Learn Spanish in The Sacred Valley

Fiestas in the sacred valley

Qoyllur Rit'i (Vilcanota Mountain Range - Cusco, date varies but usually the Sunday before Corpus Christi)

corpus christi Until about 20 years ago this festival was celebrated modestly namely by the campesinos from the east of Cusco. However, over the years, this festival is on a rise and now seems to be celebrated by every town and village within the region.

Qoyllur Rit'i is a moveable festival in late May or early June. Its location is the Sinakara valley, close to the magnificent Mt. Ausangate, high above the village of Mawayani in the province of Quispicanchis.

Qoyllur Rit'i in Quechua means 'Snow Star'; a name relating to the festival's pre-Columbian origins, and often said to be a pre-Inca fertility rite.

Today the festival is influenced strongly by the Christian religion. Tradition has it that in the late 18th century Christ appeared before a child here after performing miracles amongst the devout locals. At the church, built high on the mountainside, pilgrims come to worship a rock featuring the image of the Messiah all while singing hymns in Quechua and performing traditional dances.

The overwhelming first impression of this fiesta is that of chaos, discomfort and confusion. Literally thousands of dancers and hundreds of bands mill about the valley slopes while the air is filled with noise and smoke.

The Lord of Qoyllur Rit'i, to many believers, reigns. Many people come to him for earthly blessings - trucks, houses, or employment - while others want success with college studies or luck in finding a suitable marriage partner. There are several people that come to him with the hopes of being cured of an illness, since the glacier clad mountains that surround the valley are believed to be the seat of healing power.

During the final night of the fiesta, hundreds of pilgrims climb up the icy glaciers to search for the Snow Star. They hack out blocks of ice and break off giant icicles from the numerous ice caves, which they then carry on their shoulders down to the church in a long procession at sunrise. Here the ice is blessed before being taken back to their communities, where the Holy water is considered sacred medicine to help the sick.

Corpus Christi (Cusco, 60 days after Easter Sunday)

corpus Sixty days after the Sunday of Resurrection, Cusco celebrates the Catholic festival of the Eucharist, the body of Christ.
A few years after Francisco Pizarro rode into Cusco, the Spaniards began to celebrate this festival in all of its splendor. The Indians strangely celebrated the festivals in much the same manner as the Spaniards. There was a great similarity between parading their Inca mummies in the Cusco main square and the latter processions of virgins and saints.
According to many historians, Corpus Christi turned into a sort of continuation of the Inca festivals. Moreover, as it was celebrated between May and June, it coincided with the high point of the Inca ceremonial calendar, the months when work was finished in the fields, and the people offered up prayers to the Sun god and the Inca's ancestors.

The festival gets under way on the Sunday 11 days before Corpus Christi when the Virgin of Bethlehem leaves her church and is carried shoulder high by the faithful to the church of Santa Clara.
On the Wednesday 8 days prior to Corpus Christi, images from many churches, some of them several miles out of town, start wending their way to Santa Clara, the meeting point for saints and virgins.

corpus christi On the Wednesday before the big event the procession of the entry of Corpus Christi starts up, usually around mid-day. As the blinding sun peers out of the clear blue sky, crowds gather to watch the procession of the impressive silver carriage topped by a chalice decorated with the image of the Holy Sacrament. Leaving the church of Santa Clara, the carriage is carried along the streets of Santa Clara, Marquez and Mantas to reach the main Plaza de Armas where the procession enters the Cathedral amidst a great deal of rejoicing, accompanied by bands of musicians, groups of dancers and the crackling of fireworks. When the carriage and the ecclesiastical authorities enter the Cathedral, it is the turn of the saints and virgins to make their journey to the Cathedral, entering one by one. Every believer tends to follow his or her favorite image through the narrow streets.

From the early hours of the morning, on the Thursday of Corpus Christi, tens of thousands of Cusco residents gather in the main square to wait for the procession. Around mid-day the silver carriage bearing the image of the Holy Sacrament leaves the Cathedral to be carried around the Plaza de Armas in a colorful procession.

