The Inca-Caranqui Water Temple of Ecuador: A display of wealth and skillful hydraulic engineering
Water, essence of life and natural force sacred to the ancient Inca, was harnessed and controlled in a large man-made water temple in the late 15 th century. The pool, featuring finely carved and polished fitted stones, high walls, and weaving canals, would have been an impressive sight. Researchers now believe this marvel of hydraulic engineering in Ecuador to have been built by Inca titans Huayna Capac or Atahualpa in a show of power after they had conquered the local Caranqui people.
According to the publication Archaeology, the site was known as an historic area by locals, and excavations in 2006 revealed a large ceremonial pool stretching approximately 33 feet by 55 feet. It was uncovered four to five feet below ground level, and had three-foot-high walls around it. Both the walls and floor of the pool were composed of precisely cut and well-fitted stone.
Canals direct water around the pool at Caranqui known as the Water Temple. Credit: Tamara L. Bray
Described as “phenomenally preserved” by Dr. Tamara Bray of Wayne State University , a researcher participating in the ongoing excavations, the pool is thought to date to the early 1500s.
Archaeology reports that “Inca ruler Huayna Capac had concluded a 10-year war of conquest against the local people, the Caranqui. Legend has it that Huayna Capac had every adult male Caranqui executed. Their bodies were thrown into a lake known today as Yahuarcocha, or the ‘Lake of Blood,’ on Ibarra’s northeast edge. Spanish chronicler Pedro Cieza de León estimated the conflict left 20,000 to 50,000 Caranqui dead.”
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Dubbed the Templo de Agua (the Water Temple), the pool outsizes other constructions by far. Stone canals would have circulated the water around the site, and stone steps at the corners allowed access to the water for ceremonies. The water was channeled from the slopes of the nearby Imbabura volcano, five miles away, via stone canals. It would then empty into the pool through spouts, and would finally drain through carved holes, writes Archaeology.
It is not known for sure who commissioned the building of the temple, but archaeologists have narrowed it down to Huayna Capac, emperor of the Incan Empire (1493 - 1525/1527), or his son Atahualpa.
Illustration of Inca Emperor Huayna Capac. Wikimedia Commons
A portrait of Atahualpa, drawn from life, by a member of Pizarro's detachment during the Spanish invasion of Ecuador. 1533. Public Domain
Researchers believe that ambitious construction projects were undertaken by the Inca rulers after bloodshed to demonstrate power to their new subjects. It represented a large display of wealth and engineering know-how. Not only was it an impressive technological feat to bring water from as far as five miles away, but the harnessing of water also symbolized power over a sacred natural resource.
Controlling water was vital to agriculture, society, and religion for the Inca. As such, water architecture was constructed across the empire. The water sluicing through channels and buildings, and pouring into pools and basins was useful, as well as forming part of rituals.
Both form and function were elements employed in the ancient water systems. Near Cuzco, geological basins were built up with stone walls to hold back water, which could then be accessed through a wall opening and used in rituals, on crops, or for household use.
The Inca Empire also installed technological marvels in Peru, as seen today at Tipón, Peru . The ancient site boasts spectacular terraces with polished stone walls, canals and decorative waterfalls. Water still streams through the well-built baths and channels to this day.
Today, many of the water channels at Tipón are still functional ( Wikimedia Commons )
Because water was such an important resource, it was also wielded as a tool to demonstrate power. When new territories were annexed at the outlying fringes of the empire, it was essential to show how important the new ultimate leader was, and cement the idea that he was in control.
Ancient water spouts at Tipón, Peru ( Wikimedia Commons )
Carolyn Dean of the University of California told Archaeology about the political element of water in the Incan empire: “The Inca were saying, ‘Our emperor is a demigod, and we control the most important things in life: fertility and water.” The people of ancient Ecuador were said to be rebellious in the face of new leadership, and the advanced technology and powerful symbolism of water at Inca-Caranqui demonstrated that the new overlords had much to offer, notes Dean.
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Not only was it important to conquer territory, it was equally crucial that the new land and culture was developed into something better by the leader.
Dean concludes, that war was one thing, but “equally important—and I think even more so—was his ability to make that newly acquired land even more productive than it had been. Destruction only takes you so far. Afterward, the really important part was to create things.”
The Inca-Caranqui water temple is significant in that it is thought to be the last major Incan building event prior to the Spanish invasion.
The Ecuadorian site features and reports on excavations can be found at the Inca-Caranqui Archaeological Project website.
Featured Image: Excavations dating to 2006 in Ecuador have unearthed the ruins of a large pool, called the Water Temple. Water was collected from miles away and brought to the site in a show of engineering skill. Credit: Tamara L. Bray
By Liz Leafloor