The Haucaypata/Plaza de Armas, a nexus of conflict and resolution: an interpretation of space and spectator




Morse, Elizabeth

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The Plaza de Armas stands today as a public space surrounded by colonial architecture in the center of Cuzco, Peru. The plaza is an object composed of significant materials that has undergone a tremendous metamorphosis in a considerably small period of time. My work considers the value of these materials as they were repurposed, and explores the interpretations of this space by the diverse audiences that witnessed its change.

In his book An Introduction to the Archaeology of Cuzco, John Rowe explained that the Inca settled in the Cuzco valley ca. 1200 A.D., developing the space from an already existing population. Over the next three centuries, the Inca advanced politically into a powerful empire and thus utilized various materials to construct a space that signified the kamay, or essence, of the Inca people both politically and religiously. By the mid-sixteenth century the Inca were invaded by Spanish conquistadors and the plaza was arrogated by the colonists. At this point, many of the materials were removed, and the rest were repurposed, in order to give the space new meaning. The colonists that remained after the valuables were removed were responsible for generating a new, syncretic audience for the space.

This brief historical outline raises the following questions: How was the space originally designed and developed, and what contributed to these decisions? How do records left behind by both the Spanish and Inca contribute to modern interpretations of the space as it transitioned or how it functioned for a syncretic/early modern audience? What materials (or lack of) were applied to this space, and how do they contribute to the overall significance of the plaza as an object? How does memory affect the development of space? More specifically, how does memory play a role in the re-development of the Plaza de Armas?

In addition to reviewing the work of chroniclers and providing a formal analysis of the materials and structures incorporated into the Plaza de Armas, I provide interpretations of the plaza with comparative material for each of the objects included in the formal analysis. In his book The Sacred Landscape, Brian Bauer mentions that many of the silver and gold illas found on the Island of the Sun in Lake Titicaca are similar to the illas once buried beneath the sand of the Haucaypata. There will also be a comparative discussion between the illas of the plaza and those that were included with Capacocha rituals along the Cuzco ceque system.

There are a few things I hope to accomplish with my thesis. I hope to convince my audience that the Plaza de Armas should be considered an object, and define the relationship between the plaza and its audience. I reinterpret the sand of the Haucaypata and suggest that although it is frequently overlooked, it could be considered the most significant material applied to the construction of the plaza. I would also like to use the plaza to make a connection between objects and collective memory. Finally, I hope that by writing this thesis, it has offered probable suggestions on how memory participates in assigning significant meaning to objects.


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Haucaypata, Inca, memory, plaza, Plaza de Armas, Spanish colonial



Art and Art History