Vilcabamba, Peru

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Espiritu Pampa Archaeological site - overgrown house.jpg
Ruins of Espíritu Pampa
Vilcabamba, Peru is located in Peru
Vilcabamba, Peru
Location within Peru
Alternative name
  • Vilcabamba la Vieja
  • Espíritu Pampa
LocationLa Convención Province
RegionCuzco Department
Coordinates12°54′10″S 73°12′21″W / 12.90278°S 73.20583°W / -12.90278; -73.20583Coordinates: 12°54′10″S 73°12′21″W / 12.90278°S 73.20583°W / -12.90278; -73.20583
BuilderManco Inca Yupanqui
CulturesNeo-Inca State

Vilcabamba (in hispanicized spelling), Willkapampa (Aymara[1] and Quechua)[2][3][4][5] or Espíritu Pampa was a city founded by Manco Inca in 1539 that served as the capital of the Neo-Inca State, the last refuge of the Inca Empire until it fell to the Spaniards in 1572, signaling the end of Inca resistance to Spanish rule. The city was then destroyed, rediscovered in 1911, and scholars believe it to be the fabled "Lost city of the Incas".

It is located on the Chontabamba River, a tributary of the Urubamba River.[6] It is often referred to as Vilcabamba the Old or Old Vilcabamba to distinguish it from the town of Vilcabamba la Nueva, of Spanish origin.[7]


Manco Inca retreated from Ollantaytambo to Vitcos, and finally to Vilcabamba: "The Inca brought together all those of the royal blood he could find, men and women alike, and retired to the wild forest of the Antis to a place called Villcapampa where he lived in exile and solitude as one can imagine a dispossessed and disinherited prince would live, until one day he was slain by a Spaniard whom he had sheltered and protected from enemies who had sought his death."[8]:131

Titu Cusi said this of his father Manco Inca Yupanqui, "Having arrived, he rested and recovered for a few days and built his houses and lodgings in order to settle down there, for it seemed to him like a good site for his capital seat."[9]:122

On 24 June 1572, a Spanish army, led by veteran conquistador Martin Hurtado de Arbieto, made a final advance on the Incas' remote jungle capital. 'They marched off, taking the artillery, wrote Arbieto in his own account of the campaign, 'and at 10 o clock they marched into the city of Vilcabamba, all on foot, for it is the most wild and rugged country, in no way suitable for horses.' What they discovered was a city built 'for about a thousand fighting Indians, besides many other women, children, and old people' filled with 'four hundred houses.[10]

Vilcabamba is the site where the Spanish captured Tupac Amaru.[11]:xxxvi,171-172

Inca remnant[edit]

The Neo-Inca State held out in Vilcabamba for 33 years, until it was overrun by the Spanish in 1572. The city was burned and the area swiftly became a remote, secluded spot.

Spanish Vilcabamba[edit]

San Francisco de la Victoria de Vilcabamba, also known as Vilcabamba la Nueva ("the New"), was a Spanish colonial silver-mining town near Vitcos. It is located east of Vilcabamba the Old on the Pampaconas River, a tributary of the Vilcabamba River, which is a tributary of the Urubamba River.[7] Hiram Bingham III visited the site in 1911, noting that, "Instead of Inca walls or ruins, Vilcabamba has three score solidly built Spanish houses...due to the prosperity of gold diggers, who came to work the quartz mines which were made accessible after the death of Tupac Amaru." After 1572, monks built a church and living house.[11]

Archaeologic studies[edit]

Hiram Bingham III (upper right) with a local guide on a jungle bridge at Vilcabamba, hand-colored glass slide, 1911

The first outsiders in modern times to rediscover the remote forest site that has since come to be identified with Old Vilcabamba (Vilcabamba la Vieja) were three Cuzqueños: Manuel Ugarte, Manuel López Torres, and Juan Cancio Saavedra, in 1892. They were the first people known to come across the site in 320 years.

In 1911, Hiram Bingham III visited Espíritu Pampa and a natural terrace on the banks of the Pampaconas River called Eromboni Pampa. He found artificial terraces, stone Inca houses, including a rectangular building 192 feet long, an Inca fountain, Inca pottery, and a stone bridge. However, Bingham was not sure if the site was the actual location of Vilcabamba Viejo, the site where Tupac Amaru fled after the Spanish captured Vitcos. Bingham speculated in his book Lost City of the Incas that Machu Picchu was the lost city of Vilcapampa the Old, in part because Bingham only saw a small portion of Espíritu Pampa. It remained for Gene Savoy to discover the full extent of the site in 1964, and later evidence did confirm the site was indeed the old Vilcabamba.[11]:xxxv-xxxvi,155-172,197

In the 1960s, the explorations and discoveries of Antonio Santander Casselli and Gene Savoy finally associated the Espíritu Pampa site with the legendary Vilcabamba. Their 1970 book Antisuyo brought the site to even wider attention. Researcher and author John Hemming provided additional substantive confirmation as to Espíritu Pampa's significance in his 1970 The Conquest of the Incas.

