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Andenes are terraces dug into the slopes of mountains for agricultural purposes. They were constructed and much used in the Andes mountain range to provide cultivable hillsides. The majority of these terraces were constructed and used by the pre-Hispanic cultures, and many can still be observed throughout the region.
The rivers that flow through the Andean mountain range form narrow valleys in the regions above altitudes of 500 meters. Unlike the topography of the Peruvian coast where irrigation by canals allows cultivation of the desert plains, the very narrow and deep valleys in the mountainous zones prohibit large scale agriculture. The ancient Andeans, who needed farmland in addition to that provided by their narrow valleys, attempted to gain more arable land at the cost of the mountains and created the first andenes.
The scale of the andenes does not seem to have been very important until approximately the sixth century, when the Wari, or Huari, government began a mass construction of Andenes in the region of Ayacucho, which involved a large inversion of the labor force. At this time the Wari acquired geopolitical importance and began their expansion into the Central Andes in what is considered the first Andean empire (500–900 AD).
In the successive centuries they refined the technique of construction of the Andenes, incorporating layers of different materials into the filling, in order to better control drainage compared to the same rainfall. In the fifteenth century the Incas brought the architecture of the Andenes to their utmost splendor, investing considerable resources not only in the filling but also in the quality of the stone walls.
In the Incan period the Andenes were used to other ends, specifically to control the erosion of the mountains where they constructed their ceremonial centers. For example, a good part of Andean construction in the extreme west of Machu Picchu appears to be structural.
After the Spanish conquest, the andenes continued in use. They have been maintained to this day, and still account for a significant amount of cultivation.
The Andenes possess an appeal beyond the historical and their original economic motivations: they are also landscape resources whose situation in the Andes Mountains has notable aesthetic value. Many of them follow the natural curve of the slopes in such a way that preserves the visual harmony of the environment. The idea of hanging gardens in the mountains can fit well with the description of the Andenes.
Between the center of Peru and the north of Bolivia one finds the best conserved collection of andenes. Perhaps the most impressive Andenes zone is the Colca Canyon (Valle de Colca), whose terraces were constructed by the Collaguas beginning in the 11th century. Those on the islands in Lake Titicaca (constructed by the Aymara) are visually stunning, as are those in the so-called Sacred Valley of the Incas (Valle Sagrado de los Incas) in Cusco, those constructed by the Incas in Moray (Inca ruin) in a collection of concentric circles, as well as the enormous terraces at Pisaq and Ollantaytambo. A good part of these Andenes are used to this day, which illustrates the quality of their design.
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