Peru: An Extraordinary, Sacred Landscape

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Ancient Peruvian burial shroud
Ancient Peruvian burial shroud

I recently returned from a short but extraordinary sojourn in the Sacred Valley of Peru. Peruvian culture, which spans upwards of 5000 years, still emphasizes and celebrates a powerful connection with the natural world. Though many of the inhabitants of the Andean Highlands remain illiterate, their story is recounted through other creative expressions, through landscape, textiles and weaving, and ceramics.

In his excellent book, A Sacred Landscape, the Search for Ancient Peru, Hugh Thomson writes of “. . .the great achievement of Andean pre-Columbian civilisation: the ability to give meaning to a harsh and difficult environment, to carve order out of the inchoate, perhaps the most primeval of aesthetic impulses, in this case to create a complex sacred landscape where once had been plain rock and water. Any other people would have looked at the terrifyingly precipitate terrain round Machu Picchu, ‘a landscape built by titans in a fit of megolomania’ as Christopher Isherwood once described it, and turned away.

“It exemplified the ancient Peruvian need for other repositories of meaning; without writing, they invested everything they wanted to pass on to their descendants into landscape, rock art, lines across the desert and elaborate weavings. Like the cochineal red of those weavings, much of Peru’s past remains visible, stained into the fabric of the country and lived by the descendants of those who built their empires . . . . the country is slowly trying to weave a pattern out of the disparate symbols it has collected over five millennia — in the same way that we all weave our own past to make sense of it.”

Cuzco, Plaza des Armas

Cuzco, Plaza des Armas

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