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The Cojitambo ruins: Legends of Atahualpa’s undelivered gold ransom still fire local passions

Some of the ruins at Cojitambo. (El Tiempo)

By Robert Bradley

According to legend, the Cojitambo ruins, 22 miles north of Cuenca and four miles west of Azogues in Cañar Province, is one of several sites said to contain part of the gold ransom that was never delivered to the Spanish for the release of Atahualpa, the last Inca Emperor.

The greedy, treacherous Spaniards murdered Atahualpa in Cajamarca in 1533 before all the gold arrived.

The distinctive mountain next to Cojitambo is visible from the Pan American highway.

Composed of the Kichwa word ‘Curi,’ which means gold, and ‘Tampu’ or ‘Tambo’ which means deposit or resting place, Cojitambo continues to fire the imagination of treasure hunters and those living nearby.

Cañar Province resident Mario Peralta, remembers the stories of his parents and grandparents. “They said that the hill is rich because it has gold that was transported from Quito to Peru to pay the ransom of Atahualpa, captive of the Spaniards. They said the gold that was supposed to be offered for Atahualpa is hidden in the tunnels of the ‘mashu juctu’ (cave of bats in Kichwa) around Cojitambo,” he says.

The remains of an Inca structure. (Vivirecuador)

According to oral tradition there are two underground roads leaving Cojitambo, one going to Guayaquil and the other to Quito.  It is said that the mother or of the hill, or “mama huaca,” lives there and guards the gold against unscrupulous prospectors.

“Cojitambo is an attractive place because of its mystical character and labyrinth of caves.” said,  J. Heriberto Rojas, in his book Places of Tourism in the province of Cañar.

According to Rojas, the Cojitambo complex has several stone structures built by the Inca in a natural terrace where remnants of embankments, housing structures, and walls are still clearly visible. There is also a plaza with a “ushnu,” where rituals, sacrifices, and offerings were given.

Long before the Inca arrived, Cojitambo was built and inhabited by the Cañari people (500 BC – 1460 AD). Following their defeat of the Cañaris, the Incas occupied the site for less than 100 years, from about 1460 until the Spanish conquest of South America in the 1530s.

The Cojitambo historic site is open to the public (enter off the Pan American highway, at Azogues). For more information click here.