By the mid-fifteenth century, the Inca people dominate the Cuzco valley. In less than 100 years, two exceptionally talented military leaders succeed in bringing large territories to the north and south of the valley under Inca control. They create the largest empire in the Precolumbian world, stretching some 3,000 miles from northern Ecuador to central Chile. Called Tawantinsuyu, “land of the four parts,” the empire has Cuzco at its heart located at 11,000 feet in the high Andes. It is made up of a loose confederation of ethnic groups linked to Cuzco through conquests, alliances, and kinship ties. To manage this vast land of remarkable geographic contrasts and striking ethnic diversity, and to redistribute its wealth of natural resources, the Inca expand existing systems. Sophisticated engineering projects—roads, irrigation systems, and agricultural terraces—and political, economic, and social mechanisms traditional to Andean peoples are used. Many conquered regions are ruled locally under Inca supervision and local languages continue to be spoken. The Inca’s Quechua is the prestigious language of the administration. The Inca solar cult becomes the state religion. In art and architecture, a homogeneous imperial Inca style—developed in the Cuzco area—is introduced throughout the realm. Coexisting with local traditions, the style is characterized by simple, elegant forms, balanced proportions, and abstract, geometric designs executed with superb craftsmanship.
The Inca empire is weakened by a bitter battle for succession in the 1520s when Spanish invaders arrive in Peru. Helped by disgruntled Inca subjects burdened by the growing demands of Cuzco’s rulers for labor and sumptuary goods, the Spaniards, led by Francisco Pizarro, conquer Tawantinsuyu in 1534. Decades of upheaval, destruction, intense rivalry among colonialists, and fierce resistance by the Indians follow. After almost fifty years of bloodshed and a dramatic decline of native populations, European institutions have largely replaced indigenous ones. Following the conquerors are clergymen charged with the conversion of the Indians to the Catholic faith, and large numbers of Spaniards, attracted by accounts of fabulous wealth in gold and silver. They found new cities with markets, Catholic churches and monasteries, and elegant mansions for the new elite. The Spaniards bring with them European artworks, particularly paintings, prints, and sculptures, which are used to instruct indigenous artists in the new European imagery and aesthetics. Art is produced primarily for the Catholic church and wealthy European patrons.
Túcume, under Chimú rule but governed by local lords, is the leading political center in the northern Lambayeque region. The city grows and assumes an urban character. Its largest structure is converted from a freestanding truncated mound into a long platform rising onto Cerro La Raya, the mountain that dominates the site.
Textile artists on Peru’s north and central coast produce elaborate works in an unprecedented variety of techniques executed in a virtuoso manner, among them gauzes, slit tapestries, and brocades. Supplemental materials and objects such as colorful beads, feathers, and gold and silver ornaments further enhance luxurious tunics, loincloths, mantles, and headgear.
Chimú society’s increased demand for luxury goods leads to state-sponsored craft production in provincial centers. At Manchán in the Casma River valley, hundreds of workshops produce fine textiles, beadwork, ceramics, and metal objects.
Inca territorial expansion begins. The Inca leader Yupanqui establishes hegemony in the Cuzco valley and adjacent areas after repeated battles with the Chancas, their archrivals. Yupanqui is crowned Sapa Inca (unique king), assuming the name Pachakuti (ca. 1391–ca. 1473). He plans Cuzco to be the ceremonial, political, and economic center of an Inca state.
Chan Chan, a vast labyrinth of massive adobe walls sprawling for eight square miles at the mouth of the Moche River, has an estimated population of more than 30,000. It is among the largest cities built in the central Andes and has nine to eleven imposing royal compounds (ciudadelas), the biggest covering some fifty-five acres. Scattered among the ciudadelas are residences of lesser nobility, artisans’ quarters, monumental adobe shrines, cemeteries, and agricultural fields.
Machu Picchu, a country estate built by Pachakuti in the pleasant climate of the Urubamba River valley, is located on a narrow ridge high above the densely forested slopes of the valley. The retreat is used for relaxation, entertainment, and diplomatic feasting as well as for religious ceremonies and rituals.
