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Salt Mines of Maras

Date de soumission : 05/08/2019
Critères: (iii)(v)
Catégorie : Culturel
Soumis par :
Ministry of Culture
État, province ou région :
Cusco Region, Urubamba Province, Maras District
Coordonnées S13 18 01 W72 09 20
Ref.: 6412

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The Salt Mines of Maras are located 50 km in the northeast of Cusco city, at an altitude of 3,200 m.a.s.l. Geographically, they are located in the lower part of the sub-basin and left bank of the Salineras stream, towards its mouth in the river Vilcanota, in the jurisdiction of the peasant communities of Maras and Pichingoto, between the gorge of the Qaqahuiñay, Cruz Mocco, Llully Mocco and Chupayoq hills. It has three access roads: from the town of San Francisco de Maras, through the bridle path or “runañan” to the salt mines, the road affirmed from the town of San Francisco de Maras, and crossing the Inca bridge of Tarabamba by the Pichingoto community.

The salt mines themselves are constituted by a set of approximately 4,500 salt wells placed in the form of stepped terraces in the middle slope of the hill Qaqawiñay, which has slopes of 20 degrees of inclination to the bottom of the gorge on the left bank of the Salineras stream, with dimensions that vary around 5 linear meters, occupying a total area of approximately 1.5 to 2 hectares (Silva Guerra, 2006:11).

The terraces are formed by retaining walls of irregular stone seated with mud mortar, forming dikes that delimit the wells as small reservoirs of approximately 5m2. The conduction system of the saltwater from its catchment, is done through a main irrigation channel, which branches out into several small channels that feed the wells. The conduction and maintenance of the saltwater channel is associated with a path that is assumed to be of prehispanic origin due to its layout and characteristics. This technology is similar to that of irrigation in prehispanic agricultural terraces characterized by the conduction and equitable distribution of water. The upper part of the salt mines crosses a road, from the prehispanic time, in the direction of the K'arachaka (Half Moon) bridge. From this road, there are several branches for the circulation between the wells. The set of wells and canals is in perfect continuous operation from the pre-Inca period to the present (Silva, 2007:18).

It is notorious the very particular effect and its great landscape value that the set of stepped wells produces, being perceived as the total of numerous white, creams or browns squares, arranged with particular order. They followed the topography of a slope of the Qaqawiñay hill, most of them looks flooded with water and other dry with salt on its surface, where the particular configuration of the set and the chromatic contrast with the natural environment provided with low shrub vegetation stand out.

The salt production takes place once a month and is marked by the calendar of the seasons of the year. Thus, in the dry season (from May to October) the accumulation of salt is fast, there is greater production, and a better quality of salt is obtained with a "white or pink color that characterizes commercially this salt". However, in the rainy season (from November to April) the production is turns out difficult and the color of the salt shows a brown color in several tonalities.

The traditional production process is strictly communal without any external involvement and consists of filling the wells, previously cleaned, with saltwater from a Salineras spring-stream led by a system of canals, up to a height of 5 centimeters then let evaporate for 3 days, repeating this process for a month, mainly during the dry season, period in which it reaches a solid volume of crystallized salt of 7 to 10 centimeters equivalent to 3 or 4 inches in height. The salt extraction is done in layers, obtaining different commercial qualities: the first is known as kitchen salt that is intended for domestic use as well as the second, of lower quality, called bulk salt; while the third is called industrial salt, this serves exclusively for the agriculture, the livestock and the industrial use. The extraction or "harvesting" process includes the salt fragmentation, by using the force of the feet and then proceed to scrape each layer with a small wooden or a small pick and then sift with a strainer and stack the obtained on one side. Once completely dry the salt, this is collected in a basket or container to be then transferred to the warehouse of the communal company Marasal, which is in charge of the classification and commercialization. The profits from the sales are distributed among the owners according to the number of wells they own. Each well produces between 150 and 200 kilos of salt on average per month.

