The festival of the sun is believed to have been one of the most important rituals in the Inca Empire.
Now Inti Raymi – as it is known in the Quechua language – is also a fixture in the festivals calendar for those visiting Peru’s tourism capital Cusco.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Inti Raymi celebrations in Cusco as CGTN’s Dan Collyns reports.
The ceremony begins in Koricancha, the Inca Sun Temple in Cusco’s historic center, where hundreds of actors take part in a historical reenactment.
Dancers wearing multi-colored costumes represent the four geographic regions of Tawantinsuyo, the Inca Empire, which at the height of its existence, was the largest empire in the world.
Tourists and locals flock to watch this dawn spectacle held annually on June 24, which is Peru’s Día del Campesino, or national day of the peasant, in recognition of the country indigenous population.
“I’m glad that the people of Peru are keeping their culture,” said one tourist on seeing the performance. Another remarked: “It was absolutely incredible. It felt very real.”
For the locals – descendants of this civilization – it was a special feeling, said onlooker Luisa Garrido.
“It makes us relive our past, our past which has been so painful and known around the world,” Garrido said. “It moves us to see what we are now and how we were then. It is who we are and we have to treasure that.”
Today, Cusco attracts millions of tourists to Peru. Many of them are paying handsomely for ringside seats to the continuation of the Inti Raymi spectacle in Sacsayhuaman, an Inca fortress above the city of Cusco.
Meanwhile hundreds of local people watch from further up the hillside.
Inti Raymi has its origins in the time of Tawantinsuyo, or the Inca Empire, but it celebrated its 75th anniversary this year.
Peru revived the festival in 1944, just about the same time as it established its first hotel for tourists in Cusco.
It is no coincidence says Mark Rice, a historian of Peru, who argues the festival is linked to tourism.
“Inti Raymi provides a very compelling folkloric narrative which backs up the touristic selling of Machu Picchu linking it to this utopian, mystic version or vision, I should say, of an Inca past.”
In Sacsayhuaman, that vision is acted out by some 700 women and men. Soldiers and subjects from the four corners of the empire pay homage.
At its center, the Inca, whose followers believed he was the child of the sun, holds court on the ceremonial pyramid or Ushnu.
Military leaders and officials brings news from the empire prompting a ritual offering of chicha, an ancient alcoholic drink made from corn.
There is also a symbolic sacrifice of a llama. From above the stands for spectators, CGTN was able to appreciate the full scale of this intricately choreographed spectacle.
It pays homage to an empire which was defeated but continues to live on in the hearts and traditions of the people here in Cusco. Its legacy is Peru’s greatest tourist attraction.
With the Inca’s final message imploring the sun God not to go away, this evocation of times past draws to close. The actors, which include entire families, can relax and pose for photos.
“As a family of Cusco natives we are incredibly proud to take part in Inti Raymi,” said Daniel Morales who was his wife and three children.
“We are proud of our land which has watched over us, it has seen us born and seen us grow and gives us everything,” he said
For many visitors, it capped their trip to Machu Picchu.
“(It was) Colorful, energetic, I couldn’t believe how hard they worked,” said Joe Baker, a U.S. tourist. “I mean those people were out there moving around in this sun, in this heat. and running and dancing. It was just wonderful. I couldn’t have imagined it being better.”
Peru’s history is a big attraction for growing numbers of Asian tourists too, said tour guide, Eric Miao.
“We are seeing growth, obviously Japan is much more advanced in Latin American tourism, Taiwan and Hong Kong too,” he said.
“China which is the biggest market, is just getting started.”
As Inti Raymi ends so does a month of festivities in Cusco.
But according to Inca tradition, the sun festival ushers in a period of renewal, which could bring many more tourists.