LIMA.-(EFE) The Great Inca Road that linked the dominions of that empire and nowadays extends to six South American countries, aspires to be a World Heritage Site as part of one of the most ambitious initiatives of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Experts from Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina and Colombia met for four days in Lima with representatives of the U.N. agency to prepare the timetable for the initiative, which could come to fruition in 2012, UNESCO's Francesco Bandarin told Efe on Thursday.
Although the network of Inca roadways and paths stretched for some 60,000 kilometers (37,000 miles) - 23,000 of which have been identified - only the 6,000-kilometer Great Road, or "Qhapac Ñan," which traverses the interior of the Andes is actually being put forward to become part of the World Heritage Site list.
The road starts at Cuzco, Peru, called the "navel of the world" by the Incas, and splits to head off in four directions throughout the now-vanished empire that they called Tawantinsuyo, which means "the four regions" in the local Quechua language.
In archaeological terms, the road is comparable to the Roman roadways, Bardarin said, but the difference is that the Inca Road is still used by villagers in the Andes and helps maintain what UNESCO calls important, although intangible, riches: languages, customs, musical traditions and all sorts of other cultural elements.
Therefore, among the experts who gathered for four days in Lima were archaeologists, geologists, ethnographers, environmentalists and geophysicists, the latter tasked with harmonizing the system of maps with which the six countries represent their parts of the roadway.
The experts are going to clarify the candidacy of the Inca Road all during 2010 so that in February 2011 it can be presented for inclusion in June 2012 on the list of World Heritage Sites.
The 11 meetings of the national committees to coordinate their policies and advance the Road's candidacy have already cost $1 million, Bardarin said, adding that the initiative is the most ambitious and complex of its kind, since no World Heritage Site has ever involved so many countries.
The Italian recalled that the Great Road, which winds through the high mountains, "has not suffered too much pressure or intervention," since the population of the countries through which it passes is concentrated mainly along the coasts.
Although they are commonly called "Inca roads," it is certain that the network of roads that cover the Andes were built by earlier civilizations, but the Incas were the ones who perfected them and extended them to the point that more than one Spanish colonial chronicler expressed amazement at the construction feat.
Some portions of the roads are of packed earth, while other stretches are paved with stones or even have containment walls, and sometimes they adapt themselves to the hillsides like huge stairways and - in the most complex cases - the steeper areas of rock were cut into to create what can only be described as "rungs."
But what still dazzles people today is the complex network of other constructions associated with the Road: the "collcas" or storage bins bored into the rock where grains or beans were stored so that travelers could find sustenance in times of want, the bridges hanging over the river gorges and the "chullpas" or funerary towers.
And associated with the Road, although they are no longer used, are the "chaskis," the Inca messengers, who were generally athletic young men capable of covering 20 or 30 kilometers (12-18 miles) at a jog through the mountains until they reached a post where fresh relief messengers was waiting to receive the message or shipment and carry it onward toward its destination.
Thanks to the chaskis, the Incas had an excellent information network linking the four corners of Tawantinsuyo which allowed them to anticipate and head off brewing rebellions or efficiently prepare for war against their neighbors.
One legend says that, thanks to the chaskis and the Great Road, the Inca empire was able to fulfill one of the whims of its kings in the mountain capital of Cuzco: to have fresh fish caught for them along the distant Pacific Ocean coast and be able to eat it the very same day in the palace. EFE/Javier Otazu.