In the salt extraction and elaboration process predominate the traditional social relationships of communitarian type, keeping till the present its traditional way. The salt production system is inherited from parents to children, as it is testified at the present by many elder community people that have worked their wells since they were children as their parents, grandparents and ancestors did. The community people from Maras and Pichingoto, establish agreements of production with those community people who do not own salt wells or with those who have few units; so in this way the owners give their salt wells to those who do not have one, this occurs in order to show cooperation and reciprocity (ayni), so according to the result of the production, the proportion is distributed of 5 to 1in favor of the owner (Silva Guerra, 2006:47-48). It is important to mention that in the colonial times, the access to the salt resource was in charge of  Maras, Oyola, Mollacas ayllus (extensive family community) linked to the town of San Francisco Asís de Maras, and the Cachic and Pichingoto ayllus linked to the nearby town of San Pedro de Urubamba, currently being in charge of the Maras and Pichingoto communities.

The archeological evidence around the salt mines are proves of the salt exploitation given since the pre-Incas time; however, the existing prehispanic structures associated belong to the Late Intermediate Period onwards, standing out two storage centers in the vicinity of the exploitation area: the first storage center, called Kachiraqay or Collanaguasi, is located on the right bank of the Salineras stream at the top of the salt mines, at 150 meters approximately from it. It is constituted by a set of facilities of rectangular areas with 16 meters long, 6 meters wide and 3 meters high on average, all of which have two access spans and are built with limestone joined with clay mortar. The facilities are arranged around a central yard, with a shape similar to a barrel, these served as salt deposits and rest spaces for the Cachicamayoq and mitayoq. In the early Viceroyalty Period, this space was under the control of the descendants of Tupac Inca Yupanqui and Huayna Capac, who through the Yanaconas, controlled and worked the salt. According to the distribution of lands (1595), this space was under control of the ayllu Maras. In recent times, a contemporary building has been built in the vicinities destined to be used as a salt warehouse, which gives an idea of the continuity, the occupation and the function of the place. The second storage center, called Waqchakachipampa, is located in the lower part of the salt mines towards the mouth of the Salineras stream in the Vilcanota river, at 800 meters from it. This is formed by a group of facilities of rectangular areas and semicircular facilities built on a rocky outcrop, that in the 16th and 17th centuries were under control of the ayllus Pichingoto and Cachic, reduced in the town of San Pedro de Urubamba.

Also, there are many funerary contexts of Inca filiation destined to the burial of the ancestors of the current community people, where there are several groups of graves built on cliffs, in rocky shelters like small crypts attached to the rocks, with small rectangular-shaped central doors that could be appreciated in the vicinities of the salt mines.

A prehispanic path network of salt distribution starts from the salt mines towards all the Cusco region. The road of the South in direction to the city of Cusco, was the route of salt exchange with agricultural products. The oral tradition and archaeological exploration indicate that the product exchange fairs were developed in the nearby towns of Qorontapampa and Tiobamba, being Tiobamba during the viceroyalty and republican periods, one of the most important regional fairs for the salt exchange and distribution that took place every August 15.

Historical Overview

According to the archaeological characteristics, its filiation dates back to the Early Horizon period, having been reused during all prehispanic times and with more intensity in the Inca, Colonial, Republican and Contemporary periods.

The archaeological researches carried out in the Pakallamoqo sector have recorded the ceramic style of “Chanapata ceramic”, which takes place in the Early Intermediate Period (200 B.C. to 700 A.D.). Moreover, in the archaeological prospection in the Maras area, 15 archaeological sites have been registered to the South of the Archaeological Zone of Salineras - Maras, that present fragments of ceramics of Chanapata (700 B.C.), Killke (1000 A.D.) and Inca style; these findings were confirmed by the archaeological research in the Archaeological Site of "Cueva Moqo", which is located in the vicinities of the salt mines. On the other hand, in 1984 in the Archaeological Zone of Salineras - Maras, within the framework of the project "Catastro of the Vilcanota Valley", in the Kachiraqay Archaeological Site, the groups of Inca graves have been identified and registered. (Silva, 2007: 13)

In the 16th century, Don Felipe Topa Yupangui, descendant of Túpac Inca Yupanqui, points out that he has two salt mines areas in Maras that benefit two yanaconas. These salt mines are adjacent to the salt mines of Don Alonso Titu Atauchi, on the top it is adjacent to the salt mines of Maras Ayllu, it is also adjacent to the salt mines of the main “curaca” (chief of an ayllu) of Maras town Don Pedro Cusi Paucar, as well as with the salt mines of Doña Francisca Asarpay. Furthermore, Don Alonso Titu Atauchi, also points out, to have in the salt mines of Maras two areas of salt mines and lands to sow corn and wheat, named Ayranqui, that is adjacent to the salt mines of Don Felipe Tupa Yupanqui, also with the salt mines of Sancho Cusi Paucar, as well as with the salt mines of the Maras1 ayllu. (Rostworowski, 1993: 141-144). Don Felipe Tupac Yupanqui, Don Alonso Titu Atauchi and doña Juana Marca Chimbo, descendants of Túpac Inca Yupanqui and Inca Huayna Capac, were in possession of the salt mines of Maras, in quantity of two areas of salt mines, which were benefited by their respective yanaconas.

The Royal Decree of November 1st of 1591, which disposes the Realization of the First Visit and Composition of Lands, this provision was executed by Viceroy Don García Hurtado de Mendoza, so he appointed commissions to carry out this. Licentiate Don Alonso Maldonado de Torres, “Oidor” (judge) of the Real Audience of the City of the Kings, was named as Visitor of Cusco, he arrived at this city in 1593, and who also named visitors for each village; in the case of the town of San Francisco de Maras, Juan Salas y Valdés who was neighbor of Cusco city, was named as Visitor and ordered to gather all the “caciques” (chiefs) and principals to manifest the lands that each ayllu had, as well as those lands possessed by inheritance of their parents, grandparents and also declare those lands dedicated to “the Ynga, the Sun, the Guacas, mamaconas and moyas that they had in time of the Ynga".

In the 16th and 17th centuries, the descendants of the Incas still controlled the lands and salt mines of Maras. Thus we have Doña Juana Mamaguaco, who was a “Ñusta” (Queen or Princess of the Inca Empire) from the San Cristóbal Parish of Cusco city, she was the granddaughter of "Gran Topa Ynga Yupangui", daughter of Doña Catalina de Rojas Ñusta, who was also granddaughter of the Inca "Huayna Capac". Doña Juana, declares that she has "two areas of salt mines" in Maras town, that were next to the salt mines of Don Pedro Cusi Paucar, principal of Maras town. Also, she declares having a piece of land in the valley of Maras which she had bought from the Ore family, descendant of the first “encomendero” (messenger) of Maras (2). In 1689, the priest of secular clergy D. Diego Enríquez de Monrroy, informs the bishop of Cusco, that there are some salt mines in Maras town proceeding from a spring that with artifice is scattered all over the hillside of a crag, that gives supply to the towns of Marquesado and part of the city of Cusco (Villanueva, 1983: 270) 

The caciques of Villa de San Francisco de Maras of 1770 stand out in the ayllus management and conduction of Maras town.  They indicate that the ayllus: Loyola, Maras and Mollacas, have rights to 7 sources of salt mines (3), so each of them has the value of 12 Pesos, that in total make 84 Pesos, which are distributed to assume the obligations of the church service, the “corregidor” (mayor appointed by the king) and of the caciques of the ayllus. On the other hand, it is worth mentioning that the religious "were owners of half a hundred wells, these people accumulated private donations on behalf of their patron saints, profiting mostly from the church”. (Beltran Costa, 1988:118) 

In the 19th century, the ayllus that had a right over the salt mines lost their control, giving way to the emergence of private owners. The salt mines area and source are subdivided and divided through donations, inheritances and wills from parents to children. The individualization of access to the salt mines wells provoked disputes among the heirs who ended up reducing the right and control of the ayllus and community salt mines. However, the salt extraction work continued to be carried out by the community members who keep using the traditional cultivation methods, recovering the salt wells with over the years through inheritances. 

