santiago del Valle Chousa has published a book claiming that the last capitol of the Inca Empire, Hatun Vilcabamba, has finally been located after the last of 16 expeditions since 1997 reported on a site first noticed in the mid-60s. In Vilcabamba: The Sacred Refuge of the Incas, del Valle tells the tale of the search and promises that archaeologists will begin excavation of 99 percent of the site.

Identification of the final refuges of the Incas is based on uncovering one percent of the ruins discovered at an elevation of 9,835 feet in the southern Peruvian region of Cuzco. Del Valle told the Latin American Herald Tribune that the historic city “is covered by vegetation. We were walking over one building and you couldn’t see what was underneath.”

A religious area in Vilcabamba. (Vilcabamba.net)

The Americas were two “new worlds,” both nothing like the Asian lands Christopher Columbus was seeking when the Tainos discovered him in what is now The Bahamas. The Taino people were soon enslaved by the Spanish acting on behalf of their Christian Deity. The year was 1492.

Two years later, in his role as God’s right hand man, Pope Alexander VI had to broker the Treaty of Tordesillas to divide up the souls and the gold (certainly not in that order) between Portugal and Spain. Portugal had enjoyed an exclusive concession to loot the eastern coast of Africa and therefore asserted a stake in other unknown lands. Other European countries forfeited any share of the gold, er, souls, by taking up to varying degrees with the Protestant Reformation.

Portugal and the Catholic monarchs of the lands that would become Spain signed Tordesillas and Pope Alexander sealed it with the bull known as Inter Caetera.  Modern American Indians just call it “bull” for short.

Since the big bulge on the South American coastline was marked for Portugal, the Spanish sent forces along the lowlands surrounding spine of the continent formed by the Andes. Francisco Pizarro González was half of a partnership with Diego de Almagro, but it is Pizarro who put his bloody footprints on South American history leading an army of less than 200 men.

Pizarro took the reigning Inca, Atahualpa, hostage, and demanded that the Inca’s followers purchase his life with a roomful of gold. The Indians produced the gold but Pizarro killed the Inca anyway and installed his teenage brother as a sock puppet for the colonists.

In 1536, one of Pizarro’s four brothers in the occupation army, Gonzalo Pizarro, stole the new Inca’s wife, touching off a major rebellion. The youngest Pizarro, Juan, was killed in the fighting.

The Inca General Quizo Yupanqui laid siege to Cuzco and beat back five Spanish relief expeditions. He then overplayed his hand and attacked the Spanish garrison on the coast at Lima. The general was killed.

Manco Inca Yupanqui—no longer anybody’s sock puppet—abandoned the siege of Cuzco and retreated into the jungle, where he began a classic campaign of guerilla warfare against the colonists from a new capitol at Vilcabamba.

Without an Inca army surrounding Cuzco, Francisco Pizarro’s erstwhile business partner, Diego de Almagro, occupied it. Pizarro sent his surviving brothers to retake Cuzco, which they did, killing Almagro.

In 1541, Francisco Pizarro, known in history as the conquistador who sacked the Incan Empire, was assassinated by a follower of his murdered business partner, having ruled the stolen empire for only nine years.

The remnants of the Incan Empire exploited guerilla warfare and diplomatic stalling to remain free. Manco Inca died in a Spanish attack in 1544 and was succeeded by various family members until leadership came to the guerilla leader who remains legendary to this day, Túpac Amaru.

This painting shows legendary Inca warrior Túpac Amaru.

In 1572, the Spanish finally sacked Vilcabamba. The soldiers chased down Túpac Amaru and secured his surrender by promising that he and his pregnant wife would be well treated. Amaru was returned to Cuzco in chains and executed by beheading in the public square. A pair of Dominican friars immortalized Túpac Amaru’s last words:

Ccollanan Pachacamac ricuy auccacunac yahuarniy hichascancuta!

(“Mother Earth, witness how my enemies shed my blood!”)

Túpac Amaru’s legend lived on and the leader of another revolt against the colonists adopted his name in 1780. His tale is told to this day.

The location of Vilcabamba was lost to history. Mythology grew up around the city like the mythology of the resistance led by Túpac Amaru. Archaeologists argued over the myth of Vilcabamba like they argued over the myth of Troy. What was true and what was legend?

Panoramic view of Vilcabamba in Cuzco, Peru. (EFE/Santiago del Valle)

The argument over Vilcabamba got sharper in 1911, when a Yale history professor, Hiram Bingham, discovered the spectacular indigenous ruins at Machu Picchu during a search for the lost Incan capitol.

Bingham died in 1956; still as convinced that he had discovered the lost city of Vilcabamba as Columbus was that he had discovered a new route to India. However, years of study in and around Machu Picchu never turned up any evidence that the Spanish had ever discovered the city, much less sacked it.

Machu Pichu was built by the Inca in the early to mid-1400s.

Almost ten years later, an American explorer named Gene Savoy claimed to have discovered Vilcabamba a difficult five-day trek from Machu Picchu. While the site has barely been touched by modern archaeology, it is in approximately the right place according to the stories.

Santiago del Valle claims to have verified the location of Vilcabamba by reconstructing the march of the Spanish troops from Cuzco to the final battle with the Incan Empire. The reconstruction was based on contemporary records from the Spanish colonial archives.

Next year, the serious digging and documentation will begin. The ruins, if they are Vilcabamba, will disgorge the indigenous side of a story filled with greed and betrayal, theft and homicide.

Because the barbarians from the Iberian Peninsula worked so hard to erase all the great civilizations of what became known as Latin America—the Mayans, Aztecs, and Incas, among others—they left a timeline in the Americas littered with gaps and puzzles.

It will be years before we know with certainty if this excavation is an unrelated surprise left by Indigenous Peoples or a major contribution to the archaeology of the Inca Resistance.

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