One of the best kept secrets of Cusco is the Temple of San Pedro de Andahuaylillas, also known as "the Sistine Chapel of America."
This is a place that you undoubtedly have to visit on your trip to Peru, so if you have the opportunity to spend several days in the province of Cusco, in addition to going to Machu Picchu, we recommend you go to this town located about 35 Km from Cusco city.
It is also very interesting that the bases of this church are stone blocks from the Inca Palace, previously built in the same place. This was a practice that was repeated during the time of colonization, where the Spanish managed to impose their religion over the Andean customs that prevailed in the region.
In fact, the murals of the so-called "Sistine Chapel of America", which are what has earned it the recognition of Outstanding Monument by the World Monuments Fund, contain religious images that sought to instill Christianity in the Incas. The artist of this great work was the parish priest and linguist Juan Pérez de Bocanegra.
The church of the town of Andahuaylillas is one of the most famous in Cusco due to its exuberant decoration that captures the attention of any visitor. The architecture of this church is very simple: it consists of a single plant attached to a bell tower, a Mudejar style ceiling, an atrium in front of the door where three huge crosses stand out. However, this discreet structure contrasts with the beautiful interior decoration, where the paintings and murals that served to indoctrinate the 'Indians' during the colonial era stand out. Today, after being restored and preserved, it is one of the most famous tourist destinations in the ‘South Valley’. You can also get there through the ‘Andean Baroque Route’.
The church is located in the town of Andahuaylillas, which belongs to the province of Quispicanchis, 49 kilometers southeast of the city of Cusco. Geographically it is located in a valley surrounded by mountains, at 3,122 meters above sea level (10,242 feet elevation). The church, as is characteristic of the colonial squares, is located just in front of the main square of the town.
The ceramic remains indicate that in Andahuaylillas there were human groups long before the Incas, such as the Chanapata, Tiwanaku, Wari, Qotakalli, Lucre and Killke cultures. Later, during the Inca Empire, the place must have enjoyed great importance. This is demonstrated by the lines of Inca roads (qhapac ñan) near the place as well as the two sacred hills that guard the town: the ‘apu’ Curi Orqo and the ‘apu’ Wiraconchan (name that alludes to the Andean god ‘Wiracocha’).
The renowned temple was built by the Jesuits in 1580, and what is most impressive is that its facade does not warn you of what you find inside: a space full of incredible artistic works of religious inspiration, among which are paintings, sculptures and carvings of inspiration. baroque.
Most of the murals that adorn the church were made by the Peruvian artist Luis de Riaño during the 17th century. Much of the treasures, murals and canvases were commissioned by the parish priest Juan Pérez de Bocanegra. By then the church had great prestige. The sumptuous and variegated decoration was the reason for constant visits from Cusco personalities. The town, like many other Andean communities, had to endure poverty and the consequences of the failed revolution of Túpac Amaru II in 1780.
With the establishment of the Republic of Peru, the Andahuaylillas church suffered damage as a result of the passage of time and the 1950 earthquake. In 1955 and 2008 important conservation works were carried out. Thanks to this, the church preserves its beautiful interior decoration in a good way, which earned it the nickname of ‘Sistine Chapel of America’. Currently it is part of the tour to the ‘South Valley of Cusco’ as well as the ‘Andean Baroque Circuit’, along with other Catholic temples and Inca archaeological sites.
The architecture of the church is simple. It has characteristics of the popular Renaissance, just as many of the Christian temples were built in the Andean towns of Peru. It has a single nave with side chapels where a bell tower stands. Most of its walls are made of adobe (a mixture of mud with sand and straw).
This famous mural is one of the largest in the church. It is divided into two parts: it exposes the way to heaven (on the right) and the way to hell (on the left). It is divided by a door. It belongs to the artist Luis de Riaño.
The main altar of the church has Baroque carvings with religious motifs and covered in gold leaf. At the top, the figure of the Virgen del Rosario stands out. Although the church bears the name of San Pedro Apóstol, it is this virgin that is located in the central part of the main altarpiece.
