The 24th of June is the winter solstice in South America, and if you need an excuse to travel, the Inti Raimi Festival, held in Cuzco, Peru, is the New Year celebration to attend. Tourists enjoy a week long fiesta in the heart of the ancient Inca Empire culminating in a colorful pageant, with hundreds of participants in costume, re-enacting the Inca Festival of the Sun ceremony.
Inti Raimi Banned
The high priest had welcomed the queen and king to the Temple of the Sun (Koricancha) with the traditional two cups of Chicha, prepared for this special occasion, one cup to honor the earth and the heavens while the other cup was to toast the visitors. The Koricancha, with its polished stone walls lined with gleaming gold plates and adorned with the finest Inca weaving’s and golden ornaments, had a glow reminiscent of the Sacred Sun itself.
The nobles, priests and Virgins of the Sun were all costumed in their most colorful and finest clothes to honor the Sacred Sun and had made their promenade to the fortress Saqsayhuaman high above the town of Cuzco. This is where the ritual of the sacrifice was always performed so the soothsayer (the willaq Uma) could foretell the events of the coming year from the entrails of the victim before everyone returned to town and the bonfires in honor of the Empire of the Four Winds.
The priest that was responsible for making the cut with the sacrificial knife (Tumi) opened the white Llama and the Wirapiricuq (the one that removes the heart) held the still beating organ aloft to honor the Sun God. What did the willaq Uma see this year of 1571, what visions did the entrails show? Did the fortune-teller see that this was the last Inti Raimi Festival to be held for almost 375 years, for in the year of 1572 the Spanish Viceroy Toledo banned the Festival of the Sun as Pagan worship and contrary to the Catholic faith.
Chroniclers of the conquistadors such as Cieza de Leon, Murua, and the Vega brothers among others had documented, in detailed writings and illustrations, the Inti Raimi and some say that the rituals were kept alive by Inca holy men that had hidden the knowledge and passed it on from one generation to the next. These records were used in the first festival held in 1928 that was actually a re-enactment, of the conquest of the fortress at Saqsayhuaman by the Spanish conquistadors, held by local teachers and about a hundred of the nearby residents.
A Tourist Sensation
It wasn’t until 1944 that the modern incarnation of the Inti Raimi Festival began and every year since the people of Cuzco dress up as Inca nobles, priests, soldiers and Virgins of the Sun to participate in the rituals, prayers, parades and bon-fires. They honor their Inca forebears, encourage the return of the Sun with its warmth and light as well as ensure the fertility of the earth by re-enacting these religious practices of the past.
Thousands of visitors from around the globe find this the perfect excuse to travel to Peru to enjoy the bright costumes and local foods, not to mention the spectacular scenery and historic architecture, during this week long celebration in June of the Inti Raimi, the Inca Festival of the Sun.