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Inti Raymi celebration officially returns to Cuenca for the first time in almost 500 years

The modern-day Inti Raymi celebration in Cusco, Peru.

By Liam Higgins

Inti Raymi, the biggest and most important celebration of the Inca Empire and indigenous people of the Andes, is coming back to Cuenca.

In the final years of the empire, one of the largest Inti Raymi festivals was held in Cuenca, then known as Tomebamba, at the Pumapungo temple site and birthplace of Huayna Capac, the last emperor of a unified Inca Empire. According to Spanish historians, the event was second in size and importance only to the Inti Raymi in Cusco and was said to last for 15 days.

The Pumapungo temple site in Cuenca.

Inti Raymi was the Inca “sun festival,” celebrating the sun god Inti, beginning each year between June 21 and 24 at the winter solstice. The celebration consisted of a variety of rituals led by Inca religious leaders, dances, animal sacrifices, food festivals and, according to legend, a lot of drinking.

In addition to celebrating the sun, the festival was also a show of gratitude to the earth god, Pachamama, for an abundant harvest.

Besides the festivities at Tomebamba, a large Inti Raymi was observed at the Ingapirca temple, 30 miles north of Cuenca in current-day Cañar Province.

The Inti Raymi festival features elaborate costumes.

“We are very happy that Inti Raymi is coming home to Cuenca,” says Tamara Landívar, regional director of the Ministry of Culture and Heritage. “We invite the public to participate in this celebration of the sun, the moon and the agricultural harvest at Pumapungo and are happy to reestablish this cherished tradition.”

Landívar says she has worked with local communities and cultural experts to make sure the ceremonies are as authentic as possible.

Historians say Inti Raymi was celebrated in Cuenca for only 50 or 60 years following the Inca conquest of the Cañari civilization, which had been centered in the region for almost a thousand years. When the Spanish arrived in the 1530s, Inti Raymi was banned by the Catholic church.

In recent years, Inti Raymi ceremonies have been performed at Ingapirca. That event will continue, Landívar says.

The Canari and Inca ruins at Ingapirca will also host Inti Raymi.

According to historic records, there were attempts to continue Inti Raymi after the fall on the Inca Empire but Spanish soldiers were posted at Pumapungo and Ingapirca to prevent it. In its effort to convert the indigenous population to Christianity, the Catholic church promoted its Corpus Christi holiday as a replacement for Inti Raymi.

The Corpus Christi festivities continue in Cuenca with candy and pastry sales and nightly fireworks in Parque Calderon.

“We believe that that the Cañaris had a festival similar to Inti Raymi that they observed at Pumapungo,” says researcher Hernán Loyola. “It is easy to forget that Pumapungo was originally built by the Cañaris and used for hundreds of years prior to the arrival of the Inca.”

Cuenca’s Inti Raymi celebration begins Friday, June 21 at 8 a.m. with a walk up Calle Simon Bolivar from San Blas Plaza. According to organizers, the procession will turn south on Benigno Malo, then east on Calle Larga, ending at the Pumapungo temple grounds where a full day of activities is planned.