In 1954 the movie Secret of the Incas hit movie screens in America. It’s probably best remembered as a huge inspiration for the Indiana Jones series. There’s even one scene where beams of light are reflected through a series of mirrors to reveal a treasure — just like Raiders of the Lost Ark. But the movie itself is interesting for a number of other reasons; one of them being the early looks at Cusco and Machu Picchu on film.
Last week I was had a conversation over at the South American Explorers Club about how much Machu Picchu has been rebuilt since it appeared in Secret of the Incas, and that got me thinking about how Cusco might have changed too. I watched the film again (it’s available on Netflix) and looked for all the scenes with exterior shots of the city.
When one flashed on the screen, I captured it for later reference. Once I had ten photos, I loaded them onto my Kindle and went out on a photographic scavenger hunt. It was surprisingly easy to track down the locations because Cusco hasn’t changed much in 58 years. From 1954 to 2012 the most noticeable changes are the streetlights and trees which now fill the plazas.
In my photos, I wasn’t going for exact copies of the scenes from the film (in some cases trees now block the view or replicating the shot would require standing in the middle of a busy street). What I wanted to show was a clear before/after view of the Cusco landmarks.
Below you can find the results of my scavenger hunt along with the some interesting tidbits about how things have changed. You can view a map of these locations here.
Cusco’s Cathedral, situated in the Plaza de Armas, has grown in popularity as a tourist destination. Along with new lamp posts and flag poles, the plaza’s fountain has recently become home to a somewhat controversial statue of the Incan king Pachacutec. You can read more about it here.
Calle Loreto was the hardest location to identify on my search. I knew from the walls it was close to the Plaza de Armas but I couldn’t place it until I realized the dome in the distance is the back of Iglesia La Compania.
Capilla de San Antonio Abad
The Chapel of San Antonio Abad is located near the San Blas neighborhood above the main plaza. In Secret of the Incas it serves as the exterior location of a museum. Today it’s a five-star hotel.
Harry Steele and the Cathedral
In Secret of the Incas, Harry Steele (Charlton Heston) is a part-time tour guide who is really after gold. In real life, I’m not a tour guide and I’m not after gold.
Iglesia la Merced
If you’re familiar with Cusco and watch the scene that follows the still below, be ready to laugh. As Elena Antonescu (Nicole Maurey) attempts to evade the police, she magically teleports around the city; running one way and then ending up at a landmark in the exact opposite direction.
The building Harry Steele is walking away from was a colonial monastery. Today, it’s a super-fancy hotel with oxygen pumped into the rooms for the comfort of guests. The plaza itself is so full of trees, the monastery/hotel is now difficult to see from the 1954 vantage point.
Also located in Plaza Regocijo, the building that stood in for a hotel exterior is now a popular dining spot for tourists. Notice the new arches in the background, these are part of the Regional History Museum.
Plaza San Francisco
The first thing I noticed about this location, is that the buildings have actually shrunk. The middle building, now only one story tall, is currently the home to an open-air craft market.
This isn’t a comparison of places but rather hats. When we arrived in Cusco, I decided I needed a hat and what better hat than the one Pachacutec (Michael Pate) wears in Secret of the Incas? I didn’t get an exact copy, but I think I got pretty close. These traditional hats are called Chullos and can be spotted on the heads of locals and tourists alike here in Cusco.
Historic photos via Secret of The Incas 1954. Distributed by Paramount Pictures. Copyright status unknown.
All other photos Copyright 2012 Isaiah Brookshire. For information on using my images, please contact me.