History provides a sad record of how the Incas were crushed by Pizarro and his band of merry men, but at Ollantaytambo the Incas had a rare victory. This is the site of an Inca fort, where the Sapa Inca Manco Capac had retreated to face the Spaniards. Manco Capac was Atahualpa's brother, who was installed by the Spanish as a puppet emperor at the age of 17. This proved to be a bad decision. After three years under Spanish occupation he rebelled, starting an uprising across the empire.
When word got out that the Sapa Inca was fortified at Ollantaytambo the Spaniards resolved to head out and kill him, hoping that with his death the rebellion would end. However, they underestimated how difficult the fort would be. To quote Pedro Pizarro:
“When we arrived we found Ollantaytambo so well fortified that it was a terrifying sight…for the place is very strong, with very high terraces and with very large and well fortified stone walls. It has but one entrance that is against a very steep hill. And…there were many warriors with many boulders, which they had up above to hurl down whenever the Spaniards dared to enter.” – The Last Days of the Incas.
The Spaniards attacked but were repelled by the entrenched Incas. Apparently the amazonian tribes were particularly fierce, raining down razor sharp arrows as the Spaniards charged. The cavalry falted under the stones and arrows and withdrew. With a roar the Incas stormed the plain infront of the fort, the site where the town now stands, to engage the Spaniards directly. Here Manco Capac had devised a cunning plan.
The Incas were clever builders. Apparently each Inca was expected to leave buildings behind as a legacy, and this must have helped foster a culture of engineering and architecture. Their achievements included the mastering of aqueducts, which they used to channel water from springs and rivers to towns and fields. Ollantaytambo provides a great example of this, as the aquaducts are still intact and run through the town.
Manco Capac used these aquaducts to flood the plain when the Spaniards attacked. It effectively bogged down the cavalry, the Spaniards' equivalent of a tank, and forced a retreat. The Incas probably hoped to hold them on the plains and slaughter them all in one go, but the Spanish force was able to escape back to Cuzco.
Ollantaytambo was ultimately abandoned by the Incas in the face of a more concerted assault by the Spanish. Manco Capac retreated north west into the wild mountains behind Machu Picchu, where he built the famed last city of the Incas, Espiritu Pampa. Now this is serious Indiana Jones stuff. This was the city that Hiram Bingham originally set out to find, thinking that Machu Picchu was such a place…but we are getting ahead of ourselves.
For now it will suffice to say that Ollantaytambo is a fantistic site to visit. The town has a certain romantic mystique to it and there are plenty of great places to eat and drink. Bear in mind that the tour groups swamp the place in the afternoon, so morning is best. We recommend lunch at Hearts Café and try and grab a huge pisco sour at Ganso.