Ernesto describes the decline of Cuzco as a powerful city: after the Spanish conquest, Cuzco became “just another point on its periphery,” and Europeans extracted its riches to “feed the opulence of another imperial court,” that of Spain. The Indians who cultivated the land were vanquished, yet the conquistadors had no intention of farming, so the city no longer produced the resources it needed to prosper. While cities like Lima transformed completely during the colonial period, Cuzco remains as a “relic” of the pre-colonial era and the moment of conquest.
Because it’s in many ways stuck in the past, Cuzco helps Ernesto explore a historical moment that will become important to his political philosophy. During the era of the conquistadors, control of South America transferred from its indigenous population to foreign invaders. Understanding how this power shift happened will help Ernesto understand how it might be reversed.
Ernesto describes the lavish interior of the cathedral as resembling “an old woman with too much makeup.” The only parts he approves of are the choir stalls, carved from wood by Indian craftsman and combining Catholic legends with indigenous artistry. Similarly, he notes that the carving on one particular pulpit “expresses the fusion of two hostile” peoples.
Ernesto is generally unmoved by European art, always preferring pieces that have at least a touch of native influence. This shows his personal identification with indigenous culture and his sense of that culture as being more beautiful.
Finally, Ernesto visits the Church of Belén, which was damaged in a recent earthquake, and whose bell towers lie “like dismembered animals” on the hill beside it.
Since architecture represents political power, Ernesto’s description of a church in ruins hints that the upper-class European regime will not last forever. Just as conquistadors reduced Incan civilization to ruins, modern revolutionaries can destroy the current order.