In Inca times, the plaza, called Huacaypata or Aucaypata, was the heart of the Inca capital. Today it’s the nerve center of the modern city. Two flags usually fly here – the red and white Peruvian flag and the rainbow-colored flag of Tahuantinsuyo, representing the four quarters of the Inca empire. (Foreigners often mistake the latter for an international gay- pride banner, to which it bears a remarkable resemblance. Bringing this up is an excellent way to make normally easygoing cuzqueños lose their cool.)
Colonial arcades surround the plaza, which in ancient times was twice as large as it is today, also encompassing the area now called the Plaza Regocijo. On the plaza’s northeast- ern side is the imposing cathedral, fronted by a large flight of stairs and flanked by the churches of Jesús María and El Triunfo. On the southeastern side is the strikingly ornate church of La Compañía de Jesús. The quiet pedestrian alleyway of Loreto, which has Inca walls, is a historic means of access to the plaza.
It’s worth visiting the plaza at least twice – by day and by night – as it takes on a strik- ingly different look after dark, all lit up and even prettier.