The inca Road is an extensive network of stone-made trails that run through five countries in South America and were developed and built in part by the Inca Empire, more than 500 years ago. They were a vital part in the growth of the so-called Tahuantinsuyo Empire.

What is the Inca road network?

This incredible man-made engineering work initially had more than 60,000 kilometers of roads, which were built using the stone as the main material, it is important to keep in mind that both the Incas and the previous civilizations had no knowledge of the use of the wheel at the time of its construction.

The Inca roads are composed of two longitudinal axes parallel to the coastline, that is, two main or central roads from which multiple branches and short roads follow, these main roads connected cities as northern as Quito, in which It is currently Ecuador, to southern populations like Tucumán, in what is now Argentina.

The central point of this ancient network of roads, that is, the place where all these roads converge, is the city of Cusco; the Empire of the Incas was divided into four regions formerly known as 'Suyos':

  • Chinchaysuyo: Northern territoriesLos, they were occupied by civilizations like the Chinchas or the Chimúes.
  • Collasuyo: Southeastern territories, they were extensions populated by the Collas and the Aymaras, among others.
  • Contisuyo: Southwestern territories, they were populated by tribes such as the Conti, Collaguas and others.
  • Antisuyo: Eastern territories, they were inhabited by multiple Amazonian tribes.

The elements or sections that make up the Inca Road network are among others: the roads or paths made with stone, the edges of the roads, the lithic bridges that are found throughout this network of roads and the drums or deposits . The road has a width that goes from the meter and a half to fifteen meters.

One of the most important questions that researchers always ask is how citadels like Machu Picchu, built on top of a mountain located in the middle of a rainy sub-tropical rainforest, remain standing to this day, and the same question is being formulated about the Inca road network. Recent research has used modern engineering techniques, as well as state-of-the-art equipment to discover the reason for this mystery, reaching various conclusions:

  • The knowledge of the water, both of its chemical and physical properties, was well used by the Inca engineers, who were careful to study the local geography to determine in which sections they should build platforms or stairs to prevent the sliding of the mountain, in which sections should hollowed walls be built to drain the interior water of the mountain as well as which sections of the road should be paved to prevent its destruction due to snow or frost.
  • The use of various materials and strata or floors was a fundamental part in the construction of these roads, because in rainy areas a base of ridge stones or rolling stones was added first to allow water drainage, the next layer or stratum was mixed earth with small stone and so on, many of these construction techniques allow these buildings to remain standing until today.
  • The knowledge and veneration of the Incas to the environment or Pacha Mama can also be appreciated in the construction of the Qhapaq Ñan, because the road does not destroy the environment but rather becomes part of it, respecting the shapes, slopes and contours of the mountains, the causes of the rivers and other natural forms.
  • It is believed that the road is also aligned to an energetic field that surounds the earth, which in modern scientific language is known as terrestrial magnetic fields. It is for this reason that many inhabitants believe that this network of Inca roads has its own spirit or ‘life’.

Bridges are also an important element in this complex and elaborate network of roads, we can find bridges made entirely of stone, but there are also suspension bridges made with vines, bridges made of wood and bridges of oroya (in this type of bridge there is a rope that connects one river bank with another). Most of these bridges were destroyed during the Spanish conquest.

Why was this road network built?

The oldest sections of this ancient network of roads, also known as the Quechua name of ‘Qhapaq Ñan’ which means the King’s roads, were built by civilizations such as the Tiahuanaco and Huari, more than 1300 years ago. The main objective at the time of erecting these roads was to connect different geographical regions because many important cities are located in the middle of the high mountains of the Andes, making their access difficult.

Many sections or sections of this road were built with the purpose of joining ceremonial centers of worship with mountains or Apus, as is the case between the Pachacamac citadel (place facing the sea) and the immense snow-covered Pariacaca, of more than 5,700 masl

In a very ironic way, it is almost certain that the Spaniards have discovered and used this extensive network of roads to reach and conquer more rapidly the territories furthest from the Inca Empire.

Is the Inca trail part of the Qhapaq Ñan?

The world famous Inca Trail, 39 kilometers long and ending in the citadel of Machu Picchu, is only part of the extensive network of Inca roads.