All of the four museums included on the boleto can be visited in one full day. We chose a day where the weather wasn’t at its best, and we set off to explore them all.
First stop – Museo Histórico Regional (Casa Garcilaso). This is the biggest and most informative museum; there is room after room with facts about the Spanish invasion of the Inca empire, and therefore lots of information about their religious evangelization as well. Religious art was used as a major method for teaching and evangelizing in the so-called “New World,” and the Cuzco School was a hub for this type of learning and art production. (Side note – ‘Cuzco’ with a ‘z’ is how the Spaniards spelled the city’s name). Many of the paintings in this museum are from anonymous painters of the Cuzco School. There is also an entire room dedicated to Tupac Amaru, a true South American indigenous hero, who we had learned about during our walking tour of Cusco.
The museum is housed in the Casa Garcilaso de la Vega; Garcilaso was an Inca chronicler who was well-educated both in Peru and Spain. He wrote several books throughout his lifetime, including a history of Peru that told a story and truth much different than that of the Spanish conquistadors. His work was read by the likes of Voltaire and Locke.
Right across the plaza from Museo Histórico Regional, you can get to the Museo Municipal de Arte Contemporáneo. We were really unimpressed with this one. During our visit, there were only two rooms open, along with a small display on the second floor; one of the rooms seemed like it was an exhibition of different paintings that were for sale, and the second floor was a series of interesting photoshopped images (see below for an example).
Unless we missed something here, I would say this museum can be cut out of your itinerary, particularly if your time is limited.
Next stop was the Museo de Sitio de Qorikancha. This was located down a few blocks from the Plaza de Armas on Avenida del Sol, a short walk from the other two museums. It is a small museum, with only a few rooms, but there is some interesting material there. There is a chronological explanation of the evolution of civilization in Cusco. Most fascinating to all of us were the mummies and the skulls housed there. The skulls showed examples of cranium deformation, a common practice during the time of the Inca. Some members of the Inca society would tie a band or belt around the head of a newborn baby, creating a much higher, elongated forehead. This was seen as a sign of social prestige. Other skulls showed how people had holes cut into their craniums then plated with either silver or gold; about 65% of people survived this dangerous operation. The mummies displayed in the Museo de Qorikancha also offered some interesting insight into Inca culture. When a leader died, they were mummified, and their servants carried them everywhere. They were presented with food and drink, and they were even brought to visit other mummies. In some areas, it became an administrative issue because the mummies had such a “cult” following, they almost had as much power as the living emperor. This was a small museum overall, but certainly worthwhile.
The final stop of our museum tour was the Monumento Pachacuteq. I was actually expecting this to be disappointing, because I was under the impression that it was just a monument in the middle of a busy road. There turned out to be a museum with several levels inside of the monument. Pachacuteq was major Inca leader, responsible for the incredible development of the city of Cusco. He is said to have transformed the city into a center of social and political power. According to some records, he was sovereign for 103 years, before passing away at the age of 125. When his statue was erected in October 1992, it was struck by lightning bolts, and eagles are said to have appeared in the sky.
Overall assessment for the museum portion of the boleto: if your schedule allows, these museums are mostly worth the trip; if you’re running on a tight timeline, they can be cut from the agenda.