In 1976, Professor Edmundo Guillén and Polish explorers Tony Halik and Elżbieta Dzikowska continued to explore the long-known ruins. However, before the expedition, Guillen visited a museum in Seville where he discovered letters from Spaniards, in which they described the progress of the invasion and what they found in Vilcabamba. Comparison between the letters' contents and the ruins provided additional proof of the location of Vilcabamba.

In 1981, the party of American explorer Gregory Deyermenjian reached and photographed parts of the site, soon thereafter generating a popular article concerning the site and its history.[12]

Later extensive archeological work by Vincent Lee, and especially his exhaustive study, his 2000 book Forgotten Vilcabamba, gave further and even more precise confirmation that has made Espíritu Pampa the definitively accepted site of the historical Vilcabamba.

On 16 June 2006, a museum in Cuzco[13] unveiled a plaque that commemorates the thirtieth anniversary of the 1976 Vilcabamba findings.

In popular culture[edit]

The lost city of Vilcabamba features in the educational computer game series The Amazon Trail, the Tomb Raider videogame and its remake Tomb Raider: Anniversary, and the books Evil Star and Necropolis by British thriller author Anthony Horowitz. Vilcabamba is also a playable place in the PlayStation 2 RPG Shadow Hearts: From the New World.

The second episode of Michael Wood's 2000 documentary series Conquistadors visits the site of Vilcabamba while telling the story of the fall of the Inca and retreat of Manco and his followers to the remote region as the last surviving remnant of the empire.

The city was the location of British writer Colin Thubron's 2002 novel, To the Last City, which was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, and tells the story of a group of people who set off to explore the ruins of the Inca city[14] in what has been described as a "Heart of Darkness narrative" in a "Marquezian setting".

The science fiction story "Vilcabamba" (2010) by Harry Turtledove, which can be read on-line here, is a self-referential allegory of Vilcabamba as an alien invasion story set in the 22nd century.

An episode of the TV Series In Search Of . . . (1976-1982) titled "Inca Treasures", highlights the expedition taken by professor Edmundo Guillén to explore the ruins of Vilcabamba.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ludovico Bertonio, Transcripción del vocabulario de la lengua aymara (Spanish-Aymara dictionary): Willka - Adoratorio dedicado al Sol u otros ídolos. / El Sol como antiguamente decían y ahora dicen inti. Pampa - El campo o todo lo que está fuera del pueblo, ahora sea cuesta, ahora llano. +Todo lo bajo respecto de la mesa o poyo, la tierra llana.
  2. ^ Teofilo Laime Ajacopa, Diccionario Bilingüe Iskay simipi yuyayk'ancha, La Paz, 2007 (Quechua-Spanish dictionary): willka - s. Nieto, ta respecto del abuelo. / s. Dios menor en la teogonia incaica. pampa s. Campo. Lugar generalmente plano. Pampa. / s. Llanura. Terreno uniforme y dilatado, sin altos ni bajos pronunciados.
  3. ^ Diccionario Quechua - Español - Quechua, Academía Mayor de la Lengua Quechua, Gobierno Regional Cusco, Cusco 2005: willka - s. Hist. Idolo de este nombre. Icono o imagen que representaba la divinidad tutelar del valle que se extiende desde lo que hoy es La Raya –línea divisoria entre Cusco y Puno– hasta la montaña misma. (J.L.P.) || Apellido de origen inkaico. / s. Biznieto o biznieta. SINÓN: haway. || Linaje. || adj. Sagrado, divino, sacro.
  4. ^ Mariko Namba Walter,Eva Jane Neumann Fridman, Shamanism: An Encyclopedia of World Beliefs, Practices, and Culture, Vol. 1, p. 439 willka or vilca (Anadenanthera peregrina and Anadenanthera colubrina):
  5. ^ Bingham, Hiram III. (2002) The Lost City of the Incas. Centenary edition. New York:Sterling Publ. Co. p.155. (huilca a type of tree and pampa a lowland flat area)
  6. ^ Lee, Vincent H. L. (2000). Forgotten Vilcabamba: final stronghold of the Incas. [Wilson, Wyo.]: Sixpac Manco Publications. ISBN 978-0-9677109-0-7.
  7. ^ a b Thomson, Hugh. (2001). The White Rock. An Exploration of the Inca Heartland. London: Orion Books Ltd. p.310.
  8. ^ Garcilaso De La Vega El Inca, 2006, Royal Commentaries of the Incas and General History of Peru, Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., ISBN 9780872208438
  9. ^ Titu Cusi Yupanqui, 2005, An Inca Account of the Conquest of Peru, Boulder: University Press of Colorado, ISBN 9780870818219
  10. ^ Martin Hurdado de Arbieto, quoted in John Hemming, The Conquest of the Incas, 1970, CUP (ISBN 9780156028264)
  11. ^ a b c Bingham, Hiram (1952). Lost City of the Incas. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. pp. 157–158. ISBN 9781842125854.
  12. ^ Deyermenjian, Gregory. (1985). "Vilcabamba Revisited" in South American Explorer, No. 12.
  13. ^ "Museo Inka - UNSAAC". Archived from the original on 2017-02-14.
  14. ^ McCrum, Robert (July 28, 2002). "Back to the heart of darkness". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on October 12, 2008. Retrieved May 27, 2010.


Further reading[edit]