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The golden city of Paititi is hidden in the dense Peruvian jungle. Source: marmoset / Adobe stock

The Inkarri and the Golden City of Paititi: The Myths Born from Blood and Greed


On August 29, 1533, the Incan King Atahualpa, who only ruled for one single year, was ordered by Francisco Pizarro (1471-1541) to be strangled to death by a garrot. This single act martyred Atahualpa in the hearts and minds of his subjects. From that moment on, the dead King Atahualpa would take place in the folktale of Inkarri (Inka King), and become a myth to represent rebellion, reincarnation, and the lost Incan City of Gold known as Paititi.

Both the legend of Inkarri and the lost city of Paititi are symbiotically linked to the death of King Atahualpa. And even though both myths stem rebirth and retribution against the Spanish; these elements are often dismissed and replaced with the intrigue of a golden city. Thus, the Inkarri and the golden city of Paititi has, in contemporary views, become a place which lies between the symbolic themes of history and an actual city of gold.

So how could such a vague and a mysteriously multi-faceted legend continue to captivate people of modern times? Is the desire for wealth enough to keep the myth going, or is there more to it than that?

For someone like Francisco Pizarro, who is in many ways tied to the legend of Paititi, it can be argued that all his motives and ambitions were driven by his own personal desires to be remembered. But to truly understand Paititi’s mystique, one needs to understand its origins in both the original folk legends of the Inkarri and Paititi and then review its complicated relationship with Francisco Pizarro.

Portrait of Francisco Pizarro. (ORGPE / Public Domain)

Portrait of Francisco Pizarro. (ORGPE / Public Domain)

The Origins of Inkarri and Paititi

In the 1950’s, the anthropologist Jose Maria Arguedas collected many versions of the Inkarri myths from the southern Peruvian town of Puquio. She discovered that two versions of the Inkarri existed. One version from before Atahualpa and the other version from after Atahualpa.

Arguedas noticed that the Inkarri variations had large themes with the ‘dying and reviving Inca’. These variations represented a source of Pan-Andean unity of myths linking the creation myth of Lake Titicaca, a mixture of Christianity and local history as the people remember it.

The consistent theme broadly shared among the Andean communities revolved around the return of the Inkarri (Inca King). In its most basic core, the myth of Inkarri foretold of a future time when the Andean world would undergo a cataclysmic transformation that would result in the destruction of the Spanish-dominated world and reinstate the reincarnated Inca king as the supreme ruler.
As the first legend goes:

“…The Inkarri was the son of an Andean woman who was impregnated by the sun. The woman bore Inkarri and raised him to be a king. In the later years, the Inkarri married three women. The Inkarri, who with all his might confined the wind along with his sun father, stopped time in order to throw a goldenrod from the top of Mount Osk’onta in order to mark where the city of the K’ellk’ata plain (possibly Cusco) should be built. With his majesty and craft with a whip, Inkarri convinced the stones and rocks to…create the city of the K’ellk’ata plain (Cusco)…”

Arguedas believes this account was the original myth of Inkarri before the fate of Atahualpa. And with the arrival of the Spanish, Pizarro specifically, the folk legends of the Inkarri soon changed to mean something else.

As the second legend goes:

“…The Spanish Inca imprisoned Inkarri, his equal. Where we do not know. The head is all that's left of Inkarri, they say. From the head he's growing inward; toward the feet, he's growing, they say. He will return then, Inkarri, when his body is whole. He is not returned to us if God sees fit. But we do not know when he will return, only God can decide of this time…"

Between the years of 1533-1570, the Inkarri myth evolved to incorporate the names of fallen Inca rulers under the oppression of the Spanish. The first and most vivid account was with king Atahualpa, who was strangled to death by Spanish historical accounts; however, by local accounts by the Incas, Atahualpa was decapitated and dismembered. The second name to be called Inkarri would be the Inca King Tupac Amaru, Amaru led revolts against the Spanish in the 1560s and 1570s, leading to his own martyrdom and beheading in the Plaza of Cuzco in 1572.

Death of Atahualpa. (DcoetzeeBot / Public Domain)

Death of Atahualpa. (DcoetzeeBot / Public Domain)

It is only after Pizarro, which the word Paititi is first mentioned. Its association with the Inkarri begins with the death of Atahualpa and then becomes a returning theme with every re-adaptation. Some scholars believe that Paititi might have been a loose fusion of K’ellk’ata (Cusco) and the concept of Pachacuti (overthrowing of time), in order to create the perfect timeless golden utopia.

