Pachacuti as Builder

Build, build, build. Build buildings, roads, bridges. Build entire cities. Build to endure.

I love to build. Edifices are the concrete manifestation of a society’s investment in itself, and of a ruler’s vision. They improve our lives both physically and symbolically. It is no surprise that my contemporaries through the world—Timerlane in Central Asia is just one example—also focused on massive building projects (although mine were bigger and more impressive).

After my crushing victory over the Chancas, I sat down and tried to set some quick priorities on what to focus on next. I wanted to find something doable and visible. Finally, I hit on the perfect idea: building a fabulous temple in Cuzco. I named the temple “Coricancha”, or “Temple of Gold”.

I am proud that 600 years later Coricancha remains a prominent feature of Cuzco. It is a quick walk, just a few hundred yards, from the Plaza de Armas, as the Spanish renamed the central square in this and every other town in modern-day Peru. The temple’s massive walls of stone, which I ordered built to the towering height of 20 feet and joined with the finest artisanry we could muster, stand silently today just as they did when I had them built, and certainly will 600 years in the future, or probably 6,000. I’m not aware of any other structures in the world that have existed or will exist so long, with the possible exception of the Pyramids and the Great Wall of China.

The Dominicans built the clumsy Monastery of Santa Domingo around and above the ancient temple. But they were either unwilling, or more likely unable, to destroy it. So modern-day visitors can still visit it ponder the essence of Incan civilization in those very temple chambers in which I offered solitary prayers and sacrifices to my God. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Why a temple? Let me walk you through this decision, since it is quite representative of my thinking. Because there were certainly other options; for instance, I could just have easily decided to make it my first priority to focus on the orgchart, organization, or expand my empire, or strengthen the economy. But think about it: whatever initiatives I undertook in the future would all require both that I have unquestioned legitimacy and authority, and that my nation have great confidence in itself. That is why I chose to first build a huge temple as a highly visible symbol of my power, my devotion to my God the Sun, and the entire civilization in the region around Cuzco. At the same time the existence of the new temple, with myself as chief worshipper, was a neat legitimacy play. In essence, I was conferring legitimacy upon myself, which you will have to admit is a neat trick.

Now, the temple was a large project for the Incans at the time. But remember that we had available the huge amount of booty we had won during the battles with the Chancas. So in a sense the temple project was a way for me to take the ownership of the process of managing the disposition of the fruits of war.

At the same time, though, the temple project was small enough that it could be completed in just four years. So the temple’s construction would be a quick win. It would establish in everyone’s eyes the ability of myself, Pachacuti to lead. And it would also place beyond doubt the ability of the whole Incan nation to successfully execute such projects. It was just the right level of stretching for our empire at the time.

Finally, I knew that the temple would be indispensable for whatever future projects I moved on to, and I had a whole list in mind. The presence of the temple lent much of the necessary authority for consolidating the nearby tribes, a big political job that I was already thinking about and will talk about in the next chapter.

Hands-on Management at its Best

Let’s be frank: the Pachacuti management style does not involve very much delegation. Frankly, I find modern management far too preoccupied with empowering people. I had dozens or hundreds of good people. But this temple was simply too important a project to allow any risk of failure.

That’s why I selected the site myself. I personally designed the temple using cords to indicate its dimensions. I visited quarries near Cuzco to inspect in person the stones to be used in the construction. During the building process, I visited the site daily to monitor progress and encourage the workers. Sometimes I would pitch in myself to help with the actual building work. And I have to say that the results showed that my personal attention was well worth it.

I was shocked, though, to saw my beloved Coricancha in the 21st century. The temple that you as a tourist visit today is shorn of all decoration. When the temple was first built we adorned it with fabulous amounts of gold and silver. Of course, I had no way of knowing that a hundred years later my incompetent great-randson, Atahualpa, would brazenly offer Coricancha’s gold to Pizarro as one way he hoped to make his ransom. As if Pizarro was really going to release him after the ransom was paid!

And there was a lot of gold in that building. The building itself was sheathed with large plates of gold, as the first three mindless Spaniards to see Cuzco reported. (They removed, with crowbars, 700 plates each weighing 4 1/2 pounds, worth $15,000,000 at today’s gold prices.) Inside, I placed a band of gold eight inches wide running around the entire building at roof level. There were uncountable statues and other decorations. I was most proud of the garden of gold, on which a team of goldsmiths worked for years. This garden had tiny corn plants with stems of silver and ears of gold. Of course, during the looting of 1533 all these items were melted down by the Spaniards.

Staffing and Funding

Of course, my job was not done when the temple was built. I needed to staff and fund the temple as well.

I wrote a job description for COO which called for someone older, honest, and trustworthy. I filled that job. I set the initial headcount plan for the temple at 700. I filled 500 positions with young Incan girls—easy on the budget, and easy on the eyes. I ordered them to stay permanently inside the temple like cloistered nuns. These girls were called mamacona in Quechua. (Mama means mother.) The other 200 were men called yanacoma (yana meaning “retainer”). They were responsible for generating income for the temple. They did this by farming lands which I endowed the temple with.

Actually, Coricancha was not the first temple built by the Incas. In fact, a temple already existed on the very same site. This temple had been named “Inticancha”, or “Temple of the Sun”. But ancient Incan correspondents report that this previous temple was a crude affair, nothing more, really, than a group of stone huts. My intent in building a much grander temple on the site of the older one was to simultaneously honor and validate the work of those who had come before me, while greatly extending and redefining it.

Coricancha was actually much more than just a temple, as I also knew when I ordered it built. It also was to serve as a template for the approach to symbol-building in other provinces. Eventually, all major provincial capitals had their own Temples of the Sun serving as a symbol for their areas and a focus for their religious energy. As I had intended from the start, the Temple of Gold successfully served as a highly visible and distinctive symbol of the reign of the Incas throughout the rest of Incan civilization.

I am honored to be numbered among great empire buildings, and like many others, I continued my building activities through his reign, building massive structures throughout his kingdom. Modern-day scholars have not come to complete agreement on who actually built the majestic fortress of Macchu Picchu; well, guess who? I mean, who else could have built it? And of course I was also the one who commenced the construction of the huge fortress above Cuzco, with its trademark monolithic stones arranged in zig-zag rows, called Sacsahuaman. The existence of this fortress was what gave my descendants their last good chance to defeat the Spaniards—a chance which they muffed, of course.

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