The Last Living Inca Town: Ollantaytambo's History

Ollantaytambo archeological complex's sun temple.

Ollantaytambo is a Peruvian town and Inca archaeological site, the capital of the district of the same name located in the province of Urubamba, which is also located in the zone denominated as the Sacred Valley of the Incas, in the department of Cusco. It lies about 60 miles northwest of the city of Cusco.

Stay with Kenko Adventures to delve deeper into this town's history and legacy throughout the ages.


Ollantaytambo town's name is supposedly made from 2 words, the ethimology goes as it follows: 

The Quechua word on the second half is tambo/tampu meaning 'lodge' or 'inn', while the first part Ollantay does not seem to derive from Quechua roots, it may be likely of hybrid Quechua-Aymara etymology) it was thought that the colonial drama Ollantay had pre-Hispanic origins, some believed the compound name could commemorate its protagonist, the Inca general Ollanta (who battled Pachacuti himself by cloistering himself and his troops to repel the Inca's army in order to marry his daughter according to the tale).

For this confusion, the linguist Rodolfo Cerrón-Palomino has postulated a solution, which says that Ollantay has an Aymara origin, deriving from Ullantawi - the verbal root ulla- ('to see') combined with the inward/downward directional suffix -nta, meaning 'to observe from above', i.e. a lookout or vantage point. 

As Quechua displaced Aymara in the Cusco region, the name was shortened (Ullantawi > Ullantaw) and the final "w" changed to "y" ending with the word Ullantay.

 Later, when the Inca Viracocha founded a tambo in the newly conquered plaza following Cusco administration, it became known as the tambo of Ollantay/Ullantay, with the first part eventually reduced to a modifier of tampu.

Multi-facetic Role

Historically, according to the 16th century Spanish chronicler Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa, the Inca emperor Pachacutec conquered and destroyed Ollantaytambo before incorporating it into his empire. Under Inca rule, the town was rebuilt with splendid buildings and the Urubamba River valley (which crosses Machu Picchu) was irrigated and provided with terraces; the town served as a lodge for Inca nobility while the terraces were worked by servant yanaconas. After Pachacutec's death, the region passed to the custodianship of his panaka, his family group.

During the Spanish conquest, Ollantaytambo functioned as the temporary capital for Manco Inca Yupanqui, leader of the Inca resistance against the Spanish. Under his rule, the town and surroundings were heavily fortified against the former Inca capital of Cusco, which had fallen under Spanish control. At the Mascabamba plain near Ollantaytambo, Manco Inca defeated a Spanish expedition by blocking their advance from a set of terraces and flooding the plain. However, despite his victory, Manco Inca did not consider remaining in Ollantaytambo viable, so he withdrew to the dense forest of Vilcabamba. In 1540, the native population of Ollantaytambo was granted in an encomienda (certain regions that were given as some sort of states under the control of the "encomenderos" or regional governors) to Hernando Pizarro.

Today it is a major tourist attraction due to its Inca constructions and for being one of the most common starting points of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

Inca Urbanism

Ollantaytambo is a prime example of the Incas' extraordinary urban planning abilities. Its cobblestone streets winding every which way, ruins scattered throughout, and agricultural terraces are highlights that stand out on their own that visitors can fully appreciate. Among the ruins, a visit to the ancient fortress and temple is recommended, where you can take in magnificent views of the Sacred Valley of the Incas.

Ollantaytambo is one of the most monumental architectural complexes of the ancient Inca Empire, commonly called the 'Fortress' due to its massive walls. It was actually a tambo or lodging-town, strategically located to control the Sacred Valley. The architectural style and quality of each individually worked stone make Ollantaytambo one of the most peculiar and astonishing artistic achievements of the ancient Peruvians, especially the Temple of the Sun and its gigantic monoliths.

The straight, narrow, picturesque streets today form fifteen blocks of houses located north of the town's main plaza, which are themselves a true historical legacy. Some colonial-style houses are built on exquisitely polished Inca walls. The stone tones are cheerful shades of petrified flower color, dark pink. In the main plaza, a huge block with perfect edges fits its fifteen stellar angles into a double row.


If you're planning to stay in Ollantaytambo and use the location as the axis for your tours in Cusco, we'll be glad to tailor our programs to the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, the Inca Trail Tour and many more to fit your traveling plans without a problem!

Contact us for more information and have a nice day!

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