Sistema Vial Andino/Qhapaq Ñan

Date of Submission: 26/07/2010
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Delegacion Permanente de la Colombia ante la UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Colombia, Nariño
Ref.: 5549
Word File

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party






Initial points





Departamento de Nariño - Municipio de Tangua

Los Ajos

W 77 21 46.64

N 1 8 19.29

Departamento de Nariño - Municipio de Yacuanquer


W 77 24 26.49

N 1 6 22.85

Departamento de Nariño - Municipio de Funes

Guapuscal Bajo

W 77 25 55.02

N 1 3 7.44

Departamento de Nariño - Municipio de Funes

Rosal del Chapal

W 77 2715,576

N 0 56 45,282

Departamento de Nariño - Municipio de Funes


W 77 27 53.15

N 0 54 44.94

Departamento de Nariño - Municipio de El Contadero

La Paz

W 77 33 18.54

N 0 54 52.60

Departamento de Nariño - Municipio de Gualmatán

La Cofradia

W 77 34 4.08 W

N 0 54 48.42

Departamento de Nariño - Municipio de Potosí

San Pedro

W 77 33 16.04

N 0 49 53.05

1. General Description:

Qhapaq Ñan, the Andean road system, is a cultural itinerary that constitutes a unique physical accomplishment of the utmost importance to the history of humanity and of the continent of South America.

The construction of Qhapaq Ñan gave rise to an extraordinary road network, planned  and laid as a permanent tract through one of the world's most broken and extreme geographical terrains, where the world's greatest biological diversity, coupled with great cultural diversity, is to be found. The roads were used by armies, whole population groups that often amounted to more than 40,000 persons and a large number of llama caravans, transporting goods and raw materials.

In addition to the distance covered by that extensive road system, the sheer scale and the quality of the road, built to link the snow-capped mountain range of the Andes, at an altitude of more than 6,000 metres high, to the coast, running through hot rainforests, fertile valleys and absolute deserts, are most outstanding.

All territories were linked to the trunk road along the mountain range of the Andes.  Towns, villages and rural areas were thus integrated into a single road grid. There are outstanding examples of the road administration, architectural and engineering technology used in finding solutions to myriad problems posed by the difficult terrain and in adapting to its variable landscape by means of bridges, stairs, ditches and cobblestone paving. This all conduced, under a specific maintenance programme, to the continuity, safety and sanitation of Qhapaq Ñan. Similarly, travel was facilitated by signposts, stores and staging and supply posts (wayside inns) all along the road.

When, in the sixteenth century, the Spanish reached Tawantinsuyu, a very large political entity in the Andes, they found a territory linked together by a communication system that was nearly 6,000 km long and had some 26,000 km of feeder roads. The road network was the outcome of a political project implemented by the Cusco Incas and linking towns and centres of production and worship together under an economic, social and cultural programme in the service of the State.

The Europeans compared Qhapaq Ñan with the Roman road network, pointing out that, in their opinion, the Andean road technology was even more advanced than that used in  Europe at the time.

The central thrust of the Incas' policy, initiated in the sixth century and recorded in millennia of pre-Hispanic Andean history, was expressed to the fullest in terms of territorial spread and maximum linkages among cultures in the fifteenth century. The exceptional feature of this great engineering feat is that its legacy is still physically, functionally and symbolically relevant to Andean peoples today.

The States of Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru have now made this living heritage the focus of a transnational integration project, thus undertaking to safeguard this outstanding feature of the common cultural heritage of Andean America, a unique legacy to the world.

2. Contribution from Colombia to Outstanding Universal Value of the Serial international nomination:

The Qhapaq Ñan in Colombia represents a wide array of heritage values associated with past and present socio-cultural processes and practices. In the Nariño region of southern Colombia, the Pre-columbian Andean World reached its most northerly location, as part of Chinchay-suyu. Since about the 10th century, the Andean road system was part of the basic economic strategies for the configuration of the chiefdoms, and the territories that 16th century Spanish settlers called "provincias". At that time, the micro-vertical economy- a strategy of settlement location that guarantees access to different ecosystems and resources, all located less than a day's walk from the main settlement - made use of a profuse network of roads to efficiently link sequences of the various climate zones that characterize the rugged Andean geography. Similarly, but on a broader scale, these paths provided links for exchange and social interaction between the Andean groups in Nariño and those located south of the Guaitara River, at the foothills of the Amazon to the east and on the Pacific coast to the west. During the 17th and 19th centuries, and due to the resistance of Indigenous peoples before the colonial activities of the Spanish, some of these routes and networks continued in use or were strengthened. They supported the new scheme of economic exchange, but also linked Indigenous, Mestizo, African American and European communities, fostering a unique kind of cultural diversity still present in this region of Colombia. As a legacy of these ancient processes, the Qhapaq Ñan still embodies existing knowledge and techniques for the management of local soil, topography and resources, and acts as a transit corridor for local wildlife, including embankments and associated vegetation, encompassing an appropriate ecological niche. Moreover, today these paths still link local communities, forming a fundamental part of solidarity networks and places where people meet to conduct religious festivals and pilgrimages. Therefore, the heritage values of the Qhapaq Ñan in the geographical context of Southern Colombia have additionally a contemporary dimension as a living socio-cultural creation representative of the Andean worldview.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Criterion (i)

The outstanding aspects of this road network are the routes and building techniques used to cover one of the planet's most complex mountain systems. The construction of this network represents the synthesis of cultural development in South America. The Qhapaq Ñan Andean Road and some of the pre-Hispanic sites inscribed have been located and admired since the sixteenth century by many chroniclers, explorers and travellers who traversed this major engineering work of the pre-Inca and Inca eras.

