Inti Raymi at the Pyramids of Cochasqui

June 22, 2011 § 1 Comment

The trenches on the top of Pyramid 13 mark the solstices and equinoxes each year

Cochasqui is located approximately 40 miles (65 km) north of Quito virtually on the equator 0°3′ and 35″. Here at an elevation of 9,000 feet (3100 km) between 950 AD and 1250 AD the Cara people built a series of 15 pyramids and 20 funeral knolls that is the largest solar calendar in the Americas.

The flat topped pyramids were constructed out of adobe and a volcanic material (cangahua) and have perfect alignment with the surrounding mountains. The name Cochasaqui translates to Lake of the Stars, undoubtedly due to the incredible panoramic vista from the site. Here on this high Andean plateau during the day you are able to see all the major volcanoes of the area including Cayambe, Pichincha (and the city of Quito), Antisana, Cotopaxi and Illinizas. While at night you can observe the stars of the northern and southern hemisphere at the same time.

The pyramids were covered by dirt to protect them when the Incas invaded the area. A serious study of the area did not begin until 1933 when German archaeologist and treasure hunter Max Uhle destroyed the largest pyramid, No. 9, in the hunt for gold.

Today only a few of the pyramid have been partially excavated.  The most important is pyramid 13.    On the top of this pyramid are several trenches built into the stone top.  One of the trenches aligns perfectly, casting a shadow in the trench with the sunrise on December 21st, the summer solstice.  While others mark both the equator and the equinoxes. A final trench marks the sunset on June 21st the winter solstice.  The trenches have a tilt of 23.5′  corresponding to the axis of the earth.

Each year between June 19 – 22 locals come to Cochasqui to celebrate the festival of Inti Raymi a festival celebrating the passage of the sun. This is a celebration that has been passed down through generations.  In ancient times their ancestors would meet here on the solstices and equinoxes  to celebrate the solar seasons.  These seasons indicated the time of sowing and harvesting. Potatoes, corn, beans and quinoa were the most important crops for the inhabitants of the area. Shamans would gather at the sacred site of the pyramids in order to bless the multitudes of people who come and to bless the coming harvests. The shamans believed the sun to be the true “giver” of life on our planet and that Cochasqui is a special place to honor the sun.

Celebrations of the Winter Solstice

June 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

In the northern hemisphere, June 21st marks the first day of summer and the longest day of the year.  In Seattle the sun came up this morning at 5:11am and will set this evening at 9:11pm, residents will enjoy 16 hours day light today.  In the southern hemisphere it marks the first day of winter.   Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands are located along the equator, there days are relatively the same length year round 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark.

With comparatively little change throughout the year, you might think the solstice would be of little importance.  However to the indigenous people of Peru and Ecuador the winter solstice is a time for great celebration.  Prior to the arrival of the Spanish the Sun was the major god.  The Incas created a solar calendar with 365 days.  Their most important celebration of the year was Inti Raymi the festival of the sun during the winter solstice.  During the winter solstice the large potatoes were harvested and people would come from throughout the empire to celebrate in Cusco.

The solstices were of great importance to the cultures of Ecuador even prior to the arrival of the Incas.  The Cara culture who lived in the  highlands of Ecuador between 950 AD and 1550 AD built adobe pyramids near the equator between Quito and Otavalo.  They would gather at the pyramids to celebrate the solstices and the equinoxes to celebrate the passage of the sun.  During the celebrations shamans would hold ceremonies to bless both the people and the upcoming harvest.

When the Spanish arrived in South America they needed to change the culture of the local people in order to dominate them.  The made certain festivals illegal and changed the reason for celebration.  Despite the changes made by the Spanish this time of year hosts some of the most colorful indigenous festivals of the year in both Ecuador and Peru.

Discover more on the Festivals:

Inti Raymi at Cochasqui

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