In 1969, Legislative Decree No. 17387 was enacted, whereby the State assumed the salt extraction, refining, treatment and commercialization throughout the country and created the Empresa Pública de la Sal (EMSAL) that was in charge of all this process. Another legal instrument of 1971 was the Legislative Decree No. 18350 (Industry Law) whose article No. 7 reserved for EMSAL the exclusive exploitation of salt, considering the processing of sodium chloride as a basic industry of first priority.

In 1977, the report "Reconocimiento de la Comunidad Campesina de Maras del Distrito de Maras” (“Recognition of the Maras Peasant Community of Maras District") who are heirs of "Maras Ayllu" and have natural resources such as lands, water and mines, note that within this last resource, they have "a place called ‘Salineras’ (salt mines), whose exploitation is in charge of the community people(4)". Subsequently, in the decade of 1980, people from Maras took possession of the salt mines, becoming the Marasal S.A. company, property of the communities of Maras and Pichingoto, which is responsible of the salt administration and commercialization for the internal market of the country and worldwide, constituted in one of the main resources of the district, since around 400 families own the salt wells, especially those from Pichingoto and Maras sectors.
(2) ARC. Flores Bastidas, Juan. Prot. 102, 1662, f. 7. "Testamento de Doña Juana Mamaguaco Ñusta natural de la parroquia de San Cristóbal de la ciudad del Cuzco".
(3) The written and oral tradition emphasizes the existence of seven sources of salt and over time, many wells have appeared of little and coarse cultivation, which has created many legal conflicts between the Maras and Pichingoto ayllus of Urubamba, including among the families of these ayllus.
(4) AMA. 1977. Expediente de Reconocimiento de la Comunidad Maras: Copias de actas, padrón general y Plano Catastral. RA. 125-77. Pg. 56

Justification de la Valeur Universelle Exceptionnelle

Salt is an indispensable natural resource for human life that has been exploited by primitive human groups and civilizations around the world since ancient times for consumption and to conserve food, creating trade routes, influencing economies, encouraging the creation and development of towns and cities and even generating wars. Many of the old salt deposits and exploitations are still in production today, some of them conserve their original formal characteristics and, to a lesser extent, the traditional tillage techniques associated with the salt extraction and processing, as their production has been massively industrialized since the 19th century.

The Salt Mines of Maras are one of the largest salt extraction centers of prehispanic origin in the region of Cusco and of the current territory of Peru. It constitutes a notable example of the use and adaptation to the geographical environment of the extractive activity of a natural salt mine resource in the Andes, where the topography of the place and nature of the resource (spring) have conditioned the salt exploitation form with unique characteristics at regional level constituted by means of evaporation wells in the open air, arranged in gradient form in the middle slope of the Qaqawiñay hill up to the bottom of a gorge, in order to facilitate the distribution by gravity of the saline water through a system of canals.  

These characteristics have also generated a landscape of exceptional beauty in which the visual mosaic of thousands of salt wells stands out, whose surfaces, generally flooded with water, and retaining walls present various color shades of white, cream and brown. They contrast with the harshness of the natural environment formed by a narrow gorge of vertical walls and slopes with low shrub vegetation, located at a short distance (1.5 km approximately) from the profuse and beautiful valley of Urubamba, of great historical importance for the outstanding archaeological evidences of the Inca culture, of great archaeological importance for the outstanding archaeological evidence of the Inca culture.

The salt exploitation in Maras is uninterrupted from the Early Horizon Period (1000 B.C. - 200 B.C.) until the present day, being in charge of the Maras, Oyola, Mollacas, Cachic and Pichingoto ayllus in the Inca and Viceroyalty times. However, it is currently in charge of the peasant communities of Maras and Pichingoto, that through the ancestral Inca tradition of the "ayni" based on the cooperation and reciprocity or mutual aid principle maintained the traditional technology in the salt production and distribution. Both the ownership of the wells and the tillage knowledge and traditions are transmitted from parents to children from generation to generation, thus preserving the identity of the population and respect for their traditions.

