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Inca Stonework

The Incas have left one of the greatest architectural legacies of all time, leaving incredible structures such as Machu Pichu to prove their skill. This particular photo of an Inca wall at the Sacsayhuaman Fortress represents just one element of their multiple skills with stonework. The Inca flourished briefly, with their vast knowledge of engineering and their organized system of government, which combined to form an incomparable system of communication and order. Unfortunately, their advances in culture could not defend them against the weapons and diseases of the Spaniards. Tupac Amaru, the last Inca Emperor, fought against the Spanish invaders at Vilcabamba in 1572 and eventually lost.  The empire is still the largest native state ever to have existed in the Western hemisphere. Their advanced engineering is one of the reasons behind their success. I came across this particular architectural artifact while researching Inca history for Project 2A. It represents much of the artistic brilliance and simple functionality of all Inca architecture.

Cyclopean Stonework
Sacsayhuaman Fortress

            The stone wall shown in the photograph is Cyclopean stonework from the walls of the Sacsayhuaman Fortress. The term Cyclopean means the wall is “dry” or was laid without mortar, a bonding material used in masonry. The primary function of this wall was function. It was built for strength and protection. The stone used to build this wall was found locally and probably created from either granite or limestone. The stonecutters obviously possessed the basic stonecutting skills. To split the stone they would place wooden wedges in cracks, and then by soaking the wedges in water, they would expand and thus split the rocks. Many ancient cultures realized this technique independently of each other. What makes this Inca stonework especially unique and impressive their ability to cut strangely trapezoidal shaped rocks and fit them so closely together.  The cliché goes, one can not even stick a knife between two of these stones. The trapezoid is an appropriate design for the Inca, people whom were not only masters of engineering but also of math and geometry.  It isn’t altogether known how the Inca manages such taught fits, but one of the known ways they produced these results was by placing one stone atop another and removing it. After removing the top stone, they would note spots on the base stone that had rubbed against the top. They would then grind away those spots, thus producing a tighter suction cup fit.

The main style of Inca architecture is based around the simple geometrical beauty and functionality of the trapezoid. Trapezoids are found in nearly all Inca architecture, whether it be a palace of a small crude buildings.

            I chose this particular piece of stonework because of its metaphorical qualities. It seems to represent Inca architecture as a whole. Its simple strength and subtle beauty match that of the Inca, who favored clean tight patterns and geometry over excessively decorative architecture.

            It is know, as I mentioned earlier, how the Inca split stones and fit them together tightly, but what is not know is the entirety of the process. How did they actually go about fitting the puzzle like pieces of rock together? How did the get the pieces to fit together so tightly.  I understand how placing one rock on top of another and removing it to see which spots needed to be rubbed down would help, but how did they get the fit to be air tight?

            The image of the Incan stonework researched in this page was found at

Cyclopean Stonework

Project 2C