Ollantaytambo - Last Refuge of the Inca Empire

The Last Inca Resort

Double Jamb Doorway at Ollantaytambo
Double Jamb Doorway at Ollantaytambo. Ed Nellis

The Inca site of Ollantaytambo, located close to the modern Peruvian town of the same name, is one of the best preserved example of Inca architecture.

Located in the Urubamba valley, or Sacred Valley as the Inca called it and where the most important and sacred Inca sites were constructed, Ollantaytambo was the last refuge of the Inca court and its last king Manko Inca against Pizarro and the Spanish soldiers in 1536.

Ollantaytambo Location and Environment

Ollantaytambo is located about 50 miles north of Cuzco, the capital of the Inca empire, at about 9000 feet above sea level. The site was first a royal estate for the inka Pachacuti, between 1437 and 1471, who apparently destroyed a previous town to build his residence.

The site had an important defensive function and controlled a strategic area: the valley, in fact, was one of the empire's main points for extracting construction materials in the important quarries nearby, as well as the best place for maize cultivation in Peru. It was also particularly appreciated by the Inca élite for its special geographical and climatic qualities. Here, sophisticated irrigation systems, along with canals, fountains and artificial falls were created both for productive and decorative purposes. 

The site is located near an ancient quarry, on the other side of the valley, whose stones were used by the Inca in the construction of the site.

Archaeological research has used the quarry location to calculate labor-hour rates and transportation systems used by the Inca.

Ollantaytambo Architecture

At Ollantaytambo, the Inca constructed fortifications, temples, sacred gates, waterworks such as baths and fountains, palaces and residential groups as well as infrastructures such as bridges, roads, agricultural terraces and storehouses.

The site was  divided into different sectors:

  • The Qosqo Complex: this complex is composed by residential units, called canchas, typical walled compounds as well as buildings with niches and portals.
  • To the west was the Manay Raqay plaza, the monumental core of the site that leads to the temples zone, surrounded by mud-brick buildings.
  • The Araqama is the religious sector of the site, with a monumental gate that lead to the upper area where the most important temples are located, among these: the 10 Windows Temple, so called for the presence of 10 niches in its back wall and the  Sun Temple.

Cult of the Sun and the Water

Archaeologists believe that the Sun Temple along with another ceremonial structure called Intiwatana (Inti in Quechua means sun) or “Sun Fastener”, a tower probably used for astronomical observations, were part of a complex dedicated to the cult of the sun.

North of this religious complex, there is a series of water fountains used for religious purposes, among these the so-called “Princess’s Bath”, a stone building, where water still flows.

Ollantaytambo was abandoned abruptly by its inhabitants in the midst of a restoring and remodeling phase, and for this reason it constitutes an invaluable source of information about Inca architecture techniques, trade and organization


This glossary entry is a part of the About.com guide to the Inca Empire, and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Protzen, Jean-Pierre, 1993, Inca architecture and construction at Ollantaytambo. New York, Oxford University Press.

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Maestri, Nicoletta. "Ollantaytambo - Last Refuge of the Inca Empire." ThoughtCo, Aug. 9, 2016, thoughtco.com/ollantaytambo-last-refuge-inca-empire-171991. Maestri, Nicoletta. (2016, August 9). Ollantaytambo - Last Refuge of the Inca Empire. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/ollantaytambo-last-refuge-inca-empire-171991 Maestri, Nicoletta. "Ollantaytambo - Last Refuge of the Inca Empire." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/ollantaytambo-last-refuge-inca-empire-171991 (accessed December 11, 2017).