mercoledì 24 dicembre 2014

A Journey into the X-Zone

The Mysterious "Zona-X" of Cusco
A view of the idyllic landscape sorrounding the "X-Zone" of Cusco, which extends just a short distance from the great megalithic fortress of Sachsayhuaman. What seems just a natural landscape is in fact littered with the signs of a very mysterious past: carved stones, altars, shrines and the entrances to several underground tunnels and caves. [Photo by Author]
Unknown to many of the tourists who visit the nearby fortress of Sachsayhuaman, overlooking the ancient city of Cusco, Peru, a short cab ride (or a very scenic walk) will take you into the hearth of the “X-Zone”.

It is difficult to describe what the “X-Zone” actually is. At a minimum, it is an impressive collection of megalithic ruins, a maze of underground tunnels and strange rock-cut monuments. But there is also a more sinister side to it, related to mysterious disappearances and sightings. This is, by the way, not surprising for an area so isolated and rich in caves, both natural and man-made.

The first approach to the X-Zone is from the road connecting Sachsayhuaman and Q’enko to the nearby ruins of Puca Pucara and Tambomachay. The area is immediately recognizable as a large rocky outcrop surrounded on one side by massive polygonal walls, very much reminiscent of the walls of Sachsayhuaman.
There are extensive signs of quarrying, and there is no doubt the area was used as a stone quarry at some point. There are elements, however, that point to a much different function for the area before it was turned into a stone quarry. Many of the walls of the rocky outcrop appear to have been cut into regular shapes to form little chambers, shrines and doorways.
There is a sense of extreme antiquity here, which is further reinforced by the severe erosion and weathering of many of the stone surfaces. Interestingly, many of the neatly carved chambers and doorways which are now fully exposed to the elements appear to have been once underground and to have only been exposed by quarrying or erosion.
A set of niches and rock-cut doorways, highly suggestive of a funerary arrangement (the niches served perhaps to contain mummified bodies or other offerings). Much of the superstructure of this chamber seems to have been quarried away, leaving the rock walls exposed to the weathering agents. [Photo by Author]
A carved rocky outcrop, also in the vicinity of the "X-Zone", likely used as a quarry for the nearby fortress of Sachsayhuaman. [Photo by Author]
These carved walls and chambers show remarkable polish and many unusual features also found at several pre-Inca sites around Peru (See my previous entry – The Vitrified Ruins of Ancient Peru [2]), including partial vitrification.

The most unique and unusual feature of the “X-Zone”, however, is the maze of tunnels that extends deep underground inside the rocky outcrop. It is likely that this might correspond to the area known from ancient sources as the “Chincana Grande”, or the “Great Chincana”, a word meaning labyrinth or maze in Quechua. The X-Zone would appear to be a much more likely candidate for this than the other rocky outcrop which is more commonly known by the same name closer to Sachsayhuaman (there are actually two Chincanas near Sachsayhuaman, one called the “Chincana Chica”, on the Rodadero hill facing the giant megalithic fortress, which consists of some short tunnels that can be rather effortlessly explored, and a large rocky outcrop commonly – but in our opinion mistakenly – identified as the Great Chincana, where several shrines and steps have been carved into the rock, yet bearing no trace of tunnels or other features that might justify such a name).

The mysterious subterraneans of the Incas

Many legends relate to a maze of tunnels and ancient passageways supposedly existing underneath the city of Cusco and dating to a time possibly earlier than that of the Incas. According to a long established tradition, dating back to early colonial times, these tunnels are supposed to connect the temple of the Sun in Cusco (the famed Qorikancha) to the giant megalithic fortress of Sachsayhuaman, as well as to many other places as far as Tiwanaku in Bolivia. [1]

According to a famous story, reported among others by the historian Garcilaso de la Vega, vast treasures were concealed in these tunnels in the days of the siege of Cusco by the Spaniards, including the fabulous Sun of Gold that once shone in the innermost shrine of the Qorikancha of Cusco.

Other more recent tales, although somehow harder to verify, relate of entire expeditions vanishing without a trace into the maze of tunnels underneath the city in search of the fabled gold of the Incas. 

Doubtless, the “Zona-X” is the closest neighbor to the maze of tunnels that is the matter of such legends and fairy tales. Everywhere one sees the entrances to countless tunnels and underground passages, often branching out in multiple directions and intersected by other smaller tunnels. Some of the galleries are very neatly carved, with regular outlines and polished walls and ceilings; some even have steps carved in the floor, leading to unknown depths. In other cases, however, the galleries resemble natural caves, the workmanship is very rough and the course irregular.
A neatly cut stone surface. Was it part of some underground chamber or hypogeum now exposed by quarrying and erosion? Note how the carved walls and ceiling end abruptly where the rock appears to have been cut, [Photo by Author]
A curiously shaped niche, which was apparently left unfinished. [Photo by Author]
One very large gallery crosses almost the entire length of the rocky outcrop, covering a distance of a few hundred feet. It is unusually large and spacious, reaching at points an apparent height of over 3 meters. There are niches carved in the walls, which also bear signs of vitrification and have a mirror-like appearance. Even this gallery is intersected by countless smaller tunnels, some leading up and partially obstructed, others leading down, deep into the bowels of the Earth. Not even the local guides know where many of these tunnels could lead. One older guide that we interviewed at the site claimed he was able to follow one such tunnel for over 20 minutes, down to the point when the heat and the lack of oxygen would make it impossible to go any further. Yet he would ensure us that the tunnel continued steeply going down towards some dark abyss of unfathomable depth. Other guides would confirm the tale and swear that if one were to follow these tunnels to the end, he would emerge exactly from underneath the Qorikancha or somewhere near the Cathedral of Cusco. 
One of the countless tunnels that can be found in the X-Zone. This one appear to be a natural cave that was then artificial enlarged and is also intersected by several other passages and tunnels. [Photo by Author]
A neatly carved tunnel entrance, also laid exposed by erosion and quarrying. One can see the walls of some kind of antechamber leading into the tunnel, which has now lost its original roofing (one of the roofing stones can still be seen right above the entrance to the tunnel, tightly inserted between the two rock walls). [Photo by Author]
The many shrines and rock-cut altars one finds at the site doubtlessly testify to the importance and sacredness of the place in ancient times. A small temple was built on one side of the rocky outcrop, although the poor workmanship of its construction, mostly consisting of loose stones, would place it well into Inca times.


A visit to the “X-Zone” is also easily complemented by a visit to the nearby Temple of the Moon and the Temple of the Monkeys, which also hold many fascinating secrets and unexplained features (See my previous entry – The Vitrified Ruins of Ancient Peru [2]). 

Notes:

The approximate coordinates of the site are: 
13.496427 S, 71.974033 W (from Google Maps) - A sign near the entrance points to an area of the archaeological park of Sachsayhuaman called Lanlakuyok. Due to the isolated position of the site, we highly recommend hiring an expert local guide. 

[1] The Koricancha Project is currently investigating some of these reports, which have already led to some highly promising discoveries and findings. More details can be found on the Project's website: http://www.koricancha.net/index.html

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