Every year around the time of June solstice, Peru celebrates one of the biggest feasts – the Inti Raymi traditional Inca ceremony honouring the god Inti (Quechua for “sun”), the most venerated deity in Inca religion.
Inti Raymi and its Connection to the Solstice
A solstice is an event that occurs when the Sun appears to reach its most northerly or southerly excursion relative to the celestial equator on the celestial sphere. There are two solstices annually, in June (around the 21st) and in December (around the 21st). The 4 seasons of the year are – in correspondence – determined by reference to the solstices and the equinoxes.
The day of a solstice in either hemisphere has either the most sunlight of the year (summer solstice) or the least sunlight of the year (winter solstice) for any place other than the Equator.
The Inti Raymi at the time of the Inca Empire was the celebration of the winter solstice – the shortest day of the year in terms of the time between sunrise and sunset – and the Inca New Year, when the hours of light would begin to lengthen again. In territories south of the equator, the Gregorian months of June, July and August are winter months.
The History and Presence of Inti Raymi
The Inti Raymi is held on June 24. During the Inca Empire, the Inti Raymi was the most important of the four ceremonies celebrated in Cusco. The celebration took place in the Haukaypata (today the main plaza – Plaza de Armas) and today also takes place in the Sacsayhuamán (a citadel on the northern outskirts of the city of Cusco) and Qorikancha (the most important temple in the Inca Empire).
The last Inti Raymi with the Inca Emperor’s presence was carried out in 1535. After this, the Spanish colonists and their Catholic priests banned the ceremony and other Inca religious practices.
In 1944, a historical reconstruction of the Inti Raymi was directed by Faustino Espinoza Navarro and indigenous actors. The first reconstruction was based largely on the chronicles of Garcilaso de la Vega and referred only to the religious ceremony. Since 1944, an annual theatrical representation of the Inti Raymi has been taking place, which attracts thousands of tourists and local visitors every year.
Since 1944, the date on which Inti Raymi was resumed, the Sun had to do without a party twice. In 1950 it was suspended due to the earthquake that left the city in ruins and in 2020, due to the coronavirus.
This year, the celebration will take place, but with a limited number of actors (reduced from 800 to 400) who will need to comply with the biosecurity rules (negative antigen tests, social distancing, and obligatory chinstraps that mimic the Inca costumes) and most importantly, the celebration will be happening without the presence of the audience. There will be cameras broadcasting the festivities via various media though. The Inti Raymi will cost 250 thousand soles and will be financed by various institutions.
Inti Raymi in Detail: Locations and Acts
During the official celebrations organized by EMUFEC Perú, the participants wear costume with feathers and masks and carry weapons such as spears. They dance and jump to the rhythm of drums and flutes and shout in the praise of the sun.
The main character is the Inca, who is chosen through a contest of skill and appearance. He is wearing a suit with the colours of the Tahuantinsuyo (“the four parts together”, the term refers to the four regions in which the empire was divided) gold bracelets and an ornament of feathers on the head.
Once the first act is finished on the esplanade of the Temple of the Sun (Qorikancha), the attendees go to the Plaza de Armas to witness the second act of the ceremony. It is said that in this place, known as Haukaypata in the Inca times, the most important figures of the empire used to gather during the night before the celebration, awaiting the appearance of the god Inti. With silence and with great respect they awaited the dawn, and when the god ascended between the mountains, the settlers gave thanks for the prosperous harvests of the year.
The extensive field of the Sacsayhuamán fortress is the site of the third and the last act: the most important one of the day, which can last up to three hours. Here, the Inca and his entourage arrive to pay their respects and admiration to the Sun. The Inca says a prayer in the Quechua language and simulates a sacrifice so that a shaman can predict the prosperity and well-being of the coming year.
The Inti Raymi is not an exclusive celebration of Cusco; it is still celebrated in the indigenous cultures throughout the Andes, in countries such as Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina and Colombia. The celebrations involve music, colourful costumes, the woven Aya Huma mask (this character is always a man and his role is to rid the festival of bad demons; he wears a mask of double faces – there is a full face in the front and a second full face in the back) and the sharing of food. In many parts of the Andes though, this celebration has also been connected to the western Catholic festivals of Saint John the Baptist.
On March 2 of 2001, the Inti Raymi was declared a Cultural Heritage of Peru.
Important Information and Facts about Inti Raymi
The Usual Schedule:
- 9:00 – Qorikancha (Home Staging: 30 minutes) – free access
- 11:00 – Haukaypata (The lnka and his royal entourage, enter the street of K’ijllu Inti: 45 minutes) – free access
- 13:30 – Sacsayhuamán (Central Ceremony: 90 minutes or more, max. 3 hours) – tickets available via https://emufec.gob.pe/
- Bring warm clothing – June in Cusco tend to be cold.
- If you want to witness the ceremony closely, buy your tickets for the esplanade of Sacsayhuaman well in advance.
- Once at the esplanade of Sacsayhuaman, secure your belongings.
Photographs by Zuzana Bartáková.