Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Dimensional Gateway of Ñaupa Iglesia

The secret Temple of Gold
A view towards the entrance of the main cave of Ñaupa Iglesia, with the rock cut doorway in the foreground and the very strangely carved "altar" overlooking the valley on the cliff side. [Photo by Author]
Early in 2014 we learnt of a “secret” ruin that was supposedly discovered a few years ago somewhere in the mountains above Cusco, Peru, along the Sacred Valley. As the source refused to provide coordinates for the site, the only information available were a few rather intriguing pictures of what looked like a sealed rock-cut doorway and a name, Ñaupa Iglesia.
We eventually managed to pinpoint the site’s exact location with the help of Google maps and indications from a local guide. For anyone interested, the actual coordinates for the site are: 13.292214S;  72.232222W

Much less know and significantly less travelled than its more famous counterpart at Hayu Marca (The “Gateway of Aramu Muru” near Ilave, on Lake Titicaca), one can reach this site only with the help of an expert local guide or a good GPS.
A short detour from the Sacred Valley, on a branch of the road connecting Urubamba to Ollantaytambo, takes into a deep and somehow hidden valley resembling a canyon with towering cliffs. One needs to leave the car at a small river crossing, and then walk a few minutes along the railway tracks until you reach a tiny pathway leading up to some abandoned agricultural terraces likely dating to Inca or pre-Inca times. The climb from this point takes a good 15 minutes, and can be very steep at points.
The steep trail leading up to Ñaupa Iglesia from the valley underneath, amidst towering cliffs. [Photo by Author]
The entrance to the main cave of Ñaupa Iglesia, overlooking the deep canyon underneath. The "altar" is visible in the foreground (in the shade), together with a wall with niches of much cruder construction. [Photo by Author]
What awaits about halfway to the top, carved into the cliff face, however, is very much worth the effort. There lies a monument unique in its kind in all of Peru, a rock-cut temple or shrine containing a beautifully carved monolithic altar overlooking the valley and a rock-cut doorway, also carved from the living rock.
There are also walls with niches in a style closely reminiscent of Tiwanaku architecture, but of much cruder construction, on both sides of the shrine.  
This strange ruin is known to the locals by the name of Choquekilla or “The temple of Gold”, or “Ñaupa Iglesia”, meaning the “Church of the Ancients”. The Ñaupas are inhabitants of the spirit world, or of worlds before our own, and can travel across the spaces by manifesting themselves around sunset or dawn at certain sacred locations. According to Andean lore, a meeting with the Ñaupas can be extremely dangerous, and their secret dwellings as well as the portals through which they cross into this world are better left undisturbed.
The rock cut doorway that in the old Andean traditions would have served for the Ñaupas to cross into our world from other spaces. Some offerings and candles have been placed on the threshold by local shamans. [Photo by Author]  
Another view of the rock-cut doorway of Ñaupa Iglesia, looking into the cave. The cave ceiling appears to have collapsed at some point, burying under a deep pile of rubble whatever was located at the opposite end of the cave. [Photo by Author]
The rock-cut doorway truly looks like a gateway into another world, and one would truly need magical powers to cross the solid rock wall sealing it. The most interesting feature, however, is the very peculiar “altar” located at the entrance of the cave. It is very finely carved in a way that reminds of the stepped Chacana, symbolizing the three worlds of Andean cosmogony. Unfortunately this beautiful altar was apparently blown up, allegedly by treasure hunters looking for buried gold, so that now the carvings appear incomplete. Or was it? Looking up closely, one notices several perfectly drilled holes piercing the altar stone. These holes were supposedly used for sticking dynamite or other explosives to blow up the hard stone in search of gold. One wonders whether another explanation exists for the presence of these perfectly drilled holes. Were they part of the original construction? This is not unlikely, given the fact that similar perfectly drilled holes are also found in hard stone at other sites in Peru and Bolivia, most notably at Tiwanaku, Cusco and Ollantaytambo.
The very strange "altar" located at the entrance of the cave. It has a strikingly modern design, almost reminescent of some ancient and strange piece of machinery. The very fine and neat carvings also extend to the rock floor and to the other sides of the "altar" (unfortunately broken and defaced by what must have been a powerful explosion - perhaps a disastrous attempt by looters to find buried treasure by breaking up the altar). Interestingly, the stone of which the altar is made appears to be of an entirely different composition than the surrounding sandstone. [Photo by Author]
Another frontal view of the "altar". The perfectly drilled hole on top of the main carved face can be clearly made out. The grooves and cuts in the floor (which is of one piece with the monolithic altar stone) are suggestive of some kind of object or artifact being placed on hinges in front of the "altar", which now appears to be lost. [Photo by Author]
There are also more interesting holes and marks on the natural bedrock leading to the altar, suggesting that an object or artifact of some sort was placed right in front of it and likely fastened to the stone floor. One would almost be forgiven to think that the altar was in fact a sort of device meant to control the opening and closing of the doorway right behind it, perhaps in some altered state of consciousness.
Aside from the gate, the cave appears to have partially collapsed, and some other rock-cut surfaces suggest it might have once extended further into the mountain.

