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Qhapaq Ñan, Andean Road System

Qhapaq Ñan, Andean Road System

This site is an extensive Inca communication, trade and defence network of roads covering 30,000 km. Constructed by the Incas over several centuries and partly based on pre-Inca infrastructure, this extraordinary network through one of the world’s most extreme geographical terrains linked the snow-capped peaks of the Andes – at an altitude of more than 6,000 m – to the coast, running through hot rainforests, fertile valleys and absolute deserts. It reached its maximum expansion in the 15th century, when it spread across the length and breadth of the Andes. The Qhapac Ñan, Andean Road System includes 273 component sites spread over more than 6,000 km that were selected to highlight the social, political, architectural and engineering achievements of the network, along with its associated infrastructure for trade, accommodation and storage, as well as sites of religious significance.


Qhapaq Ñan, réseau de routes andin

Ce grand réseau de routes de communication, de commerce et de défense parcourt plus de 30 000 km. Construit par les Incas sur plusieurs siècles et en partie basé sur une infrastructure préinca, ce réseau extraordinaire traversant l’un des terrains géographiques les plus difficiles du monde relie les sommets enneigés des Andes (à plus de 6 000 m) à la côte en passant par des forêts tropicales humides, des vallées fertiles et des déserts. Le Qhapac Ñan qui a atteint son extension maximale au XVe siècle s’étendait sur toute la longueur et la largeur des Andes. Le bien comprend 273 sites individuels s’étendant sur plus de 6 000 km. Ils ont été choisis pour illustrer les réalisations architecturales, techniques, politiques, sociales du réseau ainsi que son infrastructure associée, destinée au commerce, à l’hébergement et au stockage des marchandises, et des sites d’importance religieuse.

カパック・ニャン アンデスの道

source: NFUAJ

Qhapaq Ñan, het Andes-wegsysteem

Qhapaq Ñan is het wegsysteem van de Inca’s door het Andes Gebergte. Het is een uitgebreid communicatie-, handels- en verdedigingsnetwerk van wegen dat 30.000 kilometer beslaat. Het loopt door een van ’s werelds meest extreme geografische terreinen en werd gedurende een aantal eeuwen gebouwd op basis van een pre-Inca infrastructuur. Het bijzondere wegennet verbond de met sneeuw bedekte pieken van de Andes – op meer dan 6000 meter hoogte – met de kust en gaat daarbij door hete regenwouden, vruchtbare valleien en pure woestijnen. Qhapac Ñan was op z’n meest uitgebreid in de 15e eeuw toen het zich uitstrekte over de lengte en breedte van de Andes. Het Andes-wegsysteem omvat 274 aangewezen sites verspreid over meer dan 6000 kilometer. Deze plekken laten zien dat het wegennetwerk heeft gezorgd voor sociale, politieke, architectonische en technische successen. Andere positieve gevolgen van het wegsysteem zijn de infrastructuur voor handel, huisvesting en opslag en het ontstaan van belangrijke religieuze plekken.

Source: unesco.nl

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Qhapaq Ñan, Andean Road System © Proyecto QÑ-Bolivia
Outstanding Universal Value

Brief synthesis

Qhapaq Ñan, Andean Road System is an extensive Inca communication, trade and defence network of roads and associated structures covering more than 30,000 kilometres. Constructed by the Prehispanic Andean communities over several centuries, the network reached its maximum expansion in the 15th century, during the consolidation of the Tawantinsuyu, when it spread across the length and breadth of the Andes. The network is based on four main routes, which originate from the central square of Cusco, the capital of the Tawantinsuyu. These main routes are connected to several other road networks of lower hierarchy, which created linkages and cross-connections. 137 component areas and 308 associated archaeological sites, covering 616.06 kilometers of the Qhapaq Ñan highlight the achievements of the Incas in architecture and engineering along with its associated infrastructure for trade, storage and accommodation as well as sites of religious significance. The road network was the outcome of a political project implemented by the Incas linking towns and centers of production and worship together under an economic, social and cultural programme in the service of the State.

The Qhapaq Ñan, Andean Road System is an extraordinary road network through one of the world’s most extreme geographical terrains used over several centuries by caravans, travellers, messengers, armies and whole population groups amounting up to 40,000 people. It was the lifeline of the Tawantinsuyu, linking towns and centres of production and worship over long distances. Towns, villages and rural areas were thus integrated into a single road grid. Several local communities who remain traditional guardians and custodians of Qhapaq Ñan segments continue to safeguard associated intangible cultural traditions including languages.

The Qhapaq Ñan by its sheer scale and quality of the road, is a unique achievement of engineering skills in most varied geographical terrains, linking snow-capped mountain ranges of the Andes, at an altitude of more than 6,600 metres high, to the coast, running through hot rainforests, fertile valleys and absolute deserts. It demonstrates mastery in engineering technology used to resolved myriad problems posed by the Andes variable landscape by means of variable road construction technologies, bridges, stairs, ditches and cobblestone pavings.

Criterion (ii): The Qhapaq Ñan exhibits important processes of interchange of goods, communication and cultural traditions within a cultural area of the world which created a vast empire of up to 4,200km in extension at its height in the 15th century. It is based on the integration of prior Andean ancestral knowledge and the specifics of Andean communities and cultures forming a state organizational system that enabled the exchange of social, political and economic values for imperial policy. Several roadside structures provide lasting evidence of valuable resources and goods traded along the network, such as precious metals, muyu (spondylus shell), foodstuffs, military supplies, feathers, wood, coca and textiles transported from the areas where they were collected, produced or manufactured, to Inca centres of various types and to the capital itself. Several communities, who remain custodians of components of this vast Inca communication network, are living reminders of the exchange of cultural values and language.

Criterion (iii): The Qhapaq Ñan is an exceptional and unique testimony to the Inca civilization based on the values and principles of reciprocity, redistribution and duality constructed in a singular system of organization called Tawantinsuyu. The road network was the life giving support to the Inca Empire integrated into the Andean landscape. As a testimony to the Inca Empire, it illustrates thousands of years of cultural evolution and was an omnipresent symbol of the Empire’s strength and extension throughout the Andes. This testimony influences the communities along the Qhapaq Ñan until today, in particular with relation to the social fabric of local communities and the cultural philosophies that give meaning to relationships among people and between people and the land. Most importantly, life is still defined by links among close kin and an ethic of mutual support.

Criterion (iv): The Qhapaq Ñan, Andean Road System is an outstanding example of a type of technological ensemble which despite the most difficult geographical conditions created a continuous and functioning communication and trade system with exceptional technological and engineering skills in rural and remote settings. Several elements illustrate characteristic typologies in terms of walls, roads, steps, roadside ditches, sewage pipes, drains, etc., with construction methods unique to the Qhapaq Ñan while varying according to location and regional context. Many of these elements were standardized by the Inca State, which allowed for the control of equal conditions along the road network.

Criterion (vi): The Qhapaq Ñan played an essential role in the organization of space and society in a wide geographical area along the Andes, where the roads were used as a means to share cultural values with outstanding intangible significance. The Qhapaq Ñan continues today to provide communities with a sense of identity and to enable their cultural practices, cultural expressions and traditional skills to continue to be transmitted from generation to generation. Members of these communities base their own existence on an Andean cosmovision, which is unique in the World. This cosmovision applies to all aspects of everyday life. Today, Qhapaq Ñan is directly associated with the intangible values shared by the communities in the Andean World, such as traditional trade, ritual practices, and the use of ancient technology, among others, which are living traditions and beliefs essential to the cultural identity of the communities concerned. The Andean Road System continues to serve its original functions of integration, communication, exchange and flow of goods and knowledge, and - despite the current modern trade and social changes - keeps its pertinence and importance throughout the centuries and its role as a cultural reference which contributes to reinforcing the identity within the Andean world.


The series of sites inscribed as the best representation of the Qhapaq Ñan is exhaustive and illustrates the variety of typological, functional and communicative elements, which allow for a full understanding of its historic and contemporary role. The number of segments is adequate to communicate the key features of the heritage route, despite the fact that these are fragmented in individual site components, which represent the best preserved segments of the previously continuous road network.

For a number of site components the condition of integrity remains vulnerable and it is recommended that the States Parties develop criteria to define minimum intactness in relation to the different technological and architectural categories identified and the different geographical regions and levels of remoteness. According to these criteria, the condition of integrity should be monitored in the future to ensure that intactness can be guaranteed in the long term and that the site components remain free from threats which may reduce the condition of integrity.

