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500-year-old Incan Empire rope suspension bridge still maintained by Indigenous groups is a marvel

Indigenous communities have been proudly preserving a 500-year-old Incan rope bridge, showcasing their dedication to cultural heritage and engineering marvels.

500-year-old Incan Empire rope suspension bridge still maintained by Indigenous groups is a marvel
Q´eswachaka Inca bridge, Tacna, Peru. Image Source: Getty Images | Luis Rosendo, Heritage Images

In a time where most communities are rapidly advancing, four indigenous communities are working to maintain an ancient Incan bridge called the Q'eswachaka that's more than 500 years old, utilizing traditional Inca techniques and raw materials. According to UNESCO, the Quechua-speaking communities of the Huinchiri, Chaupibanda, Choccayhua and Ccollana Quehue perceive the act as upholding their social links and not a mere maintenance routine. For them, the bridge is not just a means of transport but also acts as a sacred expression of their people's bond with nature, their traditions and rich history. 



 

The process itself involves many families getting together to cut and twist straws to create thin ropes that are about 230 feet long. The rope is of a straw material called "q'oya" that is made by the workers over many weeks. They then bundle the straws together and soak them to prepare them for braiding. The ropes are then braided together as per the instruction of bridge builders to form six ropes of considerable thickness.

Q´eswachaka Inca bridge, Tacna, Peru. Image Source: Getty Images | Luis Rosendo
Q´eswachaka Inca bridge, Tacna, Peru. Image Source: Getty Images | Luis Rosendo

After this, the workers tightly bind the ropes to ancient stone bases at each end of the bridge. The workers then steadily commence the process of weaving the bridge from both sides. The older bridge is cut down as soon as the first rope is put in place. All of the workers then coordinate together by twisting smaller ropes in order to make handrails and sides.

Q´eswachaka Inca bridge, Tacna, Peru. Image Source: Getty Images | Luis Rosendo
Q´eswachaka Inca bridge, Tacna, Peru. Image Source: Getty Images | Luis Rosendo

In the end, the workers create roughly 120,000 feet of braided cords. On successfully finishing it off, the communities hold a festival to celebrate their achievement. The intricacies of the entire process are passed from generation to generation as the men in the community utilize the older bridge as a guide to begin making the new one. What makes the act truly commendable is the fact that workers have to weave the ropes approximately ten stories above a running river without any harness.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Jhonatan Zavaleta
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Jhonatan Zavaleta

Furthermore, the bridge is the last of its kind in the world. The entire process takes up to three days for the communities to complete. The bridge was officially declared a cultural heritage site by UNESCO in 2013. According to Britannica, the Incas were a South American Indian community who inhabited the Pacific coast and Andean highlands from the northern border of Ecuador to the Maule River located in Central Chile. What made the Inca community unique was being very advanced for their time.

Remains of Inca Roca's Palace, c13th century, Hatun Rumiyoc Street, Cusco Imperial City, Peru.  Image Source: Getty Images | Luis Rosendo
Remains of Inca Roca's Palace, c13th century, Hatun Rumiyoc Street, Cusco Imperial City, Peru. Image Source: Getty Images | Luis Rosendo

The Inca society, for instance, was extremely stratified. The head of the community was an emperor who ruled under the guise of aristocratic bureaucracy. Their technology and architecture were also well-developed. Some of their structures can still be seen in certain parts of the Andes. Interestingly, the community did not leave behind any written records, which means that whatever we know about the community today is largely mythical and not factual.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Follow Alice
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Follow Alice

The indigenous communities' efforts to maintain such an old bridge go to show the role that communities play in upholding traditions. Doing so allows them to connect with their ancestors, land and their values, creating a strong sense of belonging and community. Preserving such customs also ensures that these communities can navigate modern challenges while upholding their rich cultural tapestry and contributing to global diversity.

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