Address: Amalia Puga 750, Cajamarca, Peru. It is 4 miles (7 km) southwest of Cajamarca Airport. It is near Plaza de Armas and next to Iglesia de San Francisco.
Admission: 5 soles (about U.S. $1.50), which includes entrance to El Complejo de Belén and Museo Arqueológico & Etnografíco
Hours: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., everyday except Monday

One of the reasons I flew from Lima to Cajamarca was to see with my own eyes the room where Atahualpa, the last Sapa Inca before the Spanish invasion, negotiated his freedom with the Spanish plunderers led by Francisco Pizarro. In Spanish, this room has been referred to as “Cuarto del Rescate” (in English, “the ransom room”).


The small room has three trapezoidal doorways and a few similarly shaped niches in the inner walls, which are signature Inca construction.


Visitors are not permitted to enter the room, but from outside visitors can see the red line marking the original ceiling of the structure, the point to which it was to be filled with treasure so Atahualpa would regain his freedom or avoid death. The stone of the building has weathered, and it has only recently been covered by a large protective dome, as the picture above shows.


Noticing the Spanish lust for precious metals, Atahualpa reportedly offered to fill the large room — which was about 22 feet long, 17 feet wide and 8 feet high — once with gold and twice with silver within two months. The red line marked the height of the Inca’s reach, which was 8 feet high. All of the Inca empire was ordered to send gold and silver to Cajamarca. In today’s prices, about U.S. $232 million worth of gold and U.S. $6 million worth of silver were handed over to the ruthless intruders. It is generally considered that the ransom paid by Atahualpa is the largest in the history of humankind. Just the same, the Spanish pillagers murdered him after a mock trial staged by Pizarro found him guilty of “idolatría, fratricidio, poligamia, incesto.”


El rescate de Atahualpa. “El cacique dixo que él les daría tanto oro como cabría en un apartado que allí estaba hasta una raya blanca que allí estaba. Que un hombre alto no llegaba a ella con un palmo.”

In the painting below, we see Atahualpa stretching his right hand. The significance is that the room was going to be filled with gold up to the tip of his arm. In the picture on the right, I joined some of the words to better understand the inscription on the wall: “”Este Atahualpa ya dicho era indio bien dispuesto y de buena presencia de buenas carnes no grueso demasiado de rostro y grave en el los ojos encarnizados. Cuando a este senor le quitaron del palo donde le mataron, llegaron sus indios y cavaron la tierra donde habia tenido los pies cuatro dedos, y la llevaron como por reliquias.”

Hasta donde alcanzara su mano El entierro de Atahualpa
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Atahualpa condenado al garrote. As the painting below shows, Atahualpa was strangled with a garrote. The Inca believed that the soul would not be able to go on to the afterlife if the body were burned. Reportedly, the Inca agreed to convert to Christianity so that he would avoid death by burning.


Como murió Atahualpa. The inscription below describes how Atahualpa died.


It still upsets me when I remember the thousands of people the Spanish murdered because of their lust for precious metals and obsession to pillage every city they conquered. Who were the barbarians? The Spaniards or the Inca? Who was more Christian? The Spaniards or the Inca? It is tragic that the Spanish villains succeeded in destroying what were once great civilizations.

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