The Inti Raymi or “The Festival of the Sun” was and is the most important Andean festival. The cultures celebrate the Inti Raymi (The Sun Festival) every each winter solstice in Cusco and a new year in the Andes of the Southern Hemisphere. The Inca (king) and the native residents gathered to honor the Sun God, sacrifice an animal to ensure good crops and to pay homage to the Inca, as the first born Son of the Sun. The festival travels from the ancient capital of the Inca Empire, Cuzco to the massive fortress of Saqsayhuaman. The festival includes fire and lights to wake the sun god on the shortest day and longest night of the winter solstice.
The Sun, the main God of the Inca Civilization was considered to be the creator of all that exists. It presided over the destinies of man and the universe. During the Inca Empire, the Inti Raymi was the most important of four ceremonies celebrated in Cusco, as related by Inca Garcilaso de la Vega. The ceremony was also said to indicate the mythical origin of the Incas, lasting nine days of colorful dances and processions, as well as animal sacrifices to ensure a good cropping season. The celebrants fasted for days before the event, refrained from physical pleasures and presented gifts to the Inca, who in return put on a lavish banquet of meat, corn bread, Chicha and coca tea as they prepared to sacrifice llamas to ensure good crops and fertile fields.
The last Inti Raymi with the Inca Emperor’s presence was carried out in 1535, after which the Spanish conquest and the Catholic Church suppressed it. Some natives participated in similar ceremonies in the years after, but it was completely prohibited in 1572 by the Viceroy Francisco de Toledo, who claimed it was a pagan ceremony opposed to the Catholic faith. Following the edict, the ceremonies went underground. Since 1944 a theatrical representation of the Inti Raymi has been taking place at Saqsayhuaman on June 24 of each year attracting thousands of tourist and local visitors. The first ceremony was directed by Faustino Espinoza Navarro and indigenous actors; reconstruction was largely based on the chronicles of Garcilaso de la Vega and only referred to the religious ceremony. Not being possible now to recreate the Inti Raymi ceremony in the original Inca locations for obvious reasons, it has been thought appropriate to perform the celebration in the great archaeological complex called Saqsayhuaman that lies to the north of the main square next to the city.
The Inti Raymi (The Festival of the God Sun) is the biggest traditional festival in the Andes of Peru. Every year the festivities started in Koricancha square in front of the Santo Domingo church, built over the ancient Temple of the Sun. Here, the Sapaq Inca appear and calls on the blessings from the sun. Following the oration, Sapaq Inca is carried on a golden throne, a replica of the original which weighed about 60 kilos, in a procession to the ancient fortress of Saqsayhuaman in the hills above Cusco. With the Sapa Inca come the high priests, garbed in ceremonial robes, then officials of the court, nobles and others, all elaborately costumed according to their rank, with silver and gold ornaments. One by one various groups appeared in front of Koricancha being called in by conch-blowing Chasquis (The Chasquis were the messengers of the Inca Empire. Musicians, dancers, virgins, representatives from various parts of the Empire, including the loin-cloth clad Amazonians, priests and finally the Queen (Mama Ocllo) and Sapaq Inca himself arrived. Intermixed with music and dances the Inca invoked the sun and pleaded for it to be good to them in the forthcoming year.