Pipe organs were widely used in colonial times. In the church of San Pedro Apóstol, the organ that represents ‘King David and the Queen’ stands out, which is attributed to Luis de Riaño. It is supported on four large wooden beams. It is accessed by following the stairs that lead to the bell tower.
The church's second organ features a choir of angels playing stringed instruments. It is also attributed to the artist Luis de Riaño. Both this and the ‘King David and the Queen’s Organ’ are considered the two oldest in America.
In this area of the church an inscription stands out that says: “I baptize you in the name of the father, and of the son and of the holy spirit. Amen". What is striking is that it has its translations in the main languages of the colony: Latin, Spanish, Quechua, Aymara and Puquina.
The immense arch that frames the main altar is decorated with mural painting representing the 'Virgin Queen of the Angels'. It is designed with the ‘pair and knuckle’ style on the roof. The whole set gives an impression of majesty.
To get there you must take the southern highway of Cusco (trip of approximately 1 hour). Most visitors choose to hire a tour to the ‘South Valley of Cusco’, which already includes the transportation service.
To get to this town you can go by Taxi from Cusco for an approximate price of S / 30 ($ 10) or go by buses that leave every 10 minutes from the Paradero de Urcos, on Avenida de la Cultura. The cost of the bus is approximately S / 3.50 ($ 1)
You can visit the Andahuaylillas Church with the ‘South Valley Cusco Tour’, which has an approximate cost of US $ 70 per person. The service also includes entrances to the archaeological sites of Tipón and Piquillacta as well as transportation service and tour guide.
You can also visit this famous church through the "Andean Baroque Circuit" ticket, which has a cost of 60 Peruvian soles (approximately 20 US dollars). This tour includes transportation and guidance as well as a visit to the Church of the Society of Jesus in the city of Cusco, the church of Canincunca and the church of Huaro.
If you want to go on your own, you must pay the amount of 15 Peruvian soles (5 US dollars). A good option is to attend Mass when admission to the church is free.
The town of Andahuaylillas has a temperate climate, hot during the day and cold at night. During the day the temperature can reach 24ºC. (75.2 ° F). At night, however, the cold can drop to 4ºC. (39.2 ° F). From November to April it is the rainiest season. From May to October is the dry season, with less rain.
One of the best times to visit Andahuaylillas is during Holy Week, because the residents also fervently commemorate these dates. They perform various Catholic rituals, combined with their own Andean elements.
May 15 is another ideal date, since the Feast of San Isidro Labrador, patron of the town, is celebrated. It is believed that this saint favors the work of farmers.
In the middle of the year, between the months of May and July, the Fiesta del Señor de Qoylluriti is celebrated. With dances and songs, the dancers representing the people say goodbye to the deceased members of their families in the church of San Pedro Apóstol. The artists and faithful carry out a pilgrimage until they reach the snowy Qolquepunku.
Finally, you can travel during the days that the anniversary of the creation of Andahuaylillas lasts, whose date is December 19. Throughout the month of December there are gastronomic activities, art fairs and parades.
When you arrive in town, you can carry out a series of activities throughout your stay. For example, there are several silver workshops to appreciate the production process of the products or to acquire them. You can visit the Qewar craft shops and workshops, which make cloth dolls.
The streets of the town are beautiful, from the square you will see the landscapes that surround the place, the mountains and more. You will also find fresh dairy products in the Qoriorcco stable or various typical sweets in the Virgen del Carmen bakery; most of their sandwiches are made from corn.
The Lucre-Huacarpay Wetland, 3020 meters above sea level, is 10 minutes from the town if you go by car. It is an impressive ecosystem with more than 120 species of birds, which you can see - accompanied by a tour guide - at any time of the year.
A few minutes from the Lucre Wetland is Pikillacta. This is a small pre-Inca city that belonged to the Wari culture, built between 800 and 1100 AD. Its architecture will leave you surprised.
Another attraction is the Archaeological Complex of Tipón. It is a symbol of Inca engineering and is made up of twelve terraces surrounded by stone walls. It is made up of canals, platforms and waterfalls. It is located only 19 km from the town, about 20 minutes by road.
Classic Inca Trail Tour (4 Days/3 Nights)