The epic story of the fall of the Inca Empire to Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro in the aftermath of a bloody civil war, and the recent discovery of the lost guerrilla capital of the Incas, Vilcabamba, by three American explorers.
In 1532, the fifty-four-year-old Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro led a force of 167 men, including his four brothers, to the shores of Peru. Unbeknownst to the Spaniards, the Inca rulers of Peru had just fought a bloody civil war in which the emperor Atahualpa had defeated his brother Huascar. Pizarro and his men soon clashed with Atahualpa and a huge force of Inca warriors at the Battle of Cajamarca. Despite being outnumbered by more than two hundred to one, the Spaniards prevailed—due largely to their horses, their steel armor and swords, and their tactic of surprise. They captured and imprisoned Atahualpa. Although the Inca emperor paid an enormous ransom in gold, the Spaniards executed him anyway. The following year, the Spaniards seized the Inca capital of Cuzco, completing their conquest of the largest native empire the New World has ever known. Peru was now a Spanish colony, and the conquistadors were wealthy beyond their wildest dreams.
But the Incas did not submit willingly. A young Inca emperor, the brother of Atahualpa, soon led a massive rebellion against the Spaniards, inflicting heavy casualties and nearly wiping out the conquerors. Eventually, however, Pizarro and his men forced the emperor to abandon the Andes and flee to the Amazon. There, he established a hidden capital, called Vilcabamba—only recently rediscovered by a trio of colorful American explorers. Although the Incas fought a deadly, thirty-six-year-long guerrilla war, the Spanish ultimately captured the last Inca emperor and vanquished the native resistance.
With vivid and energetic prose, Emmy Award winner and author MacQuarrie (From the Andes to the Amazon) re-creates the 16th-century struggle for what would become modern-day Peru. The Incas ruled a 2,500 mile-long empire, but Spanish explorers, keen to enrich the crown and spread the Catholic Church, eventually destroyed Inca society. MacQuarrie, who writes with just the right amount of drama ("After the interpreter finished delivering the speech, silence once again gripped the square"), is to be commended for giving a balanced account of those events. This long and stylish book doesn't end with the final 1572 collapse of the Incas. Fast-forwarding to the 20th century, MacQuarrie tells the surprisingly fascinating story of scholars' evolving interpretations of Inca remains. In 1911, a young Yale professor of Latin American history named Hiram Bingham identified Machu Picchu as the nerve center of the empire. Few questioned Bingham's theory until after his death in 1956; in the 1960s Gene Savoy discovered the real Inca center of civilization, Vilcabamba. Although MacQuarrie dedicates just a few chapters to modern research, the archeologists who made the key discoveries emerge as well-developed characters, and the tale of digging up the empire is as riveting as the more familiar history of Spanish conquest. B&w illus., maps.