Stations Along The Inca Highways

Along the Inca highways, every 4-8 miles, were small stations called tampus. Inside them were places where noblemen could spend the night.  Next to the tampus were storage rooms where an army could quickly get any additional food that they need. Most important of all, however, was the use of tampus in the Inca’s messenger system.

The Inca’s system of runners, or chasquis, was remarkable. Messengers ran day and night along the highway. They were given right of way by other travelers. Two runners were always stationed at a tampu, and they kept constant watch for messengers. When a runner was sighted, the watchman sprinted out of the tampu and continued running with the new arrival, who did not lessen his pace. 

As they ran, the tired messenger turned over the bundle or message he was carrying to the fresh runner. The fresh runner continued on; the tired turned back to the tampu to eat, sleep, and await his turn to make the return journey.

Men were trained to become runners for the government. This job was part of the village mita – the labor each man had to give to the community. A man worked as a runner for some 15 days the returned to his family, his farming and other household activities – till his next turn came.

Relay runners could carry a message across the length of the Empire from Cuzco to Quito – a distance of over 1,200 miles – in 5 days. The Inca boasted that within 3 days a fisherman caught a fish at the port of Callao, near Lima on the Pacific coast; the fish would be cooked by one of the emperor’s wives and served up, still fresh on a gold platter on the emperor’s table at Cuzco. 

This was not an idle boast, for the Inca amazing system of roads had made such rapid travel possible. The Inca Highway was one of the greatest achievements of the Inca Empire, an achievement that road builders and engineers still marvel today.


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