One is left to wonder what the purpose of this strange and somehow sinister shrine could have been, and we have no doubt that the same crowds that now gather around the gateway of Aramu Muru and other similar places in Peru and South America will soon discover also this still remote and secluded location. Perhaps this will also serve to bring to it the attention it deserves from the archaeological community. 

A Journey into the X-Zone

The Mysterious "Zona-X" of Cusco
A view of the idyllic landscape sorrounding the "X-Zone" of Cusco, which extends just a short distance from the great megalithic fortress of Sachsayhuaman. What seems just a natural landscape is in fact littered with the signs of a very mysterious past: carved stones, altars, shrines and the entrances to several underground tunnels and caves. [Photo by Author]
Unknown to many of the tourists who visit the nearby fortress of Sachsayhuaman, overlooking the ancient city of Cusco, Peru, a short cab ride (or a very scenic walk) will take you into the hearth of the “X-Zone”.

It is difficult to describe what the “X-Zone” actually is. At a minimum, it is an impressive collection of megalithic ruins, a maze of underground tunnels and strange rock-cut monuments. But there is also a more sinister side to it, related to mysterious disappearances and sightings. This is, by the way, not surprising for an area so isolated and rich in caves, both natural and man-made.

The first approach to the X-Zone is from the road connecting Sachsayhuaman and Q’enko to the nearby ruins of Puca Pucara and Tambomachay. The area is immediately recognizable as a large rocky outcrop surrounded on one side by massive polygonal walls, very much reminiscent of the walls of Sachsayhuaman.
There are extensive signs of quarrying, and there is no doubt the area was used as a stone quarry at some point. There are elements, however, that point to a much different function for the area before it was turned into a stone quarry. Many of the walls of the rocky outcrop appear to have been cut into regular shapes to form little chambers, shrines and doorways.
There is a sense of extreme antiquity here, which is further reinforced by the severe erosion and weathering of many of the stone surfaces. Interestingly, many of the neatly carved chambers and doorways which are now fully exposed to the elements appear to have been once underground and to have only been exposed by quarrying or erosion.
A set of niches and rock-cut doorways, highly suggestive of a funerary arrangement (the niches served perhaps to contain mummified bodies or other offerings). Much of the superstructure of this chamber seems to have been quarried away, leaving the rock walls exposed to the weathering agents. [Photo by Author]
A carved rocky outcrop, also in the vicinity of the "X-Zone", likely used as a quarry for the nearby fortress of Sachsayhuaman. [Photo by Author]
These carved walls and chambers show remarkable polish and many unusual features also found at several pre-Inca sites around Peru (See my previous entry – The Vitrified Ruins of Ancient Peru [2]), including partial vitrification.

The most unique and unusual feature of the “X-Zone”, however, is the maze of tunnels that extends deep underground inside the rocky outcrop. It is likely that this might correspond to the area known from ancient sources as the “Chincana Grande”, or the “Great Chincana”, a word meaning labyrinth or maze in Quechua. The X-Zone would appear to be a much more likely candidate for this than the other rocky outcrop which is more commonly known by the same name closer to Sachsayhuaman (there are actually two Chincanas near Sachsayhuaman, one called the “Chincana Chica”, on the Rodadero hill facing the giant megalithic fortress, which consists of some short tunnels that can be rather effortlessly explored, and a large rocky outcrop commonly – but in our opinion mistakenly – identified as the Great Chincana, where several shrines and steps have been carved into the rock, yet bearing no trace of tunnels or other features that might justify such a name).

