Skilled at thriving in diverse landscapes, from lowlands to mountainsides, the Inca are hungry to expand their great empire.

According to their founding myth, the Inca were the descendants of Manco Capac, who was said to have put an end to his clan’s wandering ways and civilized his people by founding the city of Cusco in the heart of the Andes. At the turn of the 15th century, a long series of victorious military campaigns enabled this lineage’s rulers to extend their domination and influence considerably. Until then a small, landlocked city, Cusco grew to become not only the capital of the Inca Empire but also the symbolic and ideological center of Tawantinsuyu, the “Realm of the Four Parts” of the Andean world.

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Strictly speaking, the Inca were not a people but rather a family clan who settled in Cusco around the 10th century. Between the 11th and 15th centuries, they assumed increasing power in the city and its surrounding areas, implementing the first religious rites associated with their lineage. Indeed, the Inca worshipped both the sun and their emperor, considered the sun’s direct descendant and representative on earth. Upon his death, the emperor’s mummy was taken to the Coricancha, Cusco’s great temple, which also stored the relics (huacas) of defeated peoples, placed symbolically under the auspices of the sun.
Initially limited, the Inca expansion accelerated in the 15th century under the reigns of Pachacuti (1438-1463), Tupac Yupanqui (1463-1493), and Huayna Capac (1493-1527). Through propaganda, intimidation, and military conflict, the Inca extended their Empire along the length of the Andean Mountains and from the Pacific Ocean to the Mamoré River. At the height of his power, the Inca Emperor ruled over some 12 million subjects governed by a hierarchical and efficient bureaucracy.
The Empire’s agricultural production served three distinct purposes: to support the village communities, maintain the State and administration, and provide offerings to the sun god. The ordinary men and women who farmed Inca lands were subject to forced labor or military service, and could be sent to colonize new territories.

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Cusco was the nerve center of a network of sprawling routes that connected the capital to the Empire’s provinces. Covering tens of thousands of miles, the Inca road system was dotted with buildings that served as stations for the many runners who, on foot, ensured the circulation of news and information.