But these are changing times for the ancient Inti Raymi Festival, one of the most important Incan religious ceremonies: nearby, a drone flies overhead, recording the staging.
For today’s South American civilizations, June 24 marked the southern hemisphere’s winter solstice. But for the country’s indigenous population it commemorated the beginning of the sun’s journey back to “Pachamama” – the word for “Mother Earth” in Quechua, a language spoken by some 3.2 million Peruvians.
Approximately 80,000 people crowded in and near Cuzco, a southeastern Peruvian city, for the celebration, many clad in vividly coloured costumes.
The theatrical representation at the ancient Incan ruins Saksaywaman drew some 3,500 audience members, as locals and tourists alike observed the re-enactment of ancient rites and sacrifices meant to ensure a good harvest.
Actors portraying the Incan emperor and his wife went from Coricancha to Cuzco’s main square, where ancient ruins of the Incan city stand along Baroque churches and palaces built by Spanish conquistadors.
“I feel happy and proud, like every Cuzco resident, to participate,” said Alexander Carbajal, who took part for the second year and portrayed a soldier of the imperial guard of the Inca in the staging.
During the ceremony Cuzco was gridlocked: the day before the main party, some 250 delegations paraded through, music ringing out and dancers twirling.
The procession begun the morning of June 23 and lasted until dawn the next day.
“As people from Cuzco we feel proud,” said Alice Quispe Condori, who donned a colourful poncho.
During Spanish colonisation of the region the tradition was largely repressed by Catholic priests and continued only in secret from 1542 to 1824.
It was revived in 1944 and today is a source of Andean pride, particularly in Cuzco, the ancient Incan capital.
“Cuzco is a large and ancient city, and many towns of the same era are now cloaked in oblivion,” said the deputy minister of tourism, Rogers Valencia, noting the disappearance of the Mesopotamian cities of Nineveh and Babylon.
“Cuzco, with its 3,500 years, lives.”