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.
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.