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Incan Rope Bridges

The Incans were masters of fiber. They built ships out of fiber (you can still find reed boats sailing on Lake Titicaca). They made armor out of fiber (pound for pound, it was stronger than the armor worn by the Conquistadors). Their greatest weapon, the sling, was woven from fibers, and was powerful enough to split a steel sword. They even communicated in fiber, developing a language of knotted strings known as quipos.



The incans are famous for their rope bridges. Five centuries ago, the Andes were strung with suspension bridges. By some estimates there were as many as 2000 of them, braided from nothing more than twisted mountain grass and other vegetation, with cables sometimes as thick as a human torso. Three hundred years before Europe saw its first suspension bridge, the Incas were spanning longer distances and deeper gorges than anything that the best European engineers, working with stone, were capable of.



The bridges were an integral part of the Inca road system and exemplify Inca innovation in engineering. Bridges of this type were useful since the Inca people did not use wheeled transport - traffic was limited to pedestrians and livestock like llamas - and they were frequently used by Chasqui runners delivering messages throughout the Inca Empire. Part of the bridge's strength and reliability came from the fact that each cable was replaced every year by local villagers



Over the centuries, the empire’s grass bridges gradually gave way, and were replaced with more conventional works of modern engineering. The most famous Incan bridge—the 148-footer immortalized by Thornton Wilder in The Bridge of San Luis Rey—lasted until the 19th century, but it too eventually collapsed. Today, there is just one Incan grass bridge left, the keshwa chaca, a sagging 90-foot span that stretches between two sides of a steep gorge, near Huinchiri, Peru. According to locals, it has been there for at least 500 years.

The bridge in San Luis Rey is based on the great Inca road suspension bridge across the Apurímac River, erected around 1350, still in use in 1864, and dilapidated but still hanging in 1890.



Made of grass, the last remaining Inca rope bridge, reconstructed every June, is the Q'iswa Chaka (Quechua for "rope bridge"), spanning the Apurimac River near Huinchiri, in Canas Province, Quehue District, Peru. Even though there is a modern bridge nearby, the residents of the region keep the ancient tradition and skills alive by renewing the bridge annually in June. Several family groups have each prepared a number of grass-ropes to be formed into cables at the site; others prepare mats for decking, and the reconstruction is a communal effort. The builders have indicated that effort is performed to honor their ancestors and the Pachamama (Earth Mother).



Machu Pichu had a series of bridges connecting it 4 paths in the Andes. These bridges have long since disappeared. The Incans cut them when the Spanish invaded Machu Pichu.

The character of Indiana Jones was based on a charcter Charleton Heston created for the movie Secret of the Incas. Much of the Indy mythology comes from peru. For instance, the Temple of Doom's famous rope bridge scene is inspired by Incan Rope bridges.