Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Original Pan-American Highway

The original Inca road system.
(Image: New York Times and Intrn'l
Council on Monuments and Sites
Thousands of years before the asphalted Pan-American Highway which today (almost) connects Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, another, much slower and narrower, highway connected parts of western South America. That road system, now known as the Inca Roads, actually had been started more than a 1,000 years before the short-lived Inca Empire.

The road, called the Qhapaq Ñan in Quechua, connects together parts of present-day Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile and a corner of Colombia. The Incas invaded a bit of present-day Colombia near the Ecuadorian border just before their empire collapsed with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores in 1533.

The Inca roads are something of an engineering marvel for their day, with reinforced walls, paving in many parts and drainage systems. They didn't need to be smooth, since the Incas didn't have wheeled vehicles. (But, paradoxically, they did make wheeled toys for their kids). One of the road's rope bridges, the Qeswachaka, originally built by the Incas, still survives near Cuzco, Peru. Locals tear it down and rebuild it every year.

UNESCO just designated parts of the Inca road system as a World Heritage Site. The six nations which proposed the designation hope it will help preserve the road network and its associated resting houses and other infrastructure, which, unfortunately, has fallen victim to agriculture, asphalt and erosion.

But will farmers and asphalt companies respect the UNESCO designation?
The Pan-American Highway in South America.
The Qeswachaka roap bridge near Cuzco, Peru, is torn down and rebuilt every year by descendants of the Incas.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

No comments: