THE NAME OF THE CITY:
There is some uncertainty about the correct name of the city of Cusco. According to some chroniclers, in the first centuries of the existence of this most important city in pre-Columbian South-America, its name was Akamama, according to Guaman Poma de Ayala means "chicha's mother" (chicha is a fermented corn beer). Possibly it was Aqhamama, in the modern Quechua spelling, or "chicha mother". Surely that name became useless by the beginning of the Inkan development. When cusco was the ancient Capital of the Tawantinsuyo, it was named as Qosqo, a word that is translated as "navel" or "center". That is the regular name for any Quechua speaking Andean Man. After the Spanish invasion in 1533 the name was transformed into cuzco, a word that according to the Spanish language dictionary is contemptuous, meaning "hypocrite", "humpback" or "small dog". This was a way to minimize or satirize the name of the city. Later the name was changed into Cusco, because over here "z" is not pronounced as in Spain. By the end of the 20th century a very strong social movement was willing to preserve the original name of this ancient city; since June 20, 1990, the City's Municipality by means of Town Council Agreement Nº 078-A/MC-SG-90 stated that the official name is Qosqo.
The population in Cusco City by the beginning of the 21st century was projected to be 300,000 inhabitants. The annual growth rate is approximately 4%. In 1821 after 3 centuries of Spanish colonial administration, Cusco had about 40,000 inhabitants. In the Tawantinsuyo's apogee it is believed to have been between 225 to 300 thousand inhabitants.
The altitude in Cusco is 3,400 meters above sea level (11,150 feet). Some people not used to the high altitude can get problems as a consequence of the oxygen scarcity. There is an inverse relationship: the higher the altitude, the smaller the amount of oxygen. That phenomenon makes changes in people who live in high altitudes; they develop their hearts and lungs bigger. Their blood contains a higher amount of red cells too. Scarcity of oxygen produces in some people the altitude sickness that is also known as soroche or sickness of Monge. The symptoms include sleeplessness, headaches, increased excitability, shortness of breath and a lower threshold of pain and taste. Tendon reflexes slow down and there may be loss of weight, thyroid deficiency, lung edema, or infections. Women may experience dysmenorrhea or amenorrhea, and many people experience psychological or mental disturbances. For some people it may take days, weeks or even years to adjust to some altitudes.
The latitude of Cusco is 13° 30' 45". Our latitude indicates that we should have tropical or equatorial weather, but it is not like that. Cusco is cooler because of its high altitude.
The longitude of Cusco is 71° 58' 33". We are 5 hours behind the Greenwich Mean Time.
It is relatively cool. The annual average in Cusco is between 10.3° to 11.3° Celsius (50.54° to 52.34° Fahrenheit). Over here there is some uniformity in temperature between summer and winter. Normally it is somewhat cold at nighttime and during the first hours in the early morning while that at midday the temperature increases considerably. During the early mornings in June and July the temperature frequently drops to 5° - 7°C below zero (23° and 19.4°F).
The altitude in which Cusco is found and its proximity to the equator makes Cusco's climate very unique. There are just 2 well defined seasons: a dry season and a rainy one. The dry season is from May to October and the rainy season from November to April. Generally, rainfall fluctuates between 600 to 880 mm. per year, that is between 31.5 and 34.5 inches.
In the lower section of the Cusco Valley there is an annual humidity average of 64 %.