The mysterious subterraneans of the Incas

Many legends relate to a maze of tunnels and ancient passageways supposedly existing underneath the city of Cusco and dating to a time possibly earlier than that of the Incas. According to a long established tradition, dating back to early colonial times, these tunnels are supposed to connect the temple of the Sun in Cusco (the famed Qorikancha) to the giant megalithic fortress of Sachsayhuaman, as well as to many other places as far as Tiwanaku in Bolivia. [1]

According to a famous story, reported among others by the historian Garcilaso de la Vega, vast treasures were concealed in these tunnels in the days of the siege of Cusco by the Spaniards, including the fabulous Sun of Gold that once shone in the innermost shrine of the Qorikancha of Cusco.

Other more recent tales, although somehow harder to verify, relate of entire expeditions vanishing without a trace into the maze of tunnels underneath the city in search of the fabled gold of the Incas. 

Doubtless, the “Zona-X” is the closest neighbor to the maze of tunnels that is the matter of such legends and fairy tales. Everywhere one sees the entrances to countless tunnels and underground passages, often branching out in multiple directions and intersected by other smaller tunnels. Some of the galleries are very neatly carved, with regular outlines and polished walls and ceilings; some even have steps carved in the floor, leading to unknown depths. In other cases, however, the galleries resemble natural caves, the workmanship is very rough and the course irregular.
A neatly cut stone surface. Was it part of some underground chamber or hypogeum now exposed by quarrying and erosion? Note how the carved walls and ceiling end abruptly where the rock appears to have been cut, [Photo by Author]
A curiously shaped niche, which was apparently left unfinished. [Photo by Author]
One very large gallery crosses almost the entire length of the rocky outcrop, covering a distance of a few hundred feet. It is unusually large and spacious, reaching at points an apparent height of over 3 meters. There are niches carved in the walls, which also bear signs of vitrification and have a mirror-like appearance. Even this gallery is intersected by countless smaller tunnels, some leading up and partially obstructed, others leading down, deep into the bowels of the Earth. Not even the local guides know where many of these tunnels could lead. One older guide that we interviewed at the site claimed he was able to follow one such tunnel for over 20 minutes, down to the point when the heat and the lack of oxygen would make it impossible to go any further. Yet he would ensure us that the tunnel continued steeply going down towards some dark abyss of unfathomable depth. Other guides would confirm the tale and swear that if one were to follow these tunnels to the end, he would emerge exactly from underneath the Qorikancha or somewhere near the Cathedral of Cusco. 
One of the countless tunnels that can be found in the X-Zone. This one appear to be a natural cave that was then artificial enlarged and is also intersected by several other passages and tunnels. [Photo by Author]
A neatly carved tunnel entrance, also laid exposed by erosion and quarrying. One can see the walls of some kind of antechamber leading into the tunnel, which has now lost its original roofing (one of the roofing stones can still be seen right above the entrance to the tunnel, tightly inserted between the two rock walls). [Photo by Author]
The many shrines and rock-cut altars one finds at the site doubtlessly testify to the importance and sacredness of the place in ancient times. A small temple was built on one side of the rocky outcrop, although the poor workmanship of its construction, mostly consisting of loose stones, would place it well into Inca times.

A visit to the “X-Zone” is also easily complemented by a visit to the nearby Temple of the Moon and the Temple of the Monkeys, which also hold many fascinating secrets and unexplained features (See my previous entry – The Vitrified Ruins of Ancient Peru [2]). 


The approximate coordinates of the site are: 
13.496427 S, 71.974033 W (from Google Maps) - A sign near the entrance points to an area of the archaeological park of Sachsayhuaman called Lanlakuyok. Due to the isolated position of the site, we highly recommend hiring an expert local guide. 

[1] The Koricancha Project is currently investigating some of these reports, which have already led to some highly promising discoveries and findings. More details can be found on the Project's website: