Merely describing Qhapaq Nan, the Andean Road System that helped the South American civilisation flourish greatly in the 15th and 16th centuries, exhausts the limits of human imagination.
An incredible road network through one of the world’s most extreme geographical terrains that runs more than 30,000 km in length and spans an area that now includes six countries — Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru — is an infrastructure marvel that even the finest of technologies today would be unable to actualise.
Featuring 33 photographs of Qhapaq Nan, a spectacular photography exhibition organised jointly by the Embassy of Peru in Qatar and the Katara Cultural Village Foundation, opened to a full house of dignitaries, diplomats, and art enthusiasts at Katara’s Building 19 on Tuesday evening. It is now open until July 30.
The event marks the second year anniversary of the inclusion in the Unesco World Heritage Site List of this extensive system of ancient roads and trails connecting all parts of the Inca Empire known as Qhapaq Nan.
In a hall bustling with everybody from Qatari dignitaries to heads of missions of Brazil, Argentina, Korea, Georgia, and Iran, the Ambassador of Peru to Qatar, Julio Florian, explained in his speech: “This exhibition depicts the road network built by the Peruvian ancestors (Incas) 500 years ago, which was the backbone of the Inca Empire. It was built between 5,000 to 6,000 meters above sea level in the highest peak of the Andes covering six South American countries. The road is Peruvian but it was recognised as a World Heritage Site in Doha.”
Indeed. When Qhapaq Nan was included in the World Heritage List by Unesco, Qatar was the host for the event — the 38th Session of the World Heritage Committee in June 2014. “Peru now has 12 World Heritage Sites with Qhapaq Nan, the latest addition, making Peru one of the Latin American countries with the highest number of sites inscribed on the list,” Florian told the audience.
Used over several centuries by caravans, travellers, messengers, armies and whole population groups amounting up to 40,000 people, Qhapaq Nan connected various production, administrative and ceremonial centres constructed over more than 2,000 years of pre-Inca Andean culture. Also known as the Main Andean Road, Qhapaq Nan was the backbone of the Inca Empire’s political and economic power.
Shortly after the launch, Florian told Community, “If you look into the history of Latin America, you will find that there were two very important empires, some 500 years ago — the Aztec in Mexico and the Inca in South America. The backbone of the Incas was this network of roads. In today’s time, speaking of a road spanning 30,000kms from Colombia to Chile sounds like a massive amount of work! What makes showcasing Qhapaq Nan more worthwhile is that these roads are not in ruins and are still in use. In many places, even today, Qhapaq Nan is the only way to connect towns and villages. If you look at this rocky terrain, you will figure out that it’s impossible to use a car here. Either you go on a llama or you walk.”
In its summary of the significance and magnificence of Qhapaq Nan, Unesco has said: “The network is based on four main routes, which originate from the central square of Cusco, the capital of the Tawantinsuyu (the name by which the Incas referred to their empire as). These main routes are connected to several other road networks of lower hierarchy, which created linkages and cross-connections. 137 component areas and 308 associated archaeological sites, covering 616.06 kilometres of the Qhapaq Nan highlight the achievements of the Incas in architecture and engineering along with its associated infrastructure for trade, storage and accommodation as well as sites of religious significance. The road network was the outcome of a political project implemented by the Incas linking towns and centres of production and worship together under an economic, social and cultural programme in the service of the State.”
When asked about how these photographs were chosen, Florian said that this series was part of a larger project on Qhapaq Nan. “I received this group of pictures from the Ministry of Culture,” Florian said, “When the Ministry was campaigning for the Unesco recognition — an effort that took about 10 years — different photographers through those years had taken these pictures. I think this is the only time that Unesco has recognised a site comprising six countries as World Heritage Site.”
Having organised three exhibitions prior to this in Katara, Florian knew exactly how the 33 photographs would pan out on the pristine white walls of the gallery at Building 19. “More or less, I knew the size and dimensions of this gallery space and I figured these pictures would looks great here and they do,” he said, “It has been wonderful hosting this event with Katara and especially with Maryam al-Saad, who is great to work with.”
Apart from the terrain shots, there’s also a series of 12 adorable portraits of Peruvian children on display. “In a ‘road exhibition’, I decided to include portraits of these children’s faces not merely because they are very cute but if you look closely at their hats, each one of them is different. That’s because those hats distinctly belong to 12 different communities in Peru, showing how multiple communities in Peru use Qhapaq Nan and how the road unites them all. It’s also about Peruvian cultural diversity through one set of pictures,” Florian explained, “As for the costumes from the Amazon side of Peru that are on display here, I chose and bought them myself from Lima.”
The word that seems to ring aloud in the room from various directions is ‘unbelievable’. “That’s how most people who have visited this exhibition tonight, including me, have described the visuals of Qhapaq Nan. It still amazes me how they could build these roads, let alone with no technology, but not even knowing the wheel. And it still endures and stands strong,” said Florian, adding that this collection will go a long way in drawing people’s attention to the many wonders of Peru, “Of all the people who would visit this exhibition, even if one or two decide to go Peru after viewing these photographs, I will be very happy.”
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