Caxamarca: A Brief History

The Cajamarca Valley was the epicenter of a pre-Inca culture called Caxamarca (as it was spelled pre-conquest) which reached its apex between A.D. 500 and 1000. Cajamarca was part of a small northern highlands kingdom called Cuismango, which was influenced by two great cultures, Chavín and Huari. The Incas, led by Cápac Yupanqui, conquered Caxamarca around 1465, annexing the territory and solidifying the empire's hold on the northern Andes. Cajamarca soon became an important administrative, political, and religious center and a major link in the transcontinental Andes highway; the Incas constructed great palaces and temples in the city.

Francisco Pizarro and a small band of troops, numbering around 160, reached the Cajamarca Valley in November 1532. November 16 shook the very foundations of the Inca Empire and changed Spanish-American and Peruvian history. Pizarro's men ambushed Atahualpa, the last Inca emperor, and held him prisoner. Inca troops, numbering more than 50,000 but already in the midst of civil war, offered no resistance. Atahualpa proposed a huge ransom to win his release, but the Spaniards killed him anyway, 7 months after a staged trial condemning him for attempting to arrange his rescue. The end of the Inca Empire was near, as the Spanish moved south toward Cusco. Cajamarca became a colonial city in 1802. Besides a few stone foundations, only Atahualpa's Cuarto de Rescate (Ransom Room) remains of the grand Inca masonry that once distinguished Cajamarca. But the city's post-Inca colonial roots are very much evident in Spanish-style architecture throughout Cajamarca.

Mining Gold -- and Digging Up Controversy

Cajamarca's rural roots and agriculture-based economy have been given a jolt with the discovery in the late 1980s of one of the world's largest and most productive gold mines, Yanacocha. The mine, about 48km (30 miles) north of Cajamarca, has quickly become the region's largest employer and brought an influx of foreign executives and their families, as well as controversy and conflict. Newmont Mining Corporation, with headquarters in Denver, Colorado, gained majority control of the Peruvian mine in 2000 through reported dealings with some of the Fujimori government's more unsavory officials. Since then, the firm has been engulfed in charges of contaminating local water supplies and protests over its proposed expansion to a nearby mountain, Cerro Quilish.

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