To ensure that the distinct relations between different sites in terms of continuity despite their fragmentation can be well understood by future visitors, it is recommended that appropriate maps or a GIS system be developed which illustrates the functional and social relations between the different site components and highlights their role in the overall Qhapaq Ñan network.


The authenticity of the Qhapaq Ñan component sites is very high in that the characteristic features retain their form and design and the variety of specific well-preserved types of architectural and engineering achievements facilitate communication of the overall form and design of the network. The materials used are mainly stone and earth, with stone type varying from region to region, and repair and maintenance measures where necessary are undertaken in traditional techniques and material. These are predominantly driven by the local populations, who remain knowledgeable in traditional road management techniques and who are the key partners in maintaining the roadbed and associated features.

At sites which have been of specific archaeological or cultural interest professional stabilization and restoration techniques have been applied and implemented with great respect to the original materials and substance. On the road sections, local management systems govern decision-making processes, often with a large degree of community involvement and these have retained highest degrees of authenticity as reuse of the historic materials remains more efficient than the introduction of new materials.

The setting and visual surroundings of most of Qhapaq Ñan’s components is very good and in many cases pristine. For several summit ceremonial sites, settings include horizon ranges of 360 degrees for many kilometres in all directions. The Qhapaq Ñan also passes through very beautiful landscapes, the beauty of which depends on fragile view sheds associated which need to be monitored to ensure that any modern developments in the landscape have as minimal visual impact as possible.

Several sites are difficult to access and their remoteness has over centuries preserved them in a very good condition. A majority of Qhapaq Ñan components is located in rural settings which fortunately left them free of noticeable modern intrusions. Associated intangible values and management practices remain very strong, especially in the most remote sections of the road network and contribute to the safeguarding of authentic management mechanisms. The information sources of spirit and feeling as well as atmosphere are very relevant as many of the communities have strong associations to the Qhapaq Ñan and continue to remain guardians of some of the ceremonial structures.

Protection and management requirements

As a transnational serial property the Qhapaq Ñan covers the jurisdiction of six countries at national and local levels, including, in one instance, regulations of seven regional authorities. A number of international joint declarations and Statements of Commitment have been signed by the participating States Parties between 2010 and 2012 which highlight their agreement to protect the segments of the Qhapaq Ñan at the highest possible level. The protection put in place in light of these agreements follow the respective national heritage legislations and provide protection at the highest national level to all property components.

The States Parties have designed two overarching management frameworks, one for the candidature phase of the nomination and a second that will become operational once the inscription is achieved. The preparation phase was guided by a Paris-based international Coordination Committee while the overarching management framework following World Heritage inscription is guided by regional networks among the participating States Parties. The State Party of Peru committed to support the establishment of a technical coordination secretariat where information will be gathered and communicated to the experts in all Qhapaq Ñan states and where frequent meetings among the technical experts will be organized.

Within the national contexts management systems have been developed in cooperation with the local communities and include concerns of perpetuation of the living traditions associated with the Qhapaq Ñan. The majority of these are traditional management systems which have been in existence for centuries and have developed from the local community levels to more formalized agreements with the concerned governmental authorities. The importance of preserving the actual road trace in areas that are being cultivated by the communities should be highlighted as part of the management agreements.

Several local communities explicitly expressed their interest in tourism activities which they intend to be managed and driven at the community level. Limited presentation and interpretation facilities are at present available along the Qhapaq Ñan and local communities sharing their experiences and stories with visitors are a key basis of interpretation.

Some territories of the Qhapaq Ñan, Andean Road System are seismically active areas and especially the architectural structures seem to be endangered by earthquakes. Adequate risk protection schemes need to be developed to ensure safety of humans as well as cultural resources in the event of natural disasters.

An overall policy framework for the Qhapaq Ñan was created with the Management Strategy document undersigned at high level by the six States Parties on 29 November 2012. In addition to this multinational agreement management plans are intended to be developed at a regional level for each individual section of the road network. The management strategy framework illustrates the initial implementation of key management aspects, in particular the social and participation strategies intended to enable local communities to develop owner- and guardianship of the Qhapaq Ñan and its serial components. Further management and conservation plan components remain under development and should integrate adequate risk preparedness and disaster management as well as visitor management strategies.