Friday, September 25, 2020

Michael J. Schreffler's "Cuzco"

Michael J. Schreffler is associate professor in the Department of Art, Art History & Design at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Cuzco: Incas, Spaniards, and the Making of a Colonial City, and reported the following:
I can't help but wonder if the designer of my book knew about the observation attributed to Ford Madox Ford, because the photograph and accompanying text on page 99 are surprisingly effective in encapsulating the themes of the book. The photo shows a trio of massive undulating stone walls rising on a hilltop above Cuzco, a city situated more than 11,000 feet (3353 m) above sea level in the Andes of Peru. Cuzco was the sacred center and capital of the Inca Empire, which by the early-sixteenth century extended from Quito (Ecuador), in the north, to Santiago (Chile) in the south. It housed palace compounds for the Inca rulers and their kin, festival halls and plazas, and a temple dedicated to a solar deity. The walls in the photograph form part of a complex known as Sacsahuaman, whose relationship to the city it overlooks remains the subject of debate. Francisco Pizarro and the Spaniards he led in the invasion and conquest of Inca Peru (1533-34) called it a fortress, a designation that has shaped understandings of the site to today.

The text beneath the photograph on page 99 considers why the Spanish identified Sacsahuaman and other works of Inca architecture they encountered as fortresses. Pizarro and many of his followers had spent their earlier years in Spain, where towns overshadowed by hilltop fortresses took shape throughout Castile in the wake of the "reconquista," the fall of the kingdoms of Islamic Iberia to the forces of Christian kings. The hilltop fortresses built for caliphs became the castles of feudal lords and royal governors, a transformation demonstrated most famously by the Alhambra, the Nasrid dynasty's sprawling citadel in Granada taken in 1492 by the armies of Isabella and Ferdinand, the Catholic Monarchs. For the Spanish, the Inca city and its hilltop fortress constituted a coherent urban form that was eminently suitable for adaptation as a colonial town. Other parts of the city, too, seemed familiar. At the foundation of Spanish Cuzco in 1534, Pizarro appropriated the Inca plaza as a plaza mayor, an adjacent festival hall as a church, and palaces and temples throughout the city as residences for the first Spanish settlers. Unlike the case of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, where widespread destruction preceded the establishment and construction of colonial Mexico City, the initial transformation of Inca Cuzco to Spanish Cuzco occurred through ritual, writing, and speech. The Spanish would soon come to realize, however, that the infrastructure of the Inca capital, which for many Andean men and women embodied aspects of Inca sacred history, was more resistant to adaptation than they had imagined.
Learn more about Cuzco at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue