As the summer solstice approaches for the Northern Hemisphere marking the height of summer with long days and short nights down below the equator, the people of Peru are preparing to mark their annual celebration to the Sun God with the Inti Raymi. Tradition states that Pachatutec, the first Inca, started the Inti Raymi festival to celebrate the start of the New Year in the Inca calendar which fell on the Winter Solstice. Ever since the city of Cusco, the capital of the Inca Empire, has held its celebration to the Sun God on June 24th (although the Winter Solstice falls on June 21st the Incas believed the sun stayed in the same position until June 24th).
Today’s festival has changed slightly from the of the past, which will please many people as records state that before the ceremony all participants had to go through a purification period in which they had to fast. In a more gruesome part it is said that children under the age of 10 were brought before the Gods and sacrificed. However since 1944 the festival has taken the shape of a theatrical reenactment of past events.
Starting at first light the Inti Raymi flag is raised in the centre of Cusco whilst mass takes place in the Cathedral. The Sapa Inca, the Emperor of the Inca Kingdom, then begins to address the Sun in the Quechua language, thanking it for all the blessing that it has bestowed on their people. The ceremony then proceeds to move out of town to the Fortress of Sacsayhuaman where the Sapa Inca performs rituals and sacrifices to the Sun and to ask for its return to save his people from the dark.
Visiting Cusco during the Inti Raymi is like taking a step back in time as the city fills with people in traditional dress chanting ancient songs and giving blessings to the sun although if the Spanish Conquistadores had had their way none of this would be happening as they banned any ceremony worshiping the sun from taking place. Despite this the Spanish did leave some good marks on the city one of which is the beautiful old monastery in which the Hotel Monasterio is now based. The 16th century building has been meticulously restored and is one of Dehouche’s favourite places to stay in this charming city. The stunning cloistered courtyard is one of the highlights of the property. All of the sumptuous rooms retain their original architectural details whilst combining luxury modern day amenities.
No visit to Cusco would be complete without venturing out to the majestic Machu Picchu. Travelling up to the top on the luxury Hiram Bingham train you will be able to marvel in the surrounding scenery before reaching your final destination. As the morning sun begins to rise above the impressive citadel you’ll be able to appreciate quite why the Incas spent so much time worshiping the sun just in case it didn’t come back and they were denied this marvelous spectacle.