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Rural Temples of Cusco

Date of Submission: 05/08/2019
Criteria: (ii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Ministry of Culture
State, Province or Region:
Region of Cusco, Province of Acomayo, Anta, Canchis, Paucartambo and Quispicanchi
Ref.: 6406

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


Dept Province District Templo UTM COORDINATES  (DATUM WGS84)















The Indian reductions ordered by the Viceroy Hurtado de Mendoza and then regulated and ratified by the Viceroy Toledo pursuant to the Ordinances of Discovery and Population given by Philip II of Spain in 1573, were intended to constitute new towns, in more accessible places; reducing the indigenous population that was dispersed, allowing to have available manpower, facilitate the collection of taxes, take censuses, facilitate the work of evangelization and conversion of the indigenous, as well as control and monitor the exile of pagan customs and extirpate idolatries. There the doctrines -mainly in charge of priests of the secular clergy- were established, whose main objective was the evangelization of the population following the norms given from the beginning by the Lima Council of 1551-1552 and 1584-1585, which determined the foundation and functions of the same, in the same way ruled the construction of the temples by guidelines that were not fulfilled in its entirety.

The absence of Spanish architects and sculptors in the early years of the viceroyalty brought as consequence that master builders, bricklayers, carpenters, stone-carvers and Hispanic craftsmen took care of the construction of temples, houses, retables, etc., being indigenous the main character, either in construction or the development of the project. The great skill of the Indians in the construction, and in the learning of the new labors, as well as the later participation of the mestizos in all the trades and jobs, helped to the creation of a viceregal architecture of high level between the American colonies without more assistance than their craft-level experience.

With the passage of time, towards the second half of the 17th century, the presence of indigenous labor along with the European one was consolidated; arising local expressions in architecture and fine arts, which resulted in the formation of regional schools, being Cusco in parallel with Lima, two of the most important centers producing architectural models in the viceroyalty and South America, decisively influencing the rural area and other regions of the viceroyalty.

The work of the religious orders creating the first schools of arts and crafts, introduced indigenous craftsmen in the artistic tasks, with this a fusion between styles coming from Europe and the pre-Columbian traditions began.


The first signs of viceregal architecture in America had some survival of Gothic features, although soon began to arrive the new currents that were produced in Spain, such as Mudejar, Renaissance and Mannerism. The main architectural works that were developed mainly were religious, since by real order, the first building that should be built in any new town should be a temple or chapel. 

During the second half of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th century the temples in the rural areas of Cusco raised for doctrine purposes, were characterized by their formal and constructive simplicity, developing a single-nave plant with volume of horizontal tendency that hierarchizes certain key elements; the area of the presbytery is announced with autonomy from the rest of the roof demonstrating the existence of an independent Artesonado. The façades, generally of Renaissance style in brick, are clearly incorporated into the integral volume to which they are subordinated, making the sensation of mass predominate (Gutiérrez, 1978: 100). Externally they present ample atria, initially enclosed, and open chapel or "chapels of Indians" arranged in the standing facades oriented towards the plazas or littles squares.

Nowadays a significant number of initial doctrine temples are conserved in the region of Cusco, nevertheless many of the new constructions raised after the earthquake of 1650, maintained the outline and initial aspect developed in the 16th century consisting of an elongated nave with presbytery elevated that denotes the presence of independent coffered ceilings in the main chapel, main façade (usually lateral) of Renaissance style, a single bell gable or bell tower (sometimes exempt) and collar-beam roof over the area of believers, sacristies and chapels. The doctrine churches can also present certain elements such as balconies, loggias (open chapels) on the standing façades or on the side, as well as a series of small chapels arranged in the atrium and the plaza whose fundamental reason was to allow the mass catechization of the population.


The important development of Cusco painting between the 16th and 18th centuries was one of the most original cultural phenomena that occurred in the context of the Andean area, spreading strongly to Rio de la Plata, a school of painting that -with regional characteristics- has given incredible signs of vitality since the beginning of the conquest (Gutiérrez, 1978: 111). 

From the mid-sixteenth century the works of colonial painting were of religious scenes elaborated almost exclusively by peninsular masters, mainly coming from Seville (Alonso Vázquez, Alonso López de Herrera), as well as flamenco (Simon Pereyns) and Italians masters (Mateo Pérez de Alesio, Angelino Medoro, Bernardo Bitti), several of which established workshops in Cusco, where indigenous painters learnt the trade. 

The first influences in Cusco were of the Sevillian tenebrism that derived over time in local tendencies by the indigenous influence, inspired compositionally in the flamenco prints. The Italian painter Bernardo Bitti of the Jesuit order who introduced Mannerism in South America upon his arrival in 1583, marking a first moment in Cusco painting; also highlights in that period the work of the Italian painter Angelino Medoro and his disciple Luis de Riaño, author of the murals of the temple of Andahuaylillas. Already in the 17th century, the Cusco school was consolidated, the notable indigenous painters Diego Quispe Tito and Basilio Santa Cruz Puma Callao were active and in the 18th century Marcos Zapata stood out, among others, who disseminated the painting of the Cusco school thanks to its extensive production of canvases of various formats, spreading their works in the southern area of the viceroyalty, to the current territories of Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. 

Mural Painting

Pablo Macera has rightly pointed out that mural painting constitutes one of the most singular artistic phenomena of the Peruvian viceroyalty. From Cusco, this school of mural painting covers the center in the area of Ayacucho or Aymaraes and to the south all Collao, continuing through Bolivia to the Argentinean and Chilean North (Gutiérrez, 1978: 111).

The murals, as well as other artistic expressions produced to cover the interior spaces of temples, chapels and oratories during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries in the viceroyalty of Peru, were intended to implement the new doctrine that came from the peninsula as a new crusade of Christianity over "heresy" (Kuon, 2018: 222). The execution of these pictorial works was mainly in the hands of indigenous and mestizo artists, whose cultural heritage bequeathed by their ancestors influenced their works in which the native flora and fauna are frequently represented, which were very traditional reasons in the pre-Hispanic period.

The magnificent works of mural painting by Luis de Riaño in the temple of San Pedro Apostol of Andahuaylillas made in the first third of the 17th century and the mural painting by Tadeo Escalante in the temple of San Juan Bautista de Huaro, executed around 1802; as well as anonymous works in the temples of Oropesa (16th and 17th centuries), Checacupe, Colquepata and Marcapata (17th and 18th centuries), Canincunca, Ccatcca and Ocongate (18th century) stand out.


The first signs were again in the religious terrain, in exempt carvings decorated with carnation (direct application of color) or Estofado technique (on a silver and gold background) and Renaissance and Mannerist retables usually made of wood pulp covered with plaster and gilded with gold leaf, that later in the first half of the 17th century would be elaborated only in wood, reaching during the baroque extraordinary complexity, detail and sophistication in the design and the carving. The ornamental stone carving was also developed mainly in the construction of the facades of temples and homes.

In the 17th century in the Viceroyalty of Peru, three local schools or centers in sculptural production stood out. One of the centers of importance was from Cusco which developed a type of dress image of strong popular acceptance. The construction of retables, pulpits and choirs produced the most notable works in the Baroque period, whose decorative richness and profusion of details, incorporated although limitedly, the repertoire of indigenous motifs.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The rural temples of Cusco are remarkable and very representative examples of the first doctrine temples built in the Cusco region, which illustrate both in their architecture and interior equipment, the material expressions of the evangelization process used by Spanish religious through visual resources destined to impress and instruct the natives, transmitting religious teaching, ideas, values, social principles, behavioral norms, etc. Likewise, they are outstanding testimonies of the process of evolution of local architecture and viceregal art, as a product of the transfer of technical and stylistic knowledge from Europe and the subsequent specialization of the native population in the work of masonry, stonecraft, carpentry, wood carving, smelters, etc. and of various arts. Thus, at present several temples and chapels of the region have become exceptional repositories of religious art, accumulated through more than 400 years of existence, allowing harmonious coexistence in each building varied architectural elements, as well as furniture and utilitarian, ceremonial and ornamental objects from various historical and stylistic periods.

The religious structures themselves are examples of initial early constructions of the doctrines, of simple characteristics and scale, most of which retain almost all of their original design, construction and formal characteristics at the end of the 16th century and the first third of the 17th century, such as Oropesa, Huaro, Andahuaylillas, Huarocondo, Checacupe, Canincunca and Colquepata, while others were partially or totally rebuilt after the earthquake of 1650 following the same trace and form and using the same materials, such as Ocongate, Ccatcca and Marcapata, that with the passage of time received new contributions or modifications in response to seismic movements or due to the influence of the new stylistic tendencies of each era.

