The Legend of Saqsayhuaman’s Tunnel or Chincana.

Throughout the history of Cuzco first the chroniclers and then ethnohistorians have mentioned the belief that Cuzco is underlain by an extensive network of tunnels. In Quechua we call these tunnels chincanakuna, or simply chincanas. This word means “a place to get lost”. Inca Garcilaso de la Vega is but one of the Chroniclers who mentions this idea.

People though that tunnels started in Cuzco, which in Quechua was Qosqo and means “the navel of the world”, and stretched to all the points of the Inca Empire. They served, it is said, to connect people with the immense territory of the Inca Empire, known as Tawantinsuyo.

The legend that we are going to tell forms part today of our oral traditions that are passed from generation to generation. If we consider it as a legend it is because the places it mentions exists, such as the great center of Saqsayhuaman where there are two chincanas, entrances to tunnels. One is large and one is small. The latter is part of the City Tour which many tourists take when they first come to Cuzco.


According to the legend a group of young men went into the large chincana which is near the rock slide in front of the massive walls of Saqsayhuaman. They took with them a rope which they all held on to and slowly rolled out in order to not get lost. As they went further and further into the tunnel everything got darker and darker until the moment came when they could not hear each other any more. No one knows how they came to let go of the rope, but they did.

Furthermore no one knows what happened to all but one of them. All but him disappeared in the earth. He got out.

They say that when he was walking around in the tunnel in absolute darkness trying to find the exit, he suddenly came on a very bright light that illuminated the tunnel. In that light appeared an Inca with all his vestment surrounded by heavy objects of solid gold.

The Inca looked at him and said in Quechua “lloqsiy, lloqsiy” which means “get out, get out.” Very frightened, he grabbed an object and fled. Somehow he found his way out, but he came out by the Qoricancha, the Temple of the Sun, instead for where he entered. His clothes were worn into torn rags and he was now very old. But in his hands he held a golden ear of corn. It was as if he had traveled in time. Indeed, many years had passed since he entered the tunnel. Everyone who saw him was very surprised and especially amazed with the ear of corn made from solid gold.

Great Wall in Sacsayhuaman
Great Wall in Sacsayhuaman

The mystery was never clarified and a few days later the man died. But his experience in the chincana has become part of our oral history.

In Quechua Qoricancha means temple or house of gold. In its origin it was called Inti Cancha or house, temple of the sun. It was the most important temple of Inca times., the center of the universe. On top of this temple the Spanish order of the Dominicans built their temple and monastery.

Much research has been done on this story but for some reason the research was never finished and the tunnel entrance was ordered sealed. Only a few people still know exactly where it is located. It has been forgotten, though the story has not.


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