With both Atahualpa and Tupac Amaru, their folklore remained the same: both were decapitated, both heads were buried in Cuzco, both were believed to return from the dead, and both were to expel the Spanish rulers and make Paititi the capital of the new world order. In the next few hundred years, the concept of Paititi became less of a golden utopia and more of a city carrying immense wealth.

It should lead one to wonder, with all the tones of both Andean and Christian beliefs that has shaped this story, how significant the presence of Francisco Pizarro was in order to help generate this legend.

Francisco Pizarro and the Incas - The Origin of Paititi

From the accounts of Francisco Pizarro, many if not all, would agree that he was an enigma. He was embarrassed for being the illegitimate son of a distinguished noble officer. He was self-conscious about being illiterate and he was afraid of living under the shadow of Cortez’s glory. He would spend the rest of his life in the pursuit of wealth and fame only to find his death at the killing edge of a sword.

His only crown achievement was his success in conquering the Incas. After the Inca conquest, he would live the rest of his life squandering his wealth on further pointless expeditions. He was finally murdered in Lima on June 26, 1541, by 20 heavily armed assassins.

Painting of Pizarro seizing the Inca of Peru. (P. S. Burton / Public Domain)

Painting of Pizarro seizing the Inca of Peru. (P. S. Burton / Public Domain)

After being stabbed several times, Pizarro collapsed on the floor struggling to paint a crucifix in his own blood. Accounts stated that he was asking someone for forgiveness. Was Pizarro trying to ask forgiveness for the atrocities he had done or was he asking for salvation from the reincarnation of the Inkarri Atahualpa?

After all, his relationship with King Atahualpa was far more complicated than most would believe.

Atahualpa and Pizarro

Atahualpa was the last ruler of the Inca Empire who reigned from 1532 to 1533. Before the arrival of Pizarro, the Inca Empire had suffered a crippling six-year civil war which had just been resolved in the days preceding the arrival of Pizarro.

16th century portrait of Atahualpa. (Libertybison / Public Domain)

16th century portrait of Atahualpa. (Libertybison / Public Domain)

Though Pizarro was credited for conquering the Inca, smallpox played a significant role as well. Smallpox killed millions and toppled empires far more effectively than any invading force. Smallpox was also responsible for setting the Atahualpa’s path to the throne.

Smallpox claimed the life of Atahualpa’s father, Wayna Qhapaq, in 1528 leaving no mention of the legitimate heir to the throne. This left a vacuum of power, pitting Atahualpa and his half-brother Huascar against each other.

After the horrific battle for Cieza de Leon, which estimated to have taken thirty-five thousand lives, Huascar was captured in an ambush in 1532. Atahualpa’s generals, one of which was by the name of Ruminahui, took Huascar to Cusco. There Ruminahui was ordered to execute Huascar’s wives, children, and blood relatives, assuring there would be no other claims to the Inca throne.

As the victorious Atahualpa and his men headed to the small city of Cajamarca, Atahualpa had heard news of a small group of hairy pale people. And that their leader, named Pizarro wished to meet him. Given the war that Altahualpa had won, he saw a small contingent of Spaniards as insignificant. He agreed to meet Pizarro.

Whether the next chain of events was a cultural misunderstanding, or whether it was strategic design by Pizarro, this encounter would lead to the capture of Atahualpa. By Atahualpa dismissing a travel-stained Christian breviary, Atahualpa had unintentionally declared war with the Spanish. The festivities soon turned into a massacre. Among the chaos, Pizarro seized Atahualpa.

Pizarro meets with the Inca Emperor Atahualpa. (Ferbr1 / Public Domain)

Pizarro meets with the Inca Emperor Atahualpa. (Ferbr1 / Public Domain)

Though Atahualpa was still in shock, he soon realized that he might be able to use this unfortunate situation to his advantage. Atahualpa was very aware of the power gold and silver had over Europeans and assumed Pizarro would be no different. Also, given the predicament that Atahualpa was in, he still realized that he had other brothers who would try to mobilize for the claim of the Inca throne.

In order for Atahualpa to see his rivals killed and, when the time was right, retake the Inca Empire from Pizarro, he told Pizarro that if he remained the Inca ruler, he would make sure his generals would give him enough gold to fill a room 22 feet (6.7 meters) by 17 feet (5.2 meters) and twice as much silver in exchange for his life. Pizarro, who was blinded by his own ambitions, agreed to Atahualpa’s request.

