East of Heart

Inca Masonry

One of the fascinating facts often mentioned about the Inca is that their constructions didn’t need mortar, that their walls stood without binding substance holding together the blocks. From contemporary inspection, it’s obvious that Inca masons succeeded in doing this by very precisely cutting stone in the shape needed to fit into the next layer they were building and its planned adjacent blocks. It meant that you not only had to plan the shape of your structure but also how each individual block would fit within it and sculpt it to measure. When you’re in Cusco, people obsess over stones of twelve or even twenty angles. You count them and nod your head, yeah cool you think, but really think about it, twenty angles and carved before laying it into its intended spot in the wall! On top of this, the stones have projection nobs and holes to interlock where their sides already sit flush, and in most cases all hold a constant vertical angle that creates a sloped wall which can better absorb vibrations in the event of earthquakes.

As a result, these structures have incredible textural beauty. Your eye catches onto a horizontal pattern while each dividing line still wanders around the particularities of each stone, with never even a micron’s worth of space between them.

Whether you see it as technological might or hard-headedness to carve stones instead of using a repeatable unit and developing a way to hold them together, the planning and effort that went in is remarkable. This is also very hard rock in most cases, basalt of granite, with only occasional sedimentary stone. To this day, we can only presume that blocks had to be rolled in over large distances on logs greased with fat and oil (imagine this for the two-metre rocks pictured above in Sacsayhuaman fort outside of Cusco), but we still don’t know how they were able to cut the stone with such precision: trusting what I heard from several guides, very few axes have been found and we have yet to find a standard head composition or deduced a technique that would have allowed wide-scale precise stonecutting of this extent. It is nevertheless important to highlight that this intricate and perfect stonework was reserved for housing the nobility and structures of symbolic and religious importance. Common structures have much simpler wall constructions like the one below which involved fitting small brute rocks together as best as possible and filling the space with mud and hay. Like many aspects of Inca life, rank, function, identity and meaning were encoded in the built environment.

Coming back to stonecutting, I have been most impressed when happening upon structures that were built into existing rock. A staircase carved into a mountain, a huge bas-relief of a llama or snake like in Choquequirao, or an aesthetic sculpture out of a rock protrusion in the ground, leave me wide-eyed in the same way I imagined building my network of forts in the trees of my forest as a kid. It had always been a fascinating thought for me to see and feel the sun stone at Machu Picchu in person (second below) and in spite of the crowds, its shape, proportions and synchronicity with the rock of surrounding mountains grips you. I can only imagine what it would be like to experience it reverberating with a rising sun.

Arriving now to the virtual structures I build here, I am excited to present you the second incarnation of East of Heart. My focus was on increasing browsability, making it easier to explore, larger images and much higher resolution for higher-pixel-density screens (but it scales!), better SEO, and standardizing the presentation while also accommodating a variety of post types. It won’t read like a continuous travel log anymore but it’s often veered from that, and having each post stand as its own story makes more sense, especially for what I envision to publish more of in the future. So please swim around and let me know if you encounter any bugs. Try it on your phone, your cutting-edge laptop, tablet or TFT-screen machine at your parents’. As always, hopefully you enjoy following the page as much as I enjoy your readership.

m4s0n501

2 Comments

  1. Dorit wrote:

    after looking at the extraordinary natural landscapes in the 4 corners region in the USA I am continuously in awe of the variety of natural and man made geological structures.
    Combined with human imagination there is no limit to imagination and possibilities with all the different materials that have shaped and evolved through our planet earth’s evolution.

  2. […] my post Inca Masonry for a few more rainy photos. Thanks to my friend and travel partner Alexei for a few of […]