The Palace of the Inca at Tombebamba

Richard Robinson uncovers the history of a city in Ecuador

Ecuador's third city, Cuenca, impresses today's visitors with the charm of its colonial streets, its shady plazas, fine seigneurial houses, its two cathedrals and many white- washed churches from the sixteenth century. In everything there are reminders of Old Spain; even its name was borrowed from the famous city of Castile.

Tucked behind a dilapidated college building, some ancient remains lie stranded at the edge of town, their modern neighbours seeming to resent their continued existence. There are some well-fashioned stone niches, a stone chamber re-worked into a watermill by seventeenth-century Spaniards, and the remains of a great palace, that of Huayna Capac, the last of the great Incas, who ruled from 1493 until his premature death in 1525. These are the only physical reminders of the short but turbulent tenure of the Incas, and of Tomebamba, their northern capital.

Of all lnca cities, none was finer than Cuzco, the Inca capital, where magnificent stonework walls have survived to the present day; a permanent monument to the skills of their masons. However, the eleventh ruling Inca, Huayna Capac, favoured the north. This was the scene of his exploits, and where he achieved his greatest victories. Here a long- fought campaign against the Cañari tribe was at last won in the late fifteenth century. A city was built with palaces, in the style of the capital, fit for the residence of an emperor.

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