The new Le Monde d’Hermès looks at Inca stonemasonry

The new issue of Le Monde d’Hermès has just been published — in a dozen or so languages, available at Hermès boutiques around the world — and the latest journey in the ongoing series that I write and photograph for them took me to Peru, where I sought to understand how the Inca empire could build some of the world’s most spectacular monuments in flawlessly cut stone without the use of metal tools.

I won’t give away the answer — you can read the article and see the photographs here — but the question touches upon one of the great paradoxes of the Inca, which is the way in which they were at once an exceptionally advanced civilization that, technologically, was still operating in the Bronze Age.  To begin with, the Inca seem ancient, almost of a spirit with pharaonic Egypt, but their peak was in the 15th century; that is to say, contemporaneous with Leonardo da Vinci and the Italian Renaissance.  They controlled a vast empire of tremendously rugged terrain in the high Andes, running thousands of kilometers from what is Chile through its heart in Cusco up into Ecuador, but they had not invented the wheel; though they used llamas as pack animals, they could not ride them and did not have horses.  It is this duality, no doubt, that in the early-16th century allowed a mighty and sophisticated empire of hundreds of thousands of subjects to be defeated by a force of just 169 Spaniards, who were far from home and not especially well equipped, and proceeded to extract every ounce of silver and gold from a land rich with it.  In Cusco today, I met many who had cause to wonder what might have been had that not happened.

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Click here to see the new issue of Le Monde d’Hermès or here to see my photographs of Peru.  Click here to read about the exquisite small portraits from 1916 that I bought at a flea market in Lima, Peru.  Or here to track the origins of a Lima-style painting from the 19th century of a woman in North African dress that was actually painted in southern China.

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