Although the architectonic characteristics of the rural doctrine temples are not unique or typical of the region since in general they were common, due to the early date of its construction, to most of the territories administered by the Spanish crown so they do not present outstanding native contributions, if it is exceptional the conjunction between the building and its internal equipment composed of retables, figures in the round, pulpits, canvases, goldsmiths, etc. and mural painting destined to enrich the temples and transmit the ideals of the counter-reformation and evangelization, whose mastery in the design and execution was decidedly influenced by the nearby city of Cusco which was one of the most important centers of production and dissemination of art of the Viceroyalty of Peru, as well as one of the most notable regional schools of the continent in the 17th and 18th centuries, which greatly favored access to the production of workshops and artisans of great prestige, coupled with the commitment of parish priests and bishops to improve and enrich their temples by even personally solving the works, circumstances that were very rare in the various viceroyalties and general captaincies, to which is added the progressive loss of native rural temples in these regions, which over time were altering the initial architecture and depleting its interior furnishings and works of art, subtracting their integrity and unity.

Criterion (ii): The set of doctrine rural temples for the evangelization of the indigenous population of Cusco, constitutes a very complete and representative example of architecture and art developed in doctrines established in the territories of the new world under the dominion of the Spanish crown, from the 16th century until the beginning of the 19th century, a period in which multiple stylistic and aesthetic expressions were developed based on the currents of religious and enlightened thought of each era, which served as a means for teaching Christianity to the illiterate population and for transmitting values and concepts according to the doctrine of the church and principles of the Spanish administration.

The presence of numerous architectural and artistic testimonies related to the European stylistic periods that developed in the colonies, illustrate also the permanent transfer of models, building technologies, artisan techniques, aesthetic criteria, concepts and religious symbols of the Spaniards towards the indigenous and mestizos, who in turn made their own contributions to the Andean cosmovision, master builders, builders, artists and local artisans who contributed their knowledge and traditions to create a regional architectural and artistic school of first level in the continent and currently recognized world-wide, that produced and remitted important works (painting, sculpture, retable workshops, silversmithing, etc.), to the neighboring regions and influenced considerably in the transmission of architectural and artistic patterns, mainly of the baroque, to numerous cities and neighboring regions.

Criterion (iv): During the 16th and the first half of the 17th century, religious architecture in Peru retained the constructive and aesthetic guidelines established by the Spaniards but with certain differences resulting from the adaptation of European models to the diversity of climates and geography, availability of existing materials in each geographical area, the patterns of settlement, the frequency of earthquakes in some areas, the availability of skilled and unskilled labor, and the presence of a pre-Columbian past whose contribution is present mainly in painting on canvas and mural painting.

The rural temples of Cusco represent the integral conjunction of architecture and fine arts developed over time by the Catholic Church with the purpose of serving as a means of education and attraction for the evangelization of the local indigenous population and to ensure their incorporation into administrative and productive Spanish process. The religious complex comprises a legacy of approximately ten temples built and equipped continuously thanks to the promotion and direction of religious orders, secular parish priests and bishops the Catholic Church during the period of the Viceroyalty of Peru, since the late 16th century and throughout the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity


All the original attributes of form and design, materials and substance, construction techniques, location and landscape environment that characterize the religious architecture developed in the Cusco region and illustrate the evolutionary process through more than 400 years; as well as local and external contributions that defined their current integral characteristics are present in the set of temples.

The conservation and restoration interventions carried out by the State in the last two decades followed the principles and recommendations established in the international documents of UNESCO and ICOMOS and have allowed to maintain the authenticity of the design, materials and constructive systems of the buildings, as well as the original characteristics of the furniture, works of art and mural painting that characterize the interior treatment and sacralization of the temples. Likewise, the totality of the temples maintains its use and function as places of worship, constituting the most important urban landmarks of each town and symbols of identity of the inhabitants.

Most of the temples have important documentary records that allow knowing the construction period and general characteristics, as well as the movable property they contain, in addition to the modifications and additions made over time that are part of their evolutionary history, making it possible to recognize the general authenticity of its creation and origin of the architectural components and personal property.


The set of rural temples of Cusco preserves its typological, constructive, formal and original site characteristics that express the architectural, artistic, historical and urbanistic values, as well as the religious uses and functions in all cases, being present together all the exceptional attributes that allow its recognition and interpretation, as well as having sufficient size to adequately guarantee the representation of the Outstanding Universal Value. All the temples are in a good status of preservation and the physical integrity of both the structures and the movable property has been maintained. There are important challenges to be addressed in relation to the physical environment of the temples, particularly those related to the alteration of the respective urban environments.