Topa Inca, Pachakuti’s son, takes control of the army. Father and son—able conquerors and talented organizers—embark on sweeping campaigns extending the Inca domain to Quito in the north and central Chile in the south.
A regional Inca administrative center, Tambo Colorado in the Pisco River valley, is built entirely of adobe. Plan and architecture have typical Inca features such as rectangular plazas withushnus (viewing platforms) and buildings with trapezoidal niches, windows, and doors.
The Inca conquer Chan Chan, capital of the Chimú kingdom, plundering the royal tombs and storerooms. Metalsmiths are taken to Cuzco, where they produce works of an unprecedented scale in the Inca style.
Pachakuti resigns, leaving the empire to his son Topa Inca Yupanqui.
Male and female figurines in gold and silver are dressed in finely woven miniature versions of Inca elite dress. Mantles, coca bags, belts, and feather headdresses are included. They are placed as offerings in special burials and in sacred sites in the landscape, such as caves, springs, outcrops, and mountain peaks.
On the main road between Cuzco and Quito, Huanuco Pampa serves as a provincial administrative center. The city has nearly 4,000 buildings and a gigantic plaza, where state ceremonies are held. Public buildings, a royal palace, residences, and workshops surround it.
The Chachapoya people build burial towers (chullpas) on a limestone cliff above the Laguna de los Cóndores in the northeastern Andes. Nine feet tall with two floors, the towers are built of limestone blocks. Some are painted in white, red, and yellow while others have zigzag stone friezes.
Diaguita ceramics on Chile’s northern coast show Inca influence in form and design.
The Inca build the Temple of the Sun over an earlier structure at Pachacamac, the ancient oracle and pilgrimage center on Peru’s central coast.
Cuzco is the architectural showcase of the empire, boasting grand palaces for kings, elegant elite residences, and holy shrines built of the finest stonework.
Huayna Capac succeeds Topa Inca.
Christopher Columbus lands on the continent of South America.
Sacred places (huacas) in the environs of Cuzco are located along a complex network of about forty imaginary lines, called ceques, thought to radiate from the city’s Temple of the Sun.
The finest cloth, called cumbi, is woven by cloistered “chosen women” in the Inca empire. They produce exquisite garments of cotton and camelid hair—hair of llamas, alpacas, and vicuñas—for noble and ritual use.
A distinctive Inca storage vessel of ceramic is in use throughout the empire. Known as aryballos, or urpus in Quechua, they range in height from four inches to four feet, and are usually embellished with geometric polychrome designs.
Inca records are kept on khipus, knotted strings that tally the empire’s tribute, population numbers, and economic transactions.
A major epidemic, probably smallpox, spreads into Tawantinsuyu from the north, killing thousands of native peoples.
The Inca ruler Huayna Capac dies suddenly of a European disease while in Quito. Without a designated heir, a bitter battle for succession ensues. War breaks out between his sons Huascar and Atawallpa.
The Inca empire stretches for almost 3,000 miles on the Pacific side of South America from central Chile and northwestern Argentina to northern Ecuador. Fifteen thousand miles of road connect its cities and towns.
Francisco Pizarro (ca. 1475–1541) obtains authorization from the king of Spain to conquer Peru. He embarks from Panama to Peru.
Huascar is killed by his brother Atawallpa’s forces. Pizarro arrives in the coastal town of Tumbes. The Spaniard captures Atawallpa and imprisons him in the highland city of Cajamarca.
Despite the paying of an enormous ransom in gold and silver, Atawallpa is not set free and is executed by his Spanish captors. A puppet government is established under a member of Inca royalty.
Cuzco is invaded by the Spaniards. The church and monastery of Santo Domingo are built on the foundations of the Coricancha (Golden Enclosure), the most sacred temple in the Inca empire.
The Ciudad de los Reyes (City of Kings), today Lima, is founded by Pizarro near the mouth of the Rímac River on January 6, the Festival of the Three Kings.
