The 16th-century Basilica Cathedral of Cusco, which dominates the city’s main square, took nearly 100 years to complete. It was built on the site of Inca Wiracocha’s palace, in part with stones from nearby Sacsayhuaman Fortress, the Inca fortification which fell to the Spanish conquistadores during the conquest. It houses countless treasures collected over the centuries, from precious silver and gold artifacts to paintings and statues now considered colonial masterpieces.
The cathedral’s façade features three largewooden doors and fourteen pillars. The façade itself may be overshadowed by that of the Triunfo Church, one of the two smaller churches flanking the cathedral, but the interior is unsurpassed. Inside the cathedral, arched, star-shaped ceilings look down upon a central nave where one finds the silver-embossed main alter shining in front of carved cedar choir stalls. Fourteen side chapels house colonial paintings, statues and other artwork alongside the various altars.
What to See in the Basilica Cathedral of Cusco
The Silver Room: This side chapel boasts a rich collection of silver artifacts dating back centuries. The most impressive is the silver bier which has been used to carry the Lord of Tremors statue through the streets during the festival of the same name. There’s also a large silver trellis featuring a pelican piercing his own heart with his beak, which is used during the Corpus Christi festivities.
Marcos Zapata’s Last Supper: This unusual 16x13ft painting, found on the wall between the cathedral and the sacristy, calls attention thanks to its Andean influences. Most visitors’ attention focuses on the fact that the main dish is a local delicacy- roast guinea pig.
Choir Stalls: The cedar choir stalls mentioned above, those located in the central nave behind the main alter, are exquisitely worked, carved in a style which was popular in Spain in the 15th and 17th centuries and is known as neo-archaic. They depict numerous carved figures whose intricacies never fail to impress.
The Lord of Tremors: The statue of the crucifixion of Jesus, known as the Lord of Tremors and as the Black Christ, was darkened over time thanks to centuries of candle smoke. It is credited by the faithful with having stopped the days of aftershocks after the great 1650 earthquake devastated the city and is now the patron saint of Cusco.
The Crypt: Below the right-hand side of the main altar, a door marks the entry to an arched crypt which holds the ashes of Cusco’s deceased archbishops.
The Sacristy: The walls of the cathedral’s sacristy are covered in portraits of past bishops, a large retablo cedar carving depicting a baroque Christ of the Agony and decorated with eight paintings of scenes from the life of Saint Peter, and the traditional robes and vestments used during the masses and ceremonies of the religious year.
If you stay at Pirwa Posada del Corregidor in the main square of Cusco, you’ll have breakfast every morning with a view of the cathedral. It’s a view that can’t be beat!