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PER - Inti Raymi
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| The Inti Raymi Festival |

Every year in June, there is an opportunity to witness a beautiful exhibition of Peruvian culture and tradition: Inti Raymi, the Festival of the Sun.

The Inti Raymi festival originated as a celebration to honor the Sun God as insurance for good crops in the harvest season. Each Winter Solstice, when the sun is farthest from the earth, ancient Incas would gather out of fear of the lack of sun, beseeching its return. In 1572, the colonial Spaniards banned the tradition because of its pagan rituals.

The festivities went underground, but today it is celebrated as one of the largest festivals in South America, second only to the carnival of Rio. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people gather in Cuzco for the weeklong festivities. From live music to street vendors to daytime fairs, the festival consists of different daily activities. Free concerts, put on by the best Peruvian musical troupes, are held in the Plaza de Armas nightly.

All activities lead up the June 24, the climax of the festival and the actual day of Inti Raymi. Scientifically speaking, the winter solstice begins June 21, but Peruvians follow the Pacha Unachaq, a sundial used by the Incas.

 

Over 500 actors are selected to enact the daylong ceremony. It is considered a great honor to be selected as Sapa Inca or his wife, as they are the two main characters for the day. Ceremonies commence in the Qorikancha Square in front of the Santo Domingo church, which is built over the Temple of the Sun. Here, Sapa Inca calls on blessings from the sun. Afterwards, he is carried on a golden throne to Sacsayhuamán, a fortress in the hills above Cuzco. Thousands of people await his arrival, upon which he climbs the sacred altar. A white llama is sacrificed to ensure the fertility of the earth.

At sunset, straw stacks are set on fire and revelers dance around them to honor the Empire of the Four Wind Directions. The ceremony ends with the celebrants returning to Cuzco, watching as Sapa Inca and Mama Occla are carried on their golden thrones. And so the sun’s New Year begins!

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