The Andean city of Cusco, located in modern-day Peru, was the capital of the Incan empire from the 13th century until the Spanish arrival in 1533. Coricancha (literally "gold enclosure") was the Incan empire's most important temple complex, considered the most sacred site in the Incan religion, and it was also regarded as the very center of the Inca world. The original complex was built using ashlar masonry, in which finely cut stone blocks were fitted together without mortar. It housed several temples to various deities of the Incan pantheon; the most important of these was the Temple of the Sun, which was dedicated to the sun god Inti and was furnished with astonishing amounts of gold (gold artifacts, statues, and even sheets of gold which were hung on the interior and exterior walls) (Cartwright). The complex's layout was in the approximate shape of a sun, with "rays" (roads, both actual and spiritual) that radiated out from the complex. (The Inca favored this kind of symbolic planning––in fact, the city of Cusco was lain out in the shape of the sacred jaguar, with Coricancha at its tail (Cartwright).) The complex was designed to let in as much sunlight as possible, and there were several open spaces as well.

Spanish colonization in Cusco changed everything. Most of the gold from the Temple of the Sun and the rest of the complex was seized and melted down for the Spanish crown, and the Spanish also wasted little time in destroying much of the original Incan complex. In its place, the Spanish conquerors built the Church of Santo Domingo, maintaining some functional continuity (it remained a spiritual center) but effectively demolishing the one religion and replacing it with the other (Cartwright). Tearing down the spiritual center of the Incan empire certainly sent a message of Spanish power and superiority, not to mention the priority of Catholicism. This new cathedral was, of course, built in the Spanish design, with Spanish materials and Spanish methods. The example of Coricancha displays the way that destroying native architecture and replacing it with colonial architecture served as a means of subjugation; here, it established a new predominant faith and the power of the Spanish to dominate even that which the native peoples found sacred. This replacement of indigenous creations with Spanish colonial ones was not uncommon in the New World, and was potentially an influential factor in the psychological subjugation of the indigenous peoples, making them feel alien in their own establishments.


"Architects": Incans of Cusco, Spanish conquistadors and missionaries
Photo: McKay Savage


Cartwright, Mark. "Coricancha" last modified March 9, 2014.


Complex construction: Mid-1400s
Spanish destruction, and cathedral: mid to late 1500s
Photo: 2012


Maddie Gartland


Creative Commons 2.0, free re-use


"Architects": Incans of Cusco, Spanish conquistadors and missionaries Photo: McKay Savage, “Coricancha,” HIST 139 - Early Modern Europe, accessed May 27, 2024,

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