There was once a time when Cusco was the center of the powerful Incan Empire. From the coastal deserts of southern Peru to the frigid peaks of the Andes, every decision within the empire traced back to the city of Cusco. It was the beating heart at the very center of one of the greatest civilizations in history, and at the center of Cusco was the massive square which was known as Huacaypata.
When the Spanish besieged the city, however, many of the buildings around Huacaypata were viciously razed to the ground. Western structures were erected in their place to solidify the imperial dominance, and the name of the square was also changed to reflect the Spanish heritage.
In modern times, even though tourism has replaced the era of conquest, the Plaza de Armas continues to exist as the pulsing center of the city. Though Peruvians claim that the massive square was historically twice the size, the sense of awe felt when visiting the Plaza is palpable nevertheless. Within the square, visitors marvel at El Triunfo cathedral which stretches up towards the sky, vendors haggle and hawk their wares, and numerous fountains provide a calming contrast to the energy that rises from the city. The church of La Compañía provides the Plaza with a dose of colonial architecture, and the image of the Plaza while illuminated at night is one of the most enchanting vistas in Peru.
When visiting the Plaza de Armas, be sure to wander the pedestrian alleyways which connect the Plaza with the city. In the alleyway of Loreto, you can stroll past walls of enormous stone which were set in place by the Inca. Or, climb the stairs which are opposite the Plaza for a bird’s –eye view of the activity. While some visitors claim that the Plaza de Armas is too touristy to retain its charm, there is still something to be said for standing in the square which once was the center of an empire.