What is Inti Raymi in Peru and Why Was It Banned?
Did you know that Inti Raymi is the second largest festival in South America and that it takes place every winter solstice in the ancient city of Cusco?
Did you know that this spectacular festival was banned on religious grounds for over 400 years?
Keep reading to learn more about the ancient Inti Raymi Festival, how it started more than five centuries ago, why it was banned, and much more about the amazingly rich Peruvian culture. Oh, and you’re also learning a few Spanish and Quechua words along the way!
What Is Inti Raymi?
Inti Raymi is an ancient Inca celebration in honor of their Sun God: Inti. At the height of the Inca Empire, it was the most important festival taking place in the Andean region, with as many as 25,000 people gathering in Cusco (Peru) and 200 llamas being sacrificed during the festivities.
Inti Raymi literally means “Festival of the Sun” and is celebrated every year on the date of June 24, which coincides with the winter solstice in the southern hemisphere. This is the day when the Sun is farthest from the Earth and the Incas used it to celebrate the triumphant return of their Sun God.
History of this Fiesta del Sol
The history of Inti Raymi goes back to 1412 AD when the ninth Sapa Inca (emperor) Pachacuti established that the festival should take place every year during the winter solstice to honor their god Inti and celebrate the Inca New Year.
This Fiesta del Sol or “Sun Party” was the most important celebration of the year in the Inca calendar and symbolized the mythical origins of the Inca people. The festivity also represented the connection of the Sapa Inca with his people, as he would enter the big square of Saqsayhuaman in Cusco walking over flower petals and surrounded by the Pichaq, a kind of priests that brushed away any evil spirits that could have been in the area.
Finally, the Inti Raymi festival also served as a “new fire” celebration, as at one point the Sapa Inca would order to put off every fire lit in Cusco, only to start a new fire with the new year. That fire would then light all the other fires around the city.
Why Was Inti Raymi Banned?
The last Inti Raymi of Tawantinsuyu (Inca Empire) was celebrated in 1535, a year before the Spanish arrived in the region. The last Sapa Inca, Atahualpa, held the festival without imagining that it was going to be the last one ever celebrated in their glorious empire.
When the Spanish conquerors arrived in Peru, they imposed their culture, traditions, and religion. They considered indigenous beliefs and traditions as pagan and barbaric, and as consequence, many of their most culturally rich celebrations were forbidden. The festival was still held in secret for many years, although not with the same grandiosity as before since the Inca emperor wasn’t there to officiate it.
However, in 1572, the celebration of the Inti Raymi Festival was prohibited for good by the Spanish viceroy Francisco de Toledo. The Spanish colonizers wanted the Incas to adopt the Catholic faith and to forget about the customs and traditions of their own culture. No official Inti Raymi took place from that moment, until the 20th century.
Cultural Heritage of Peru
In 1944, Faustino Espinoza, a Quechua (indigenous people of the Andean region) writer, actor, and director, recovered Inti Raymi from oblivion. His intention was to “restore the pride and identity of the Quechua people.” He did a hugely and valuable historical research into the festivity and started organizing the recreation of a modern Inti Raymi, leaving for himself the role of the Sapa Inca.
Nowadays, this Fiesta del Sol has become the second largest festival in South America, just behind Rio’s Carnival, and it’s represented in different parts of the world such as Ecuador, Germany, Spain, and the US.
In 2001, the Inti Raymi Festival was declared by law “Cultural Heritage of Peru” and “Ritual Ceremony of National Identity.” In 2021, the 77 edition of the modern Inti Raymi Festival will take place on its historical date of June 24 in the ancient city of Cusco, Peru.
Useful Inti Raymi Vocabulary
If you want to experience the Inti Raymi Festival up close, and personal, the best thing you can do is to travel to Peru in June and watch it live. That way, you’ll be able to learn how to celebrate Inti Raymi, what kind of clothes they use in their celebration, what other characteristics the festival has, and, as a side benefit, you get to try the delicious Peruvian food!
So, let’s learn some useful Inti Raymi vocabulary for your future trip to Cusco, Peru. Just have in mind that some of the terms discussed here are in Spanish, but others come directly from the ancient Quechua, the language spoken in the times of the Inca Empire.
Let’s start with important Spanish vocabulary about the festival first.
The festival takes place on June 24 every year because it’s the date of the winter solstice.
- el solsticio de invierno – winter solstice
Inti Raymi is held in Cusco’s Plaza de Armas.
- la plaza de armas – main square
The last part of the festival is performed at the archaeological site of Sacsayhuaman.
- el sitio arqueológico – archaeological site
- las ruinas arqueológicas – archaeological ruins
The first act of the re-enactment of Inti Raymi takes place on the esplanade of the Temple of the Sun.
- la explanada – esplanade
- el Templo del Sol – Temple of the Sun
In 2001, the Peruvian government declared Inti Raymi as Cultural Heritage of Peru.
- el gobierno – government
- Peruano – Peruvian
- el Patrimonio Cultural – Cultural Heritage
Now some other important Inti Raymi-related terms:
|la ceremonia pagana||Pagan ceremony|
|la religión católica||Catholic faith|
|el hemisferio sur||Southern hemisphere|
It’s time for what I believe might be your first (and super brief) Quechua lesson:
|Qorikancha||Temple of the Sun|
Learn Spanish and Visit Peru
If you love Peruvian culture and want to know more about Inti Raymi, keep working on your pronunciation of these words, so you can visit Peru and experience this most amazing of festivals.
Sign up for a free class to practice your conversational skills before you head to the festival. Traveling becomes easier when you speak the language of your host country and you’re able to communicate with the locals and ask them about their ancient traditions such as Inti Raymi. Our certified, native teachers from Guatemala teach more than 24,000 actively enrolled students every month and have been providing reliable service to Spanish learners for more than 10 years.
Don’t miss this opportunity and get ready to visit Latin America soon!
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