Criterion (iii): The Salt Mines of Maras are the material manifestation of a set of traditional knowledge and techniques application developed and transmitted from generation to generation by the ancestors of the current inhabitants of the peasant communities of Maras and Pichingoto, related to the salt processing and extraction as an essential resource for human life and the economic and cultural assets of the involved population.

The salt extraction in Maras dates back to the prehispanic period, where human groups of successive cultures through time, identified the natural resource from a salt spring and exploited it by developing a specific infrastructure and water management techniques for its processing and subsequent collection of salt in solid state for human consumption and agriculture, which until late in the 20th century, was exchanged for other products in annual fairs developed in the vicinities of the town of San Francisco de Asis de Maras.

At present, the same ayllus or family groups of Inca origin that conform the current rural communities of Maras and Pichingoto keep the exclusive ownership of the salt mines, as well as the infrastructure, knowledge and traditional techniques inherited from their ancestors, which are used in the family and community tillage evaporation wells through the "ayni" tradition also known as “reciprocity”, and then transmitted to their descendants to ensure their continuity and as a reference of identity. All this process of exploitation and communal production of a natural resource constitutes a living and exceptional testimony of the traditional salt exploitation in the Andes.

Criterion (v): The geography of the place and the nature of the hydric resource have conditioned the form of salt exploitation through the time in the locality of Maras, region of Cusco, adapting it to the topography of the land through the construction of evaporation wells to way of agricultural terraces built in gradient form in the slope of a hill, conditioned by retaining stone walls and divided by internal walls forming small reservoirs whose surfaces are fed by a main canalization and minor distribution channels of the saline water. This constructive technology belongs to the prehispanic period and was improving over the time, in addition to expanding the number of wells and size of the set, during the 15th to 19th centuries of the Inca period and the viceroyalty, where acquires the physiognomy and current extension, being in continuous use uninterrupted until today by the peasant communities of Maras and Pichingoto, thus maintaining the organization and production techniques in a sequential way and reciprocal exchange.

The set of wells located on the slope of the hill presents a particular image and notable landscape impact, as a result of the harmonious interaction between man and the natural environment, organically adapting the productive infrastructure that preserves its spatial and material structure to an exceptionally high degree.

Déclarations d’authenticité et/ou d’intégrité


The authenticity of the Salt Mines of Maras is confirmed by research, prospecting, exploration, registration and identification of archaeological evidence showing cultural affiliation from the Early Horizon, Early Intermediate, Middle Horizon, Late Intermediate, Late Horizon (Inca period), as well as the viceroyalty, republican and contemporary periods. The system of terrace production and water distribution, as well as the associated archaeological structures maintain their original location and composition characteristics without modifications that alter the values and attributes as a whole. The natural environment has not been modified either, preserving its attributes and landscape value intact. It should be pointed out that since the property is in use, it is subject to possible minor changes in the number, shape and dimensions of the wells due to the effect of the productive and natural processes.

Similarly, the traditional continuous use, the organization and the methods of salt exploitation are maintained by the ancestral heirs of the ayllus, today Maras and Pichingoto peasant communities, which are transmitted from parents to children from generation to generation.


The Salt Mines of Maras, through the historical process until today, have preserved all their attributes, both material and immaterial, being in constant use by the same human groups that have not varied the characteristic conformation of the salt mines nor the exploitation methods, in spite of the periods of private and state property, during which the exploitation continued in charge of the community people from Maras and Pichingoto with the traditional ancestral tillage methods. Moreover, the natural environment surrounding the property maintains its geological characteristics and vegetation intact, without any evidence of anthropogenic alteration. The salt mines set and their surroundings have not suffered in the past nor in the present, the adverse effects or any influence of modern development and tourism.