Images in the ceremony include San Jeronimo, San Sebastian, and San Christopher. Following the lively procession, the crowds gather in the streets to eat the typical Corpus Christi dish of Chiriuchu, whose main ingredient is roast guinea pig garnished with toasted corn, pork, chicken and seafood like seaweed and fish roe. The locals love to celebrate with food and drink.

During the next 7 days the Virgin of Belen and the saints will stay within the Cathedral in the company of the Dark Christ, conducting their mysterious business and being recharged with sacred power. Thousands of people will visit the Cathedral during this week, before the images are returned to their respective churches, again accompanied by musicians, dancers and the faithful.

Inti Raymi (The Festival of the Sun- Sacsayhuaman, Cusco, 24 June)

inti raymi The 'Sun Festival' of June 24th is the BIG festival that all tourists tend to flock too. In 1944 a group of Cusco intellects, inspired by the current 'indigenist' movement, decided to revive the Inca festival of the June Winter solstice, basing the celebration on the chronicles written by the Spaniards. They staged it at the massive ruins of Sacsayhuaman, above the city of Cusco, and it is still celebrated there yearly.

Hundreds of locals take part in the ceremony, coming from all over the Valley. They play the parts of Inca priests, nobles, virgins of the sun and soldiers. The coveted role of the Inca Pachacuti is awarded following lengthy auditions.

The ceremony usually begins around 10.00 in the morning at the Koricancha, or Temple of the Sun, and winds its way up Avenida del Sol to the Plaza de Armas, before climbing the back streets to arrive at the ruins of Sacsayhauman at about 14.00.
Thousands of people are gathered to watch the arrival of the Inca and his Coya (queen). Men sweep the ground before him, and women scatter flowers. The Inca takes centre stage and talks to the Sun, the principle object on Inca worship and from whom the Incas claimed direct descendency. He then receives reports from the governors of the four Suyus (regions) of the Inca empire. The Inca re-lights the sacred fire of the empire, drinks some chicha and sacrifices a llama by pulling out its beating heart and holding it up in reverence to the Sun. (all fake but very realistic). The success of the coming years activities, such as harvests or battles, are then read in the entrails of the llama.

Finally the ritual eating of Sankhu (corn paste mixed with the llamas blood) ends the ceremonies. The Inca makes a last address to his people and then departs. The people continue to celebrate with music and dancing throughout the evening.

Virgen del Carmen Paucartambo (115 km from Cusco), 16 July.

virgen del carmen Paucartambo is a picturesque town located out in the quiet valley valley above the eastern jungles and 115 km from Cusco. It is best known for its yearly festival of the Virgen del Carmen, a very colorful and local fiesta with the best traditional dances, and the most varied and exotic masks and costumes to be seen anywhere in the Cusco region.

The dancers represent semi-mythical characters deriving from Peruvian history, such as the Auca Chilenos - representing the Chilean soldiers who occupied Peru in the 19th century - or the Capac Negros, the freed slaves. Other characters include malaria victims, ugly gringos, Ukukus (half man half bear), condor-men and warlike jungle Indians.

danzas de paucartambo During the festivity the figure of the Virgin of Carmen can be found in the center. The figure is honored with songs, dances and masses inside the church, and paraded around the town. Her final act of divinity is to drive away the demons - represented by the Saqra dancers - who perform daring acrobats on the rooftops of the town, dressed in Inca colors and costumes from the Vice-regency days. After the procession is complete, a symbolic battle is staged amongst the devote dancers and the demons with the traditional victory of the faithful.

One of the traditional activities of the Paucartambo festival is a pre-dawn visit to the heights of Tres Cruces, some 3 hours by car from the town. At this unique spot one can look down from the final peaks of the Andes onto the vast expanse of the Amazon basin. The view is absolutely incredible. The Incas held this place sacred for the uncanny optical effects that appear during sunrise at certain times of the year (notably May, June & July). Owing to atmospheric distortion observers can sometimes see multiple suns, haloes, or a brilliant rosy glow covering land and sky.
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