Completed Project

Cusco Historic Center

Cusco, Peru

1996, 2000 and 2002 World Monuments Watch

In a fertile valley in southeastern Peru, at an elevation of 3,400 meters (11,150 feet), the Incas established the important settlement of Cusco in the twelfth century. Cusco was expanded and redesigned as a planned city in the early fifteenth century after Prince Cusi Yupanqui, later know as Pachacutec, successfully led the Incas against two attacks from the Chancas. Its design was similar to the grid plan that became fashionable in Europe at the start of the Renaissance, with organized blocks set at right angles and a core reserved for religious, administrative, and military functions.

As the city developed so too did the Inca Empire, and from 1438 to 1532 the Inca established themselves as the center of the most sophisticated city-state system in the pre-Colombian world through battles and diplomacy. Cusco was the capital of the largest empire in the New World until 1532, when it fell to the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro. During the following centuries, the Spanish transformed Cusco into a new metropolis that combined baroque and Andean traditions and, by the eighteenth century, had become the second largest city in South America. In 1980, its historic center was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The site was included on the World Monuments Watch in 1996, 2000, and 2002.

The rehabilitation of select city blocks presents an example for the future

In 1997 we secured funds from American Express to support the development of a conservation and urban rehabilitation plan for twelve of the 108 city blocks in Cusco’s historic center. The study, which was completed in 1998, resulted in the creation of a database documenting the twelve representative blocks and the development of concrete guidelines to be applied to both residential blocks and public spaces. In response to this study, one city block was selected and developed as a pilot demonstration project with the financial support of the local municipality and Spanish and Italian international cooperation agencies.

With increased international attention garnered from Cusco’s inclusion on the Watch, the city’s crucial conservation and planning needs have since been addressed in ways that complimented the project World Monuments Fund supported. Laws regulating the city’s historic architecture have been passed, new heritage institutions have formed, and physical conservation interventions have been carried out. One example of such an undertaking is the restoration of Cusco’s cathedral, which took place between 1997 and 2002 and included the repair of the drains in the crypt, the strengthening of the retaining walls, and the renovation of the choir.

Despite these positive developments, Cusco’s cultural heritage remains at risk. In 2014 authorities allowed a company to build a hotel adjacent to the city’s historic architecture, and locals are still calling for cessation of the incomplete building’s construction. Should the plans be carried out, Cusco would be at risk of losing its World Heritage status. In May 2016 five historic stone walls were vandalized with spray paint.

More than four centuries after the establishment of the historic center of Cusco, the planned streets and massive foundation stones that once supported Inca buildings can still be appreciated. Our project addressed the need to balance the city’s modern realities, including its expanding population and growing tourism, with its rich cultural heritage.

Join us in keeping watch over mankind’s greatest achievements, and support this call to action.