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CUSCO OLD HOUSES and MANSIONS
A unique architecture
"The contrast among the external austerity and the gardens with ornamental
fountains framed by porticos and covered galleries, the latticed balconies
to look at the street without being seen, the entrance halls as areas
of transition between the family life and the street…all are elements
that arrive at the Andes through Andalucia".
Ramón Gutiérrez, La Casa Cusqueña, 1981.
The first colonial mansions of Cusco held conquerors and commissioners.
Situated in privilege places, they turned the noble areas of the Inca
city into palaces of renascentist inspiration. They quickly opened
patios, arches and entrance halls. The facades introduced heraldries,
mullioned windows and balconies of Mudejar origin. They were not only
radical architectonical improvements but also symbols of different
life styles and new social functions. Many of these large houses survive
and have kept -up to our days- the style of their first inhabitants.
Transformations and features of the architecture of Cusco
The process of adjustment to the pre Hispanic structures represents
one of the most hinting chapters of the urban history of Latin America.
Open areas in the old grounds - around which they used to build houses
for one family each- were turned into patios of summerhouses.
Some houses kept the Inca trapezoid lintel over which they held the nobiliary coat of arms of the new inhabitant, simple classic columns and large flowers in plateresque style
The position of the entrance hall is neither central nor symmetric as in Lima, but it is on one of the sides of the house sometimes even on the corner. In this way, it is not possible to see the interior of the house from the street door. Only after passing the entrance hall, the visitor could discover the typical patios of Renacentist style. This way is very similar to the one used in the convent cloisters, though in the domestic architecture they usually alternate two or three arches with halls or high galleries in carved wood. The stairs, with stone steps, used to be like boxes and occupied one corner of the patio. Sometimes they had ornaments in relief or sculpture figures such as the lion of the Admiral House.
At the external facade, we can frequently see mullioned windows (divided into two by a central column) or corner windows with columns in the angle in a medieval style. There are definitely wood balconies though they are mostly open in contrast to the balconies in Lima. There are some balconies wealthy carved in the obscure styles of the baroque of Cusco. Some balconies have curved panels which are prove of the style of Luis XV or "Rococo" (style characterised by the enormous quantity of ornaments and decoration) known up to the end of XVIII centuries
The materials used are typical from the area. In Cusco, they used to cover the Inca wall, made with andesite and traquite stones they brought from quarries near the city, with a second floor made of adobe. Apart from the "adobe" and the mud or adobe wall, already known by native builders, Spanish introduced the brick especially used in the facades and arches of the patios. Wood, though short in the area, was frequently used in corridors, high galleries, balconies, and mostly in nice coffered ceilings covering some houses. For this purpose, they brought alder trees, willow and cedar from adjoining valleys and even from the rainforest.
The roofs were made of two waters, provided with tiles, which is an effective protection against strong seasonal rains. Since XVII century, tile makers of the town of San Sebastian became famous and supply the entire city that even today shows the red cover of its centenary roofs.
Colors and mural paintings
Regarding the colors of the houses in Cusco, Ramon Gutierrez states that the most important colors were white, yellow and blue. Red was coming from the "cochineal insect" while blue came from Centro America. The mural paintings were also important in the entrance halls, in the interior walls and even in the ceilings. The topics varied from the Christian religious iconography to the classic mythology including landscapes, scenes and figure entirely ornamental. Most of this work was partially destroyed or stayed covered under layers of paint. They have just been restored recently.
For the construction as well as for the decoration, the houses in Cusco demanded numerous workers and specialised artisans. There were master builders and masons and even stonecutters, carpenters, painters and gilders. The important architects who came from Lima and other cities participated only in some occasions because they were busy building churches and convents. On this way, the owners' initiative and the participation of native workers allowed the increase of creativity thinking about the kind of life they had and the social functions the city created by itself.
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