During the Inca empire, also known as Tawantinsuyo, ancient Peruvians developed a broad network of roads and bridges so for the purpose of maintaining a the vast travel and communication network.
Of all the bridges that existed then, the only one that remains today is the Q’eswachaka or Queshuachaca (literally, “rope bridge” in the Quechua language), which spans a narrow pass over the Apurímac River in the province of Canas, located in the southern region of Cusco.
The Q’eswachaka is made out of ichu, a grass endemic to the Andean highlands. For more than 500 years, the local people have kept this tradition of ancient technology alive. Every year in June, the rural communities of Huinchiri, Chaupibanda, Choccayhua and Collana Quehue come together in a ritual ceremony to rebuild the bridge with the same raw materials and techniques used in the time of the Incas.
In 2013, the knowledge, skills and rituals related to the annual renewal of the Q’eswachaka bridge were inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. According to that description:
“[The communities] see it as a means of strengthening their social links and not simply as a transport route. The bridge is considered a sacred expression of the communities’ bond with nature, tradition and history ….”
The rite of renewal lasts three days, each one with its activities very well established.
The first day begins with an oblation to the protector Apu. The main material for the bridge is collected and twisted into narrow strands. In the afternoon, the communities bring the material together, twisting the narrow strands into thick ropes — four for the floor of the bridge, and two for the railings.
The main ropes are then extended across the river. On the second day, they’re secured to each side, and the old ropes are allowed to fall.
On the third day, the chakaruhac (Inca engineer) braids the bridge together to give the bridge a surface to walk on and to stabilize the railings by connecting them to the base.
Finally on the last day, the bridge is reopened with typical music and dances from the area.
Credit: Global Voices, https://globalvoices.org