So, it came to be that though Atahualpa was a hostage of Pizarro, he was still the Inca ruler coordinating assassinations on his own rival family members. Pizarro soon realized that he was no longer his captor, but Atahualpa’s protector. This realization soon brought overwhelming fear to Pizarro.

During the following months, the deliveries of gold and silver slowed. Pizarro and his men grew suspicious of Atahualpa’s general Ruminahu and questioned whether a counterattack was imminent.
In August 1533, due to Pizarro’s overwhelming fear, Pizarro broke his word and sentenced Atahualpa to burn at the stake. But Atahualpa, hearing that the Spanish religion did not allow Christians to be burned at the stake, made a final request to be converted into Christianity.

Despite the ransom being paid for Atahualpa's release, he was executed by the Spanish, effectively ending the Incan Empire. (Nathan Hughes Hamilton / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Despite the ransom being paid for Atahualpa's release, he was executed by the Spanish, effectively ending the Incan Empire. (Nathan Hughes Hamilton / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Reluctantly so, the priests baptized him, and Pizarro proceeded to sentence him to death by strangulation with a garrote. Before Atahualpa’s death, he was interrogated and mentioned a city known as Paititi.

Word had spread of Pizarro’s treachery. It was believed that Ruminahui hid the remaining 750 tons of gold deep in a cave near the Llanganatis mountains. This mountain later became associated with Paititi. In the years to come, the legends of Paititi would continue to change and get further from its original incarnation.

The Result of Pizarro and Atahualpa

Ever since the fall of the Inca Empire, treasure seekers have ventured further into the Amazon, Bolivia, and Brazil in the hopes of finding this mythical city. There would be more stories of adventurers reporting the location of Paititi only to either disappear or be killed by the locals. Every adventurer from Captain Barth Blake to Lieutenant George Edwin would allegedly share the same fate.

One of the accounts of Valverde Dorretero might have found the whereabouts of Paititi. Upon his death bed, he wrote a three-page edict declaring the location to golden treasure. He wrote instructions on how to find the treasure in the Llanganatis Mountains.

A friar named Father Longo went to investigate its authenticity. However, as with all other explorers who ventured into that region, Father Longo disappeared as well.

It should be noted that the region which Dorretero spoke of resided near an area known as the Yanacocha (black lake) which was a gold mine that came into operation sometime in the 1930s. To this date, the black lake gold mine has produced over seven billion US dollars in gold. Could Paititi be a network of gold mines rather than a place?

The Archaeological Evidence for Paititi

French Explorer Thierry Jamin had heard from tales the local Matsiguengas Indians of strange mountains with an old stony city on top. Some of them mentioned it might have been Paititi.
Jamin has built a team of explorers dedicated to finding the lost city of Paititi. He has used satellite imaging to discover mysterious mountain shapes. In June 2012, Jamin's group attained a satellite image of a mountain which seemed human-made.

Paratoari as seen in NASA satellite photograph number C-S11-32W071-03. (Jfire / Public Domain)

Paratoari as seen in NASA satellite photograph number C-S11-32W071-03. (Jfire / Public Domain)

During the expeditions in 2013 and 2014, Jamin's team was unsuccessful in reaching the top of the mountain; however, further efforts have continued in order to maintain funding and research of this region. The plans moving forward by Jamin's teams will utilize drone technology in order to observe the structure of the square-shaped mountain. Underwater ROV drone known as the ‘Trident’ will also check caves and lakes in the surrounding areas.

Closing Thoughts on Paititi

If Paititi does in fact exist, its location would be somewhere in between Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil. However, this area is dense with thick jungle and is home to both potentially undiscovered Incan ruins as well as hidden drug cartels hoping not to be found. With such dangers, it still pushes adventurers and archaeologists alike to find Paititi.

What makes Paititi so attractive is its ever-changing descriptions being just as mysterious as its elusive locations. Is the hunt for this lost city warranted?

Given the history of almost 500 years of shifting definitions and places, how can anyone be sure it truly exists? Because if one believes in it enough, it can come true.

Top image: The golden city of Paititi is hidden in the dense Peruvian jungle. Source: Mars Lewis / Adobe stock.

By B.B. Wagner


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B. B. Wagner's picture

B. B.

B.B. Wagner is currently working on a master’s degree in Anthropology with a focus in Pre-contact America. Wagner is a storyteller, a sword fighter, and a fan of humanity’s past. He is also knowledgeable about topics on Ice Age America... Read More

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