We arrived back in Cusco in the evening and found the inner city much different than the rather scruffy outskirts. Multiple squares are surrounded by lovely colonial buildings (most built on Inca foundation walls), some with moorish balconies that reminded us of old town Jeddah. The squares were alive with people, both locals and tourists.
We were fortunate to be staying in the new JW Marriott (opened just three years ago) is a remarkable restoration of a centuries old convent. Marriott took great care to restore the existing walls, arches and courtyard with a sensitivity towards both Inca and Spanish history. The staff offer a “history tour” of the building which we found fascinating. They employed local workers and all the construction was done by hand – no machinery was brought in. The columns around the inner courtyard were taken apart brick by brick, numbered, and then placed back on 6 metre deep foundations that they feel will survive the next earthquake. The tour took us to a lower level of the hotel where we could observe the Inca walls and canal that flowed along the original street (which the Spanish presumably built over top).
We spent the first night enjoying pisco sours (the national drink to which I have taken quite a fancy!) and appetizers in the bar. We were feeling pretty tired after hiking up and down so many deep stone steps for three days.
The next day we explored churches and museums. Jair had recommended the Machu Picchu Museum which is so new it wasn’t in our guidebook or on the map from the hotel but it was absolutely top notch. I assume that it was developed in collaboration with Yale and the Peabody Museum (US) because it included many photographs from Hiram Bingham’s expeditions as well as excellent videos of archaeologists, geologists, historians discussing the various aspects of the site, including how their assumptions and findings have changed over the years. There is also an impressive display of artifacts that Bingham discovered and sent back to the U.S. which Yale University has just recently returned to Cusco.
The much older, Inca Museum had a less impressive display on the Inca period but gave us a much greater appreciation for the pre-Inca civilizations.
The large Cathedral of Santo Domingo towers over Place Des Armas, the main square. It felt more of a museum to me than a church, full of an ostentatious amount of gold and silver relics. Built in the mid 1600s, there are two more recent and slightly less garish chapels on either side.
We enjoyed the Saint Francisco Church and Monastery much more. The monastery has only been open to tourists for about a year and they use tourism students as guides. Only one section, with an impressive collection of ecclesiastical artwork, is available for viewing because it is still a working monastery and school. In contrast to the cathedral, the décor is understated, with beautiful wood carvings, period paintings and the natural environment of its inner courtyard. I was not able to take photographs except looking down into the beautiful church from the choir and out into the courtyard. I wish that I could have captured the amazing choir stalls and the three huge hand-drawn hymnals that were placed in the middle of the choir on a massive revolving lecturn.
We finished our full day of exploring Cusco with a delicious dinner in the highly recommended Limo restaurant overlooking the main square. From our window seat we watched various groups of locals dancing to the music of flutes and tambourines.