Cusco’s modern and ancient centre, the Plaza de Armas – whose location corresponds roughly to that of the ceremonial huacapata, the Incas’ ancient central plaza – is the most obvious place to get your bearings. With the unmistakeable ruins of Sacsayhuaman towering above, you can always find your way back to the plaza simply by locating the fortress or, at night, the illuminated white figure of Christ that stands beside it on the horizon. The plaza is always busy, its northern and western sides filled with shops and restaurants.
The plaza’s exposed northeastern edge is dominated by the squat Catedral while the smaller Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesus, with its impressive pair of belfries, sits at the southeastern end.
La Catedral sits solidly on the foundations of the Inca Viracocha palace, its massive lines looking fortress-like in comparison with the delicate form of the nearby La Compañía. Construction began in 1560; the cathedral was built in the shape of a Latin cross with a three-aisled nave supported by only fourteen pillars. There are two entrances, one via the main, central cathedral doors; the other, more usual, way is through the Triunfo Chapel, the first Spanish church to be built in Cusco. Check out its finely carved granite altar and the huge canvas depicting the terrible 1650 earthquake, before moving into the main cathedral to see the intricately carved pulpit, beautiful cedar-wood seats and Neoclassical high altar, made entirely of finely beaten embossed silver, as well as some of the finest paintings of the Cusqueña school.