Ceque Lines – Pilgrimage in the Inca Empire

Ceque Lines – Pilgrimage in the Inca Empire

In 13th century South America, the Inca civilization ruled their empire (which they called Tahuantinsuyu) from highland of city of Cuzco. They divided the Cuzco Valley into four regions (suyus), and the city of Cuzco laid at the junction of four suyus (known as Chinchaysuyu in the NW, Antisuyu in the NE, Cuntisuyu in the SW, and Collasuyu in the SE). These four sections correspond to the four royal roads, as the paths were an essential part of royal governance of the Inca empire.

Organization of the Ceque System

The Inca partitioned the Cuzco region by 42 abstract lines (ceques), radiating from center of the city. The orientation of these ceques was determined by the locations of 328 huacas (objects that were viewed as sacred) that surrounded Cuzco. The Temple of the Sun (Templo del Sol or Qoricancha) was the center point from which these ceques radiated.

The first huaca shrine of a ceque is generally located within city of Cuzco near Qoricancha, while the last huaca is always situated outside of the city – near the border of the Cuzco Valley. The huaca is either natural (water sources, standing stones, mountain passes and so on), or human-made (palaces, stone seats, tombs and the like).

The Chinchaysuyu, Antisuyu, and Collasuyu regions each contained nine ceques lines, while the Cuntisuyu is reported to have had 14 ceques (some scholars actually argue that it contains 15 ceques, as one of the lines subsequently branches off into two).

Bernabe Cobo’s description of the ceque system repeatedly uses the terms collana, payan and cayan for enumeration, yet provides no definition of their meanings. The terms are found in various early colonial Quecha-Spanish vocabularies. Collana has been defined as “the best or most principal thing in whatever class”. Arte y vocabularino en la lengua general del Peru defines collana and collanan as “excellent, first, or principal thing” and translates cayan as “spleen” and Paya (closest match to payan) as “grandmother”. Tom Zuidema suggests cayan means “origin” or “base”

Purpose of the Ceque


The word ceque literally means “line” in the ancient Inca language Quecha, but it could also be understood as a pathway or a trail. It is primarily used as a type of religious pilgrimage, as one journeyed through them visiting and paying tribute to the huacas, in order of their appearance on the ceque line.

Specific individuals, whom Cristobal de Albornoz calls camayocs (specialists), while Cristobal de Molina calls them huacacamayocs (huaca specialists) and vilcacamayocs (sacred object specialists), helped co-ordinate shrine worship in the Cuzco region. They ensured that appropriate offerings were made to the huacas at the appropriate times. Prayers to the huacas began with a call to Ticci Viracocha, the Creator god, followed by an appeal to the specific huaca.

Ceque lines today

Many of Huacas were destroyed by the Spanish invasion of 16th century, as their worship was seen as idol worshipping. Pablo Joseph de Arrianga outlined 36 questions to identify huacas. He gave strict instructions on how the shrines should be recorded and then destroyed, and emphasized that all attendants and worshipers should be prosecuted. He ordered that a cross was to be built on the same spot as the destroyed huaca. Nonetheless, today huaca worshiping still plays a discreet but important role in lives of many of the area’s rural inhabitants.

Cusco UNESCO World Heritage Site

Many people, including the Wari who lived here during the 8th and 9th centuries, inhabited the area now known as Cusco, the capital city of The Inca Heartland, before the Incas took it over as their military, administration and religious hub.

Pachacutec, one of the most revered Incan leaders, and an ingenious civil engineer, modeled the city of Cusco after the sacred puma when Incan emperors ruled the valley.

The Spanish Invasion of Cusco


With the arrival of the Spanish, Francisco Pizarro defeated the Incan rulers and took Cusco for Spain. Over time, colonial mansions and administrative buildings replaced Incan constructions until Cusco became, and remains to this day, a unique blend of Spanish and Andean architecture as well as culture.

Cusco faded into memory once the Spanish left and the city returned to a quiet Andean city until Machu Picchu was rediscovered in 1911, and the city began another transformation to one of the most frequented dots on the tourist map. Thankfully, the city has retained its dignity despite the hordes of tourists that invade each day.

Cusco, Peru – UNESCO World Heritage Site

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, the picturesque city of Cusco enfolds Spanish arches and squares framed by cobble stone streets. Stout white houses with earth tone roofs sit low in the valley in the palm of thundering mountains.

Francisco Pizarro claimed Cusco for Spain at the Plaza de Armas, the remaining city centre. Until this time, the Incas had used this square for ceremonial purposes. Today, few Incan influences remain. Stone arches, the Cathedral and the Jesuit church of La Compania dominate the square, along with a multitude of restaurants serving local flavour as well as a tastefully incorporated MacDonald’s.

All over the city, fringes of both major influences in Cusco’ rich history collide. The Peruvian flag, red and white, as well as the official rainbow flag of Cusco, believed to be from the ancient Incan Empire, fly high over the Plaza de Armas, cutting through the often grey sky. Local women dressed in layered skirts of various colours, stovetop hats perched on their heads, liven up the intense and sombre Spanish architecture of Plaza de Armas with their chit chat in Quechua, the local language.

Peru’s Gateway to Machu Picchu and The SacredValley

Cusco holds many attractions to discover while adjusting to the high altitude climate and lack of oxygen. Spend a day or two strolling the cobble streets of this enchanting city, its wide array of museums and points of interest, before exploring the many sites in The Sacred Valley.

The remains of Tambomachay, Q’enqo, Pucapucara, Pisaq, Ollantaytambo, the circular terraces at Moray and the “City in the Clouds” Machu Picchu near Cusco demonstrate the unique ability of the Incas and their impressive aptitude for architecture and hydraulics.

Well-deserving the title of UNESCO World Heritage Site, Cusco, Peru blends Andean traditions with Colonial Spanish architecture and ruins from bygone Incan and other indigenous civilisations.