The name of this Peru city can be a mouthful, which is why Ollantaytambo was shortened into “Ollanta” by the locals and “Olly” by English-speakers. But there is nothing short about its long, layered history, attractions and allure despite keeping lifestyle around here simple and unpretentious.
To better appreciate this archaic complex, an architectural genius, you have to go back in time to learn its history. This is easy considering the availability of extensive records written before and after the Spanish attempt to conquer Ollantaytambo. The structure proved to be one tough nut to crack for the conquistadores. With its irrigation system built upon the order of Manco Inca and the detailed terracing of the structure, it was both a fortress and a temple. The town was the center of the settlement in the Sacred Valley.
The Little Town of Ollantaytambo
This quaint little town is at Sacred Valley’s western end. It was built above the original Inca grounds, the best living example of Inca’s masterful town planning. Ollantaytambo is divided into blocks or canchas; each has a single entrance leading into a central courtyard. There are houses surrounding this central courtyard.
Ollantaytambo is built right at the foot of the remarkable ruins protecting the strategically located entrance to Urubamba Valley. The temple straddles the highest spot of the steep terracing, which made it a brilliant defense against invaders. The transport of the stones used for these structures were brought up from a quarry involving thousands of workers. The complex was never completed as the invasion happened while still under construction. Even unfinished, the ruins still attract hordes of tourists each year.
The Impressive Ruins
The temple remains a formidable structure to this day with its impressive feats of architecture as it rises above the valley overlooking the ancient square of Plaza Mañaraki. Clambering up all of 200 steps gets you to the upper section that showcases extremely expert masonry and elegant doorjambs. Then there is the Temple of Ten Niches. Right on the next level is the Temple of the Sun where you’ll find six massive incredibly cut, polished, and fitted pink granite blocks.
The terraces descend to where the Rio Patacancha where the Baños de la Ñusta or Princess Baths, used for ceremonial bathing, is located. Facing these baths and wedged into the mountains are granaries constructed by the Incas.
The Old Town Feel
Further down and opposite the Patacancha River are the canchas where the ancient residences of the inhabitants stand. These canchas and dwellings are the finest specimens of the Incas’ masterful architecture and urban planning. Tourists can take a peek at how traditional life proceeds around here by visiting homes along Calle del medio (Chautik’ikllu St.). The ambiance is still very authentic and the folks living here are unperturbed by the comings and goings of throngs of tourists clicking their cameras to capture the essence of the life here. Men and women still don their colorful, traditional garbs and do traditional tasks such as weaving fabrics using ancient spinners and spools of colorful threads.
Merry Festivals in the Sacred Valley
Sacred Valley’s old Andean villages are known for vibrant local festivals celebrated with rocessions and parades, music and dance. The ones that are poshly celebrated here are Christmas, Día de los Reyes Magos, Ollanta-Raymi, Cusco’s Inti Raymi, and Chinchero’s Virgen Natividad. The Fiesta de las Cruces is celebrated through the highlands with excited dancing and the adornment of enormous crosses.
The festivals can add up to the fun of your visit. Yet, it is undeniable that the spectacular ruins are enough reasons to stop by to better appreciate the Inca’s masterful planning. Don’t miss important landmarks – Temple Hill, the Wall of the Six Monoliths, and Pinkullyuna snuggled into the bluffs. Strolling around the Old Town and appreciating the old stone houses would give you the goose bumps for their age and their fine designs.
If you are in Cusco, you must take time to pay homage to this glorious edifice of great Incan architecture. If you are adventurous, you may also opt to spend a day or two here on your way to Macho Picchu. The place is less touristy, a great alternative to busier Machu Picchu and Cusco, bet nevertheless worthy of your time.