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Observations placeholder

Father Bernabe Cobo - Inca Religion and Customs - The magic of the stonemasons



Type of Spiritual Experience



I think they had a bit of help..................

A description of the experience

Father Bernabe Cobo - Inca Religion and Customs [translated by Roland Hamilton]

…….. the walls were made partly of stone blocks and ashlars and partly of stones worked only on the face, with the edges also worked, though not perfectly even and straight. Second, in the parts of the walls that are still standing, stones made into blocks are seen so big that some of them are up to twelve, fifteen, and more feet in diameter. This clearly shows how very strong the people would have to be in order to carry them and place them where they are.

In the third place, though these stones are of such extraordinary large size, they are very skillfully and elegantly worked, and so carefully fitted together one on top of the other without mortar, that the joints are hardly visible. Starting with the walls of irregular stones, even though they seem to be the coarsest, in my opinion, they were much more difficult to make than the ones of ashlar blocks. Except for the face, which they worked as well as the ashlars, the irregular stones were not cut even, and since it was necessary to fit them together so perfectly, it is easy to appreciate the work that it would take to make them fit the way we see them.

Some of them are big and others little, and all of them of different forms and shapes; they are fitted together just as perfectly as the ashlar stonework. Thus, if the bottom stone has some bulge or peak, the stone placed on top has a space made in it that fits exactly into the other, and some of these stones have many jagged edges all around, and the stones that sit next to them are cut to fit perfectly. This work certainly is very hard and tedious. In order to fit the stones together, it was necessary to put them in place and remove them many times to check them, and since the stones are very big as we see, it is easy to understand what a lot of people and suffering were required.

The majority of these stones were flat and straight, set vertical, although some were a little inclined inward.

The walls and ramparts of ashlar blocks were more common than those of irregular stones, and generally they were built straight, with uniform-sized stones from the ground up to the top, fitting them together one on top of the other so perfectly that in some buildings not even a pin will fit into the joint. Apart from these straight walls, which, though ordinary among them, were as well made as our very finest, they made others with higher workman-ship. One example is an entire section of a wall that still remains in the city of Cuzco, in the Convent of Santa Catalina. These walls were not made vertical, but slightly inclined inward. The stones are perfectly squared, but in such a way that they come to have the same shape and workmanship as a stone for a ring of the sort that jewelers call "faceted." The stones have two sets of faces and corners, so that a groove is formed between the lesser faces of the fitted stones, separating the faces in relief.

Another skillfully made feature of this work is that all of the stones are not of the same size, but the stones of each course are uniform in size, and the stones are progressively smaller as they get higher. Thus the stones of the second course are smaller than those of the first, and the stones of the third course are also smaller than those of the second, and in this way the size of the stones diminishes proportionately as the wall becomes higher. Thus the above-mentioned wall of the structure, which remains standing to this day, has a lower course of ashlar blocks of more than one cubit in diameter, while the stones of the upper course are the size of azulejos [ornamental tile]. This wall is two or three estados high. It is the most skillfully made of all the Inca structures that I have seen.

We said that the Indians did not use mortar in these buildings, that all of them were made of dry stone; the first reason for this is that they did not use lime and sand for construction (never having discovered this type of mortar), and the second reason is because they set the stones together with nothing between them on the exterior face of the structure. But this does not mean that the stones were not joined together on the inside with some type of mortar; in fact it was used to fill up space and make the stones fit. What they put in the empty space was a certain type of sticky, red clay that they call llanca, which is quite abundant in the whole Cuzco region. I was able to see this for myself while watching as part of that wall of the Convent of Santa Catalina was being torn down for the construction of the church that is there now.

What amazes us the most when we look at these buildings is to wonder with what tools and apparatus could they take these stone [blocks] out of the rocks in the quarries, work them, and put them where they are without implements made of iron, nor machines with wheels, nor using either the ruler, the square, or the plumb bob, nor any of the other kinds of equipment and implements that our artisans use.

Thinking about this truly does cause one to marvel, and it makes one realize what a vast number of people were necessary to make these structures.

In fact, we see stones of such enormous size that a hundred men could not work even one of them in a month. Therefore, what they say becomes believable, and it is that when the fortress [Sacsahuaman] of Cuzco was under construction, there were normally thirty thousand people working on it. This is not surprising since the lack of implements, apparatus, and ingenuity necessarily increased the amount of work, and thus they did everything by sheer manpower.

The implements that they had to cut the stones and work them were hard, black cobblestones from the rivers, with which they worked more by pounding than cutting. The stones were taken to the work site by dragging them, and since they had no cranes, wheels, or apparatus for lifting them, they made a ramp of earth next to the construction site, and they rolled the stones up the ramp. As the structure went up higher, they kept building up the ramp to the same height. I saw this method used for the Cathedral of Cuzco which is under construction. Since the laborers who work on this job are Indians, the Spanish masons and architects let them use their own methods of doing the work, and in order to raise up the stones, they made the ramps mentioned above, piling earth next to the wall until the ramp was as high as the wall.

The source of the experience


Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items


Activities and commonsteps