Originally known as T’oqokachi (“salty hole”), the San Blas barrio was the first parish to be established by the Spanish in Cusco and one of twelve administrative sectors in the Inca capital. After the Conquest it became the residence for many defeated Inca leaders. It rapidly grew into one of the more attractive districts in the city, reflecting strong mestizo and colonial influences in its architecture and high-quality artesanía – even today it’s known as the barrio de los artesanos (artesans’ quarter). Hit hard by the 1950 earthquake, it has been substantially restored, and in 1993 was given a major face-lift that returned it to its former glory. The process of rebuilding continues, with many old houses being converted to hostels, shops and restaurants.
At the barrio’s centre, on the southeast side of the Iglesia San Blas, lies the Plazoleta San Blas, with 49 gargoyles set on a fountain that’s laid out in the form of a chakana, or Inca cross, with four corners and a hole at its centre.