Criterion (ii)

The features and archaeological evidence of the Andean Road network reflect a dynamic exchange of values, the use of architectural elements and political structures existing in the pre-Inca and Inca eras, such as the maintenance of strategic lines related to production and land occupancy in different altitude tiers, through the use of an agricultural system known as "vertical control".

Criterion (iii)

The Inca stood amidst this panorama, their most notable achievement perhaps being that of having discovered the specificities of each of these peoples and applying a very strict system of organization enabling the exchange of social, political and economic values among them in the pre-Inca and Inca eras.

Criterion (iv)

The road network has characteristic features in its different architectural elements, in terms of its walls, roads, steps, roadside ditches, sewage pipes, drains, etc., with construction methods that vary adapting to progression and region. To this must be added the construction of a State infrastructure with standardized architectural elements for the control, protection and management of the area and use of the products of the mountains, coast and Amazonia. The archaeological sites selected portray this magnificent infrastructure: administrative and political centres, resting places (inns), cairns, chasquiwasis (resting places for messengers), military fortresses used in wars caused by the expansion of the Inca Empire (Tawantinsuyu), silos, ushnus (ceremonial platforms), earth mounds and petroglyphs, with a diverse landscape associated with natural elements: mountains, lakes, jungles and flora and fauna showing how populations coexisted with their natural environment.

Criterion (v)

The road system reflects the interrelation of communities with their geographical and natural environment such as mountains, lakes and water. The altitude of the network ranges from 28 metres to 6.700 metres spanning plateaux, mountain ranges and valleys. The road and architectural infrastructure works maintain a relationship with the surrounding landscape such as water resources, mountains, lakes, etc. The topography of the network is very uneven. Similarly, interregional use via mountain passes determines its relationship and the exchange of products and the use of resources of the three zones (coast, mountains, Amazonia) as well as regional exchange with the other suyos (areas).

Criterion (vi)

It connects living communities which still use the Road and keep it in their memory. Through language and oral tradition, it lives on as part of their world view and it is indirectly associated with ancestral traditions and techniques passed on from generation to generation. The respect and appropriate use of the different elements of nature: hills, water, animals and plants, create a world which nourishes part of their knowledge and wisdom in their desire to establish harmony, a balance between human beings and the natural environment.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Authenticity: Due to its unique historical evolution, this cultural itinerary has retained a level of authenticity in its integral natural and societal features that are outstanding in the Andean region. Resulting from a continental scale of cultural interaction between man and environment in some of the most extreme geographies of the planet, it has preserved its spatial and physical structure to an exceptionally high degree. Today cultural traditions allow the communication system to continue being functional in terms of exchange of production, symbolic practises and the persistence of Andean cosmovision.

Integrity: The property appropriately retains all the archaeological elements linked to the evidence of formation and development of the Inca Empire and all the anthropological capital that continues today serving as an articulation mechanism that still retains the significance and function of the communication system.

Comparison with other similar properties

The Scientific Committee met in Paris in April 2006 to develop the basis of the comparative study for the nomination. The World Heritage Centre invited academic experts on the Ancient routes of communication in the Ancient Empires: international experts from Maya studies; Roman Empire main roads; the trade routes of the Tigris and Euphrates basin; the Silk route; Indus river communication trails and Greek maritime itineraries all attended the meeting reflected, with the Andean specialists, upon the categories of analysis to be fulfilled for a comprehensive comparative study. This meeting took advantage of the opening ceremony of the exhibition: From Chavin to the Incas, held at the Petit Palais in Paris.  The World Heritage Centre established a productive collaboration with the directorship of the Museum as well as with the Peruvian Authorities for the presentation of the Qhapaq Ñan project at the exhibition; a promising juncture for improving the multidisciplinary approach in Andean studies. One chapter of the Catalogue of the exhibition has been devoted to the Qhapaq Ñan project.

Protection: A Legal Affairs Committee was set up to coordinate efforts to establish an international legal framework to preserve the OUV of the cultural itinerary. A political Declaration is currently under preparation to ensure the collective commitment between the six countries. The nomination process has developed a conservation and management plan in full coherence with the international agreement.

A Scientific Committee composed of renowned scholars in anthropology, archaeology and ethno-history, as well as national experts selected by their respective countries and the World Heritage Centre was established in April 2005. The purpose of this Committee was to define the outstanding universal value of the Main Andean Road. The Scientific Committee held its first meeting in Quito, Ecuador in April 2005. The Scientific Committee believes that the Qhapaq Ñan is one of the ancient world's greatest human achievements and, to this day, it serves as a link between ancestral and contemporary heritage in Andean America.

A second meeting of the Scientific Committee (UNESCO Headquarters, Paris, 2006) sought to develop the basis of the comparative study for the nomination. Academic experts on the ancient routes of communication in the Ancient Empires: international experts on Maya studies, Roman Empire main roads, the trade routes of the Tigris and Euphrates Basin, the Silk Route, Indus River communication trails and Greek maritime itineraries, all attended the meeting and reflected, with the Andean specialists, upon the categories of analysis to be fulfilled or a comprehensive comparative study.