The integrity of the property is protected by the Peruvian State due to its declaration as Cultural Heritage of the Nation by means of National Directorial Resolution No. 604/INC dated on November 27th of 1998, and to the delimitation of the same proposed on the basis of the Cadastre, registry and archaeological identification carried out, having as general objective the protection of the space occupied by the "Monumental Archaeological Zone of Salineras - Maras" and its surrounding landscape with an extension of 174.34 ha. (1'743,451.64m²), guaranteeing the conservation of its intangibility, authenticity and originality, aiming at the initiation of actions of protection, investigation, conservation, valorization and recovery of its heritage value" (Silva, 207:3). Similarly, the knowledge and traditions of the inhabitants dedicated to the salt extraction are recognized as Cultural Heritage of the Nation in the classification of "Practices and productive technologies", by means of National Directorial Resolution No. 719/INC dated on June 5th of 2008, protecting in this way the traditional knowledge and techniques related to the salt extraction developed in Maras district, Urubamba province, Cusco region, as testimony of a living cultural manifestation that has remained in force until today. 

Comparaison avec d’autres biens similaires

The salt is a product of great need for man, so its exploitation was made since prehistoric times. Many civilizations in the world knew its importance and exploited for centuries the sources of salt, so it reached to have much commercial value for its use as a condiment in meals and for the preservation of food prolonging its lifetime. The Andean cultures were no strangers to this, which is why they developed their own capturing, processing and extracting techniques to obtain salt, which usually came from saline springs. This is the case of the Muisca people and their ancestors in Colombia, who collected salt water from springs in large clay pots and boiled the contents in wood-fired ovens; once the water evaporated, the salt decanted in the pot that would be later broken to store or transport the solid block of salt obtained.

The Salt Mines of Maras do not stand out for producing large amounts of salt in comparison to many other places in the world, but it differs markedly from the properties inscribed on the World Heritage List and Tentative Lists, for:

  • Its classification, since it is part of a not very widespread exploitation type in the world, of which very few cases are known, none of which is inscribed on the World Heritage List, constituting also an under-represented category at regional and world level.

The Wieliczka Salt Mine (Poland) and the Hallstatt-Dachstein/Salzkammergut Cultural Landscape (Austria) inscribed on the World Heritage List, and the Cultural Landscape of the Salt Towns (Colombia) inscribed on the Tentative List of the aforementioned State Party, are large-scale underground mines that have become industrialized over time. Only the Valle Salado de Añana (Spain) inscribed on the Tentative List of the aforementioned State Party is open pit mining, a condition similar to that of the Salt Mines of Maras.

  • The formal characteristics of the exploitation system, constituted by a series of small wells arranged in a gradient following the topography of the hill slope along a stream, and fed with saline water through a network of canals.

The Valle Salado de Añana (Spain) presents a configuration based on artificial terraces with wood and stone structures, constituting the most similar case to the Salt Mines of Maras. However, the construction techniques and materials, the distribution of the wells or terraces, their location and extension, among other factors, are important differences.

  • To conserve the community management and the traditional and ancestral production technique in the hands of community members who are descendants of the original inhabitants, and whose knowledge and traditions for the salt extraction are transmitted from parents to children from generation to generation, reinforcing their identity and interrelation through the system of reciprocity also called "ayni" within the communities.

Although the underground mines of Wieliczka (Poland), Hallstatt-Dachstein/Salzkammergut (Austria) and the Salt Towns (Colombia) have ancient origins, they lost their traditional exploitation methods with industrialization in the 19th and 20th centuries. Only the Valle Salado de Añana (Spain) inscribed on the Tentative List of the aforementioned State party maintains traditional practices in the hands of the people who work them. 

  • The scenic beauty of the historical site as a result of the geographical environment transformation by human action for the creation of the wells system, preserving the natural environment unalterable.

Due to the differences between the salt exploitation methods, the locations, the geographical, natural and climatic characteristics, as well as the cultural and historical differences, it can be noted that the landscapes around the production centers are different, presenting all the cases proper characteristics that give them singular values independently.