Moray, a Center of Inca Agricultural Research

Sixty-nine kilometers outside of Cusco you find a marvelous tourist site called the “Moray Agricultural Laboratory.”  It consists of amazing circular terraces that look like rings. They were used to cultivate and acclimate agricultural crops such as potatoes, corn, quinoa, kiwicha, winter and summer squash, and even coca. We know this thanks to the seeds that were found there during excavations and palynological studies of ancient pollen.

This site was built by the Incas and has approximately twenty micro-climates. As you go down deeper into the rings you can see that the temperature is changing.  We think that experiments done here organized production throughout Tawantinsuyo, the Inca Empire.

Moray, Detalle (Luís Olivera)
Moray, Detalle (Luís Olivera)

There are two hypotheses about the meaning of the name Moray.

The first holds that the word comes from moraya which is a kind of freeze-dried potato.  And, the second holds that it comes from aymoray which means harvest.

In reality the site consists of four laboratories although only one is completely restored and open to tourists.  The other three are not restored.  They have only been cleaned and from that a large amount of lithic material was recovered which will be used in the restoration of the places.


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It is said that the earth of these terraces is very fertile.  They were filled with dirt brought from other places on the backs of llamas.

For the construction of the terraces, the Incas relied on limestone.  Their supporting walls hold stairs that are flying or aerial stairs since they are flat stones incrusted in the walls.  This strategy made sense in that it did not require the taking of agricultural land for stairs.

Visitando Moray (Luís Olivera)
Visitando Moray (Luís Olivera)

The terraces have irrigation canals that channeled water. They are still there although water no longer flows through them. In Inca times, the most important activity was agriculture. People would come together in communal work to clean the canals frequently. When the Spanish arrived, agriculture of this sort began to lose its importance as the state became more concerned with the extraction of gold and silver from the mines. They stopped performing the state organized cleaning through communal labor which makes it impossible now for water to flow through these Inca ceremonial centers.

The agricultural laboratory of Moray is built on a base of porous rock that allows water to filter to other places and also has subterranean canals that keeps the place from flooding.

Moray is also considered a temple to Pachamama, the Lady Earth, and in the month of August, which is her month, a large ceremony is carried out here involving a payment to the earth in show of our reciprocity to her.

Moray is one of the favorite destinations in Cusco, one you should visit.


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