- Peruvian Republic: 1'285,215 Km² (496,221 mile²)
- Inka Region: 175,280 Km² (67,676 mile²)
- Cusco Department: 76,225 Km² (29,430 mile²)
- Cusco Province: 523 Km² (202 mile²)
The original landscape of the valley in which the city of Cusco is located has suffered some important changes. Pre-Columbian civilizations were ecologist cultures that learned to respect and live along with nature. In ancient times the grounds would have been covered with sparse grasses, ichu (Stipa ichu) a native bunch grass, bushes and low trees. Among the most important native plants and bushes are: ñucchu (Salvia oppositiflora), yerba mora or ccaya-ccaya (Solanum nigrum), cow's tongue or llaque (Rumex crispus), male llanten or waqa kallo (Plantago hirtella), minor nettle or quisa (Urtica urens), yawar ch'onka (Oenothera rosea), ch'iri-ch'iri (Grindela boliviana), cancer herb (Stachys bogotensis), trinitaria or wallwa (Psoralea mexicana), q'eto-q'eto (Gnaphalium spicatum), wild tobacco or qhamasayri (Nicotiana paniculata), supai karko (Nicotiana glauca), dog thornbush or alkoquiska (Xanthium spinosum), dandelion or pilli-pilli (Taraxacum officinale), muña (Minthostachys spicata), chicchipa (Tagetes mandoni), verbena (Verbena litoralis), t'ankar quiska (Solanum pseudolicioides), llaulli (Barnadesia horrida), kantu (Cantua buxifolia) -a bush having red or yellow flowers that are considered as the Peruvian national flowers-, marqhu (Ambrosia peruviana), q'era (Lupinus condesuflorus), manca p'aki (Eupatorium sternbergianum), rata-rata (Abutilon arboreum), runto-runto (Calceolaria cuneiformis), angel's trumpet or floripondio (Datura arborea), red angel's trumpet (Datura sanguinea), roq'e (Colletia spinosissima), panti (Cosmos peucedanifolius), mountain ginger (Canna iridiflora), achupalla (Pitcairnia ferruginea), kcayara (Puya herrerrae), aguaimanto (Prunus), chunta paqpa (Fourcroya andina), century plant or paqpa (Agave americana), prickly pear or tuna (Opuntia ficus indica), p'ata quiska (Opuntia exaltata), jawaq'ollay or giant cactus (Trichocereus cuzcoensis), atoq-wakachi (Opuntia tunicata), niwa (Cortadería rudiuscula), ch'illca (Baccharis polyanta), maych'a or árnica (Senecio pseudotites), begonia or achankarai (Begonia sp.), etc.
Among the most important native trees in cusco: chachacomo (Escallonia resinosa), molle or false pepper (Schinus molle), kiswar (Buddleia longifolia or inkana), qolle (Buddleia coriácea), elderberry or sauco (Sambucus peruviana), capuli cherry (Physalis peruviana), lloq'e (Kageneckia lanceolata), tara (Caesalpinia spinosa), huayruro (Citharexylum herrerae), alder tree or lambran (Alnus jorulensis), cedar (Cedrela herrerae), coral tree or pisonay (Erythrina falcata), weeping willow (Salix humboldtiana), waranway (Tecoma sambucifolia), q'euña (Polylepis inkana or racemosa), etc.
Since colonial days people from the city of Cusco have been exterminating slowly many bushes and almost all of the valley's native trees for use as firewood. Today the trees that dominate our valleys are eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus), imported from Australia in the 1880s. Another element that has changed the original landscape of the valley is the grass known as kikuyo (Pennisetun clandestinum), grass native from Eritrea and Abyssinia (present day Ethiopia) that was brought from Kenya and planted first in the Cusco Valley in 1928. In the very beginning it was imported with ornamental purposes and as cattle pasture. Today it grows wildly even in the very high Andean Mountains as a pest that reduces the farmlands. It is appreciated by cattlemen but hated by farmers.
The Cusco Valley is located in the mid-west of the Peruvian Andes, not far from what is known as the "Vilcanota Node". Mountains around it contain mainly sedimentary rocks. However, there is an important limestone formation and some "stocks" or outcrop igneous formations. Among the most important mountains surrounding Cusco, named clockwise are: on the northern side Saqsaywaman, Pukamoqo, Socorro and farther away Senqa (4400 mts, 14432 ft.) and the Fortaleza (4193 mts, 13750 ft.). Advancing to the east side are the Pikol (4482 mts, 14700 ft.) and the range of Pachatusan (4842 mts, 15880 ft.). Towards the Southeast are the Machu Loma, the mythological Wanakauri (4080 mts, 13382 ft.), Santa Ana; farther south is the Anawarque (4050 mts, 13284 ft.), Qachona, and closer the Choqo, Araja, Muyu-Orqo and the Condoroma which closer side to the city is named Araway Qhata where today the sign "Viva el Perú" ("Long live Peru") is found; to the southwest are the Pukín, Waman Charpa and further away the Mama Simona (4300 mts, 14105 ft.). Dominating the western side are the K'illki and Picchu (3820 mts, 12530 ft.). On the top of the Picchu Mountain today many microwave antennas are placed.
In the Cusco Region there are also some very important mountain chains, standing out the Cordillera (Range of Mountains) of Vilcanota towards the city's east and which highest peak is the Ausangate at over 6372 mts. (20905 ft.); the Cordillera of Urubamba towards the northwest with its highest peak La Veronica over 5682 mts. (18641 ft.); and the Cordillera of Vilcabamba toward the west and which the highest summit is the Salkantay at over 6271 mts. (20574 ft.).