The White Rock at Vilcabamba: The Sacred Heart of the Inca?
In the Inca heartlands of Peru, hidden away in the mountains and overshadowed by the more famous Inca ruins at Machu Picchu and around Cusco lies a seldom visited and obscure carved rock at Vilcabamba. But this forgotten sculpture was one of the holiest sites in the Inca empire.
The site, and the buildings in the nearby settlement of Vitcos, were the ceremonial heart of the Inca empire. It was here that the Inca retreated to, and here that the last of the Inca culture died out.
The Discovery of Vilcabamba
In 1911, the American politician and archaeologist Hiram Bingham started a scientific study of the ancient Inca site in Peru called Machu Picchu. He was a proficient mountaineer, having learned the skill from his father, and this helped him greatly in his Inca research.
In July 1911, Bingham set out on an archaeological expedition funded by Yale University. The main objective of this expedition was to discover "the lost city of the Inca," known as Vilcabamba.
Hiram Bingham at Machu Picchu, 1912 (Yale University / Public Domain)
While the chance of finding the site was considered to be quite low, the courage and steadfastness of Hiram Bingham led to the ultimate success of the expedition. Vilcabamba and the nearby Vitcos were located and charted by Bingham, and the secret second capital of the Inca was once again on the map.
The white stone of Vilcabamba and Vitcos are situated on a hilltop, about some hundred meters above the hamlet of Huancacalle, located in the Vilcabamba valley. Vitcos was a high-status settlement, reserved for the residences of the Inca nobles and as a ceremonial center.
The region where Vitcos is located is quite rugged. The terrain includes low land jungle, snow-covered mountains, rivers, and forests, and transportation and access to the area is quite difficult even today.
But the Inca had been here since at least Since 1450 AD. At that time, they established their major centers at Vilcabamba, Machu Picchu, Vitcos, and Choquequirao. Vitcos was primarily the home during this period for a number of royal Inca. It was also popular as a religious site, especially near the Ñusta Hispana, the “white rock.”
After the conquest of the Inca by the Spanish conquistadors, Vitcos was largely forgotten, lying relatively undisturbed for centuries until its rediscovery by Hiram Bingham during his expedition in 1911. The descriptions left behind by the conquistadors had led Bingham to concentrate on a region called "Rosaspata."
The same descriptions ultimately led him to the discoveries of the palace of Vitcos and the sacred white stone. But here Bingham made an error: after mapping both the sites, he kept on in his search for the last city of Inca. Only later was he successful in correctly identifying Vilcabamba and Vitcos for what they were.
Vitcos is still rarely visited by people, and it hasn’t been restored unlike a number of more famous Inca sites. It is located in an easily defensible position surrounded by steep mountain sides, only accessible by a single narrow strip. The commanding view of the mountain passes approaching the site makes it clear that this was an important location in the landscape.
Ñusta Hispana: The White Rock
Ñusta Hispana, or the white rock, is located nearby. The sacred rock is about 50 feet (15 m) across and is covered with engravings and carvings. The white stone is located in the center of a temple area, where the rituals of the Inca were performed.
The carved stone had a natural spring running around the rock, creating a dark pool at its base. The Inca priests were known to call upon the spirits in this pool, up against the stone's vertical side. The first Spaniards who visited Vitcos during the reign of Manco Inca, a post-conquistador Inca ruler, used to attend the important Inca rituals at the white stone.
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Some findings reveal that Titu Cusi, the son of Manco Inca, had invited two friars in order to stay at Vitcos. However, the two friars believed that the rock was actually devoted to worshipping the devil.
Inca sculpture in the ruins of the site (Mathat35 / CC BY-SA 3.0)
Some reports even said that the devil used to appear at the white stone. The devil was known to wound and kill his worshippers, bellowing with a wild roar as he did so. It was believed that the people would come from distant places to offer sacrifices and gifts out of fear of this devil.
As a result, the Spanish invaders decided to destroy the site.
According to Bingham, while Titu Cusi was elsewhere, Friar Garcia and Friar Ortiz accompanied converted natives to the site in order to burn down the Sun Temple, scorching the nearby white rock. The act of burning down the Sun Temple was mainly aimed at banishing Lucifer, the devil, from that place.
However, this act made the Inca grow angry, and they almost killed the two friars. But Titu Cusi was known to be a generous man, and apparently a political pragmatist. So, he spared the lives of the two friars, banishing one from the empire of Inca, but allowing the other, Friar Ortiz, to stay.
Unfortunately, this decision proved to be fatal for Friar Ortiz, when Titu Cusi died suddenly of an unknown disease. The Inca people started blaming the friar for the death of Titu Cusi. For this reason, Friar Ortiz was tortured and finally killed.
Today, the crafted stones lay scattered near the cliff of the great temple, and mark the place where the sacred rituals of the Inca were performed. But the site is no longer forgotten: owing to the history that the place holds, tourists are showing an interest in visiting the place and viewing the white stone at the sacred heart of the Inca.
Top Image: The white rock at Vilcabamba. Source: Walter_Xim / Adobe Stock.
By Bipin Dimri
Vitcos and the White Rock. Available at: http://www.coocookachoo.org/2011/10/12/vitcos-and-the-white-rock/
Vitcos – The Incas second capital. Available at: http://viking-expedition.com/vitcos/
VITCOS, THE LAST INCA CAPITAL. Available at: https://www.americanantiquarian.org/proceedings/45647892.pdf