The Spanish crown assigns lands known as encomiendas to colonizers, with Indians as laborers and taxpayers; in return, they are required to Christianize and protect the native peoples.
The Indians rebel against the abuses and hardships of the invaders and besiege Cuzco.
Civil war breaks out among Spanish settlers. Francisco Pizarro is killed.
The Viceroyalty of Perú, with Lima as its capital, is established; it includes Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, and north-central Argentina and Chile. The New Laws of the Indies are promulgated, officially prohibiting Indian slavery. Colonists use African slaves instead; hundreds of thousands are brought to the Americas primarily by the Portuguese.
The richest silver mine in the world is discovered in Potosí in southern Bolivia, attracting large numbers of fortune hunters from Spain.
Pedro de Cieza de León (1518–1554), a Spanish soldier who traveled widely in the Andean area, writes the first extensive history of the native peoples entitled Crónica del Perú.
The University of San Marcos opens in Lima. It is the first university founded in South America.
Guilds are established in Lima to organize and regulate art and craft production, the training of artists, and the setting of quality standards. Only Spaniards can serve as masters.
Construction on the cathedral in Cuzco begins. Built of large slabs of granite taken from the Inca fortress of Sacsahuaman, it is one of the most imposing structures in the city. The elegant Renaissance facade contrasts with the lavish interior, which houses ecclesiastical works in gold and silver made by native smiths.
Indian leaders urge the Catholic church in Lima to ask the king of Spain to end the encomienda system and restore their lands.
Francisco de Toledo (1520–1583; r. 1569–81), fifth viceroy, reorganizes the colony.
Viceroy Toledo introduces a labor system designed for maximum exploitation of the mines. Horrendous working conditions of the largely Indian labor force enormously increase the death toll.
Commissioned by Spaniards and descendants of Inca nobility, indigenous master weavers and metalworkers produce fine textiles and silver objects. The works combine traditional Inca techniques, forms, and designs with European elements.
Portraits of the twelve Inca kings and their wives are painted in European style for the king of Spain. Commissioned by Viceroy Toledo of native artists, he also commissions Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa (1532–1592) to write the Historia de los Incas.
Tupac Amaru I, the last of the Inca royal heirs, is executed on Toledo’s order. Inca nobles are exiled from Cuzco.
A standardized grid plan for new settlements in the Americas is signed into law by King Philip II.
Bernardo Bitti (1548–1610), a Jesuit painter in the Mannerist style from Rome, arrives in Lima. For forty years, he paints and teaches devotional painting throughout the Andes.
The convent of Santa Catalina is founded in Arequipa, where daughters of wealthy families care for the sick and offer shelter to travelers.
On the site of an Inca ruler’s palace in Cuzco, the Jesuits build the Compañía Church, one of the finest examples of colonial Baroque architecture in the Americas.
Dominican friars build several missions on the altiplano of Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. Charged primarily with the conversion of Indians to Catholicism, the missions also provide education in Spanish, reading, writing, and the arts as well as protection from abusive settlers.
The first printing press is set up in Lima. The Jesuits produce dictionaries, grammars, and Bibles in Quechua.
Felipe Guamán Poma de Ayala (1535?–1620?), born shortly after the Spanish conquest into a noble Andean family, begins to compose an illustrated letter of complaint to the king of Spain about the harsh treatment of the Indians by the colonists. Completed in 1615, this compelling document comprises 1,188 pages and 398 drawings; it is known as El primer nueva corónica y buen gobierno.
Working closely with indigenous informants, the Mercedarian friar Martín de Murúa (1525/35–1618) compiles the Historia general del Perú. Describing Inca rulers and their wives, their customs and laws, their cities and military leaders, the text is accompanied by 112 colored drawings.
Potosí, a city of some 160,000, is one of the wealthiest in the world. Luxury items from all over the world are imported to satisfy the expensive tastes of its affluent European residents.
“Central and Southern Andes, 1400–1600 A.D.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/?period=08®ion=sanc (October 2006)