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Inca Bridge Facts

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Every June for 600 years, 1,000 peasants from southern Peru meet for three days to work on the renovation of the Q'eswachaka suspension bridge, declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco. 

The bridge Q'eswachaka on the Apurimac river, in the region of Cusco, is woven entirely with vegetal fibers, according to the Inca tradition, and is the only one of its kind in the world. 

The Q'eswachaka is the only hanging bridge made entirely of plant fibers that has been renewed annually since the Inca period. The settlers, men and women, meet following an organization based on mutual aid known as minka, also participate in the offering ceremonies to the Pachamama and the apus, by an Andean priest. 

This traditional practice is the fundamental element of the cultural identity of the Quehue population and represents the link it establishes with nature and history. It is an example of the wealth of the intangible heritage of the country. 

For the peasants of the four communities that work in the construction of the bridge, the Q'eswachaka has a sacred character, so they ask permission from the apus (divinities) and the pachamama (mother earth) through a ritual ceremony, where a Andean priest prays in Quechua and offers coca leaves, a fetus of flame, colored corn, cotton, sugar, wine, cigars and bells. 

 

Where is Q'eswachaka Bridge

In one of those remote lands of Peru, of the high provinces of Cusco, is located the famous Inka Bridge of Q 'eswachaca, exactly in the district of Q' ewe, province of Canas, on the Apurimac River, at 3,700 meters above the sea level. This marvel of inka engineering has a light of 28.67 meters. Although its origins are still discussed, we can say that it has more than 500 years as an integral part of the extensive road system of the Incas or Qhapac Ñan roads. Which amazes and surprises everyone for the more than 30,000 km of roads built and why it also involved the construction of bridges with resources and technology according to the times. highlight within this network, the quality and variety of the bridges that were made and special mention deserves suspension bridges made of vegetable fiber or straw that caused not only admiration but also a deserved recognition of the technology used. 


Q'eswachaka Rope Bridge 

Inca architecture reached levels of development that, even today, surprise the whole world. A sample of this ingenuity still remains in the Cusco region. Three hours from the city, in the province of Canas, in the district of Quehue, is located the Q'eswachaka bridge, declared by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage, this Inca creation is used to cross the Apurímac River. 

The material used for this suspension bridge is ichu, a grass from the highest areas of the Andes. Every year the inhabitants of the farming communities of Perccaro, Huinchiri, Ccollana and Qqewe, meet to renew their structure, given their age. The renovation of the bridge implies the realization of a ritual and a festivity that lasts around four days, starting with the payment to the Apu Quinsallallawi in an ancestral ceremony. 

During this date, making use of Inca knowledge, the villagers collect the new material, dismantle the old bridge and begin to assemble the replacement. On the third day, the inhabitants begin the assembly of the railing and the surface of the bridge. After having finished the work, a great celebration begins where the inhabitants perform a festival of native dances in party mode. Finally, after having finished the bridge replacement, all inaugurate it crossing it. 

The Q'eswachaka measures 28 meters long and 1.20 meters wide, being built to this day with ichu. This bridge served as part of the road system of the Qhapaq Ñan, having approximately more than 500 years. Tradition and customs are still present, accompanied by rituals for their realization. The Q'eswachaka is the last bridge that has survived modernity and continues to pass its ritual from generation to generation. 

 

Suspension Bridge Facts 

  • The Q'eswachaka ("rope bridge" in Quechua), suspended over a gorge of the Apurímac River, is rebuilt every year.
  • It is the women's task to braid the thick ropes of q'oya, a type of straw obtained from a very abundant grass in the Andes, which men will use to recompose the Q'eswachaka, an ancient Inca tradition handed down from generation to generation to the present day. 
  • Included in the List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Unesco in 2013, the Q'eswachaka was part of the vast network of roads established more than five centuries ago by the Incas in a territory of more than two million square kilometers that stretched from what is now Colombia up to the current Chile and Argentina.
  • A column of smoke rises over the Apurímac River gorge. Before the beginning of the construction of the bridge, a paqo, or Andean priest, offers coca leaves, a heart of lamb, flame fetuses and some foods to implore the protection of the Pachamama, Inca divinity of Mother Earth. 
  • About ten meters above the river, on the two stone abutments, the men tie at one end and another of the throat the first six thick ropes that will form the skeleton of the bridge. Four of them are the matrices and serve as support, and two others, lateral, constitute the railings. 
  • The women remain far from the reconstruction work of the bridge, a task reserved for men. The inhabitants of the place tell that the woman attracts the q'encha, Quechua voice to designate the bad luck, which can propitiate divine "mishaps" during certain rituals. 
  • On Sunday, the last day of the event, it is celebrated with music (which incorporates later instruments to the Incas such as the chillador, a kind of guitar with Spanish influence) and group dances that symbolize the reconstruction of the bridge and the commercial exchange between the four communities. 
  • The task culminates with the placement of the railings and the floor of the bridge, a long "mattress" also woven with rope. At the bottom of the gorge lie the remains of the previous bridge. The stone abutments were restored thanks to the Qhapaq Ñan project, financed in part with the tourism income of Machu Picchu. 

Festival Q'eswachaka 

An annual festival is organized, lasting four days in the month of June, where the bridge structures are replaced by a new one, the new structure of the bridge is woven with millenary techniques for three days, by about 1000 comuneros that use braided straw of ichu and chachacomo, while ritual ceremonies and dances are held by the ayllu settlers in the area. The bridge culminates on the fourth day and can be used by all, a beautiful festival of native dances begins as a weekend party. 


Q'eswachaka Bridge Tour 

The trip starts in the city of Cusco with the pick-up from your hotel at 7 a.m. approximately in the south-west direction. After almost two hours of travel we will visit the four lagoons: Pomacanchi, Acopia, Asnaqocha and the Pampamarca or Tungasuca lagoon. After enjoying a quiet moment near the lagoons, the next place we will visit is the small volcano of pavilions that is located near the town of Yanaoca. Finally we will reach the Apurímac river and the impressive Inca bridge. This hanging Inca bridge is made of vegetable fiber (Ichu) and is located on the Apurímac River in the district of Quehue. The existence of this bridge dates from the Inca period, the renovation and maintenance is done once a year by the local people of the four communities that are around. Before starting with the renewal of the bridge an offering is given as a sign of respect and gratitude to the Pachamama. We will have the opportunity to cross the Inca bridge on two occasions, of course, if you have the courage to do so, it may seem easy. But without a doubt you will feel a great excitement to cross this bridge so much that you will feel like a Chaski (Inca courier). On the way back to Combapata our delicious lunch awaits us in this town where we will later make a last visit, the colonial Inca bridge of Combapata where you can see the differences between both bridges. This interesting trip ends in the city of Cusco at approximately 5:00 pm. 

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