Inca Highways

The Inca conquests could never have been accomplished without good roods, nor could the Inca have continued to rule over he conquered peoples for long without being able to move armies to any troubled par of the Empire with lightning speed.

The great Inca highway, which ran from north o south, is still being discovered by our archeologists. I was actually two almost parallel highways. Paved with cobblestones, with many crossroads connecting them. One highway stretched along the entire Pacific coast from the town of Tumbes in northern Peru to Talca in Chile. This highway serviced the coastal villages and towns. Numerous roads connected these settlements with the main road.

The other highway, which was even more travelled, ran inland from Quito, Ecuador, to Cuzco, the capital of Inca Empire. South from Cuzco the highway forked, circling Lake Titicaca and continuing south through Bolivia to the town of Tucuman in Argentina. From Tucaman the highway turned was to the port of Comquimbo in Chile. From Comquimbo a highway lead to what is now Santiago and still another highway led from Tucuman to Mendoza in Argentina. In all, the Inca Highway covered over 2000 miles, a distance comparable to the entire length of the Atlantic coast from Maine to Key West, Florida.

To have built roads in this land of lofty mountains and high plateaus, deep gorges, scrapes – out canyons and turbulent rivers, was quite a feat. The Inca’s ingenuity is overcoming these obstacles was amazing. In some places, where the grade was too steep for a loaded man or IIama, wide stone steps were built to make the climbing easier. Whenever possible, the Inca dug tunnels.   Raised causeways were laid out over narrow passes between peaks or over shallow bodies of water. Canyons and rivers were spanned with bridges.

One of these bridges, which were built – it is believed – in 1350, served the highland people for hundreds of years before it collapsed. This bridge was the subject of a book by Thornton Wilder, entitled The BridgeOf San Luis Rey. The bridge, according to Mr. Wilder, was 250 feet long. I hung over the gorge of the turbulent Apurimac River, some 90 feet below.

The Andean people called the Apurimac River the Great Speaker, because its rushing waters, echoing and re-echoing in its deep gorge, were never silent. The bridge was built of braided and twisted fibers, held together with matting and mud. Two thick plaited fiber rails were needed to steady the traveler, because the bridge swung in the air with the wind.

The Inca Highway took years and years to build. Men from each family unit in every village and town along the way were drafted for the work. Crews with oversees kept all the road open and in good repair. They constantly reinforced weak stretches of highway with terrace and stone walls, and they added improvements all the time. These men were exceptional stone masons, and they always did their best, no matter how small the job. They even decorated the stone walls with designs to please the travelers.

Although the Inca people did not encourage the common people to travel, there were always Indian on the highways. They travelled by day, and at night they slept on mats on the side of the road with only their blankets to protect them against the bitter cold of the highland nights.

On market days the highways was crowded with people. The Inca government accumulated surplus grain in its warehouses and annually did tribute it to the people. If a family had enough grain of their own, they could take it on market day and trade it for cloth, pottery or ornament.


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