All the selected temples are now part of the National Cultural Heritage, declared as Monuments by Act No. 10019 dated 11/17/1944 (Virgen Inmaculada de Checacupe), Act No. 13437 dated 09/02/1960 (San Pedro Apostol de Andahuaylillas), Supreme Resolution No. 2900 dated 12/28/1972 (San Juan Bautista de Huaro, San Salvador de Oropesa), Supreme Resolution No. 505-74-EDR dated 10/15/1974 (Capilla Virgen Purificada de Canincunca), National Director’s Resolution No. 279/INC dated 04/09/2002 (San Jerónimo de Colquepata), National Director’s Resolution No. 387/INC dated 05/26/2004 (San Francisco de Asis de Marcapata), National Director’s Resolution No 1492/INC dated 11/04/2005 (San Pablo Apostol de Ocongate), National Director’s Resolution No. 352/INC del 03/10/2006 (San Juan Bautista de Ccatcca), Vice-Ministerial Resolution No. 056-2013-VMPCIC-MC dated 09/05/2013 (San Martín Obispo de Tours de Huarocondo) and legally protected by the Peruvian State through the Act No. 28296, General Law of the Cultural Heritage of the Nation, its Regulation (Supreme Decree No. 011-2006-ED) and by the Political Constitution of Peru, in addition to other complementary norms. The protection and supervision of the temples is in charge of the Ministry of Culture through its Decentralized Directorate of Culture of Cusco, sharing responsibilities with local governments (municipalities) and the Regional Government of Cusco, pursuant to the Act No. 28296, Act No. 27972, Organic Law of Municipalities and the Act No. 27867, Organic Law of Regional Governments.

Comparison with other similar properties

Christian religious architecture constitutes one of the most represented categories on the World Heritage List, due to the high profusion, variety and quality of individual buildings, as well as sets of temples, convents, missions and estates, which are exemplified in various parts of the world the historical importance, great variety of typologies and architectural and artistic styles developed over several centuries in different geopolitical and cultural conditions.

Although it can be understood that the category is sufficiently represented worldwide, a lack of balance may be noted in the distribution by regions of the registered properties, which is not necessarily due to the absence of relevant examples or that the existing ones lack Exceptional Universal Value. Thus, of the total of religious properties registered worldwide (27 properties), only 19% (05 properties) correspond to South America, increasing to 30% (08 properties) the examples at continental level.

The work of evangelization carried out by the Spanish religious community since 1532 in the ancient viceroyalty of Peru was transcendental for the construction of temples that, despite their initial simplicity, constituted the most important buildings in cities and rural towns; both for their size, as well as for their religious and social function. Additionally, in view of the need to transmit the Catholic doctrine in a didactic way to the native population, these religious structures promoted the development of the fine arts as a visual means of religious teaching and transmission of ideas and values, the development of painting, sculpture, goldsmithing, etc., constituted a synthesis of stylistic trends while showing the cultural and religious syncretism by the contribution of the aesthetics, traditions and beliefs of the native population. This characteristic was common to all the possessions of the Spanish Crown in the New World, appearing with greater intensity in the centers of architectural and artistic production, as well as in its areas of influence; however the doctrine temples had begun to dramatically reduce their furniture and liturgical ornaments due to economic needs, natural disasters, political aspects, revolutions, robberies, fires, abandonment, etc.

Thus, the serial properties of the American Continent inscribed on the World Heritage List represent diverse architectural and artistic trends of direct transfer from European models or original local expressions, belonging, in most cases, to the baroque period, and in which, almost exclusively, stands out the architectural aspect of the temples, thus constituting the real estate that contains accessory components that are not part of the justification of the Outstanding Universal Value, being in many cases of limited transcendence and / or representativeness of the original artistic expressions of a region. By comparison, the latter is very much unlike the well-proposed serial that is based on the integral relationship between the architecture and the interior equipment of local production and remarkable artistic quality, as tangible examples of the process of the development of the doctrines and the evangelizing process in the viceroyalty of Peru.

In this sense, the assets related to the Jesuit Missions of the Guaranies - (Argentina and Brazil) and the Jesuit Missions of La Santisima Trinidad de Paraná and Jesús de Tavarangue (Paraguay), constitute valuable architectural testimonies of the missionary complexes in the central region of South America, but lack interior equipment due to their condition of archaeological sites. On the other hand, the Jesuit Missions of the Chiquitos (Bolivia), the Jesuit Block and Estancias of Córdoba (Argentina) and the Churches of Chiloe (Chile), aside from presenting remarkable architectural and constructive differences among themselves and with the rural temples of Cusco, they do not particularly stand out in the artistic values ​​of the furniture, interior ornamentation and liturgical articles that complement the building (observing that the opposite is true with rural temples of Cusco), being the architectural aspect of the first what almost exclusively sustains the Outstanding Universal Value of each case.  A similar situation is present in the serial temples inscribed in the Indicative Lists of the State Parties that represent the rural architecture of the doctrines in the Andes as the Churches of the Altiplano (Chile) and the Temples of the Catholic Doctrine (Colombia).