Notes from Peru (2). Inka stonework.

When you see an inka building, the first thing that strikes you is the inward slope of walls, a feature that made buildings earthquake resistant. If I were peruvian, I would register a patent for a “Lego” trapezoidal bricks. Simple buildings are made of small stones without polishing, nobler ones use carefully cut uniform stones.

And sometimes, and this is what caught my interest, all the stones are different, maintaining their original form, they have been polished just to match perfectly with their neighbours. The result is of exceptional beauty and originality and as far as I know, unique. Stonemasons do not cut stones into uniform blocks, they have find out how to place them in order to fit without altering them very much. They do not supply like uniform brick blocks, but rather unique pieces, sometimes almost sculptures. We don’t have like a lego set here but a 3D puzzle. And again, if I were peruvian I would register a patent for a wall scale model.

These walls and stones could be a beautiful metaphor about the group and the individual, the whole and its parts, in the sense that, in order to contribute to the general structure, there is no need to cancel the individual particularities, just to adapt a little. Small stones are not discarded for not reaching the standard size of a block, bigger ones are not fragmented in order to obtain uniform blocks. The inka stonemason tries to respect the natural size and shape of each stone.This attains the category of the sublime in some parts of the Machu Picchu complex where it seems precisely that the artist “reads” and “interprets” the form of the rocks and, with some kind of dialog, complements them, as in the Sun Temple or Condor Temple.

This “reading” of the natural form and the respect for her implies that symmetry has little or no importance at all. It’s worth admiring an obelisk, a column, a pyramid, but it is hard to overcome the elegance and originality of the Intihuatana Stone in Machu Picchu, which besides its astronomical and ritual functions is in itself a superb work of art. We won’t find a similar abstract expressiveness until 500 years later in some works of Eduardo Chillida or Henry Moore.


Notes from Peru (1). Qorikancha’s altar

If one visits the Convento de Santo Domingo in El Cusco, Peru, one will find the remains of the ancient Temple of the Sun (Inti kancha) or Gold Temple (Qori kancha). Besides admiring the walls built by the Inkas, there is a copy of the sketch of the gold panel over the altar, drawn by Joan de Santa Cruz Pachacutic in 1613. This panel depicted in a concise way the andean cosmology.

It is remarkable how everything was included: between two constellations, the sun, the moon, the evening star and the morning star, there is an ellipse representing Viracocha, the god demiurge that assembles the universe. Below there is the normal world and some sources of change:  The seasons of the year, summer symbolized by a group of stars (perhaps the Pleiades) and winter with clouds, meteors like lightning at left and  hailstorms at right associated with the small feline quwa. Mother earth “Pachamama” (still today many people perform the rite of burying some coca leaves, part of snacks, or spill the first drops of a drink, as a tribute), is under a rainbow, it has a river and “Apus”, sacred mountains; at its right the symbol of the primordial ocean encompassing everything. At the center, man and woman, at their left “the eyes of all kind of things”, as seeds or energy inside the earth that are the origins of all living beings. At right, a tree symbolizes the ancestors. The grid at the bottom corresponds to the faring terraces.

I wonder what would we draw if we had to illustrate our view of the universe in one of the main buildings of our city today.

The idea of a god creating and ordering things has been substituted by a universe expanding since the big bang. In a remote corner of that universe, and by a very unlikely chance, matter has changed to become complicate structures, living things that have evolved until a species that can speak. Our life still has the influence of the seasons and weather, but it depends also on absurd economic cycles, or what becomes fashionable. So, in that modern version of the Qorikancha altar, besides the agricultural seasons, there would be too screens showing the stock exchange index, CNN news, the most viewed at Youtube, the items most searched for in Google. Poor “mother earth” is not in very good condition, its resources almost exhausted, global warming, dump and waste …