Imagine living in houses and farms literally cut into the tallest mountains in the Western hemisphere. How would you live? What would you wear? How would you ever stay warm? These are precisely the questions the ancient Inca may have asked themselves as they built and ruled a great empire in the Andes Mountains of South America. The Inca were an ancient, wealthy, and sophisticated people that ruled much of Andean South America from around 1200 until the arrival of the Spanish explorer Francisco Pizarro in 1532. Much of their culture and history was shaped by dramatic landscape they ruled—the Andes Mountains of South America.
The Andes are a huge mountain system in South America. They follow the Pacific coast of the South American continent through the modern countries of Peru, Chile, and Columbia. The highest mountain in the Western hemisphere is found in the Andes—Mount Aconcague, 22,831 feet high. Many other mountains in this spectacular rage are nearly as tall. The Inca thrived in this steep, snowy land. The Inca adapted to the cold weather and thin air; they farmed by cutting terraces into the mountain slopes; and they used sure-footed llamas as their beasts of burden and as a source of wool to keep warm in the cold winters.
The resources in this gallery provide more information on the Andes and the Incas who once ruled there. As you review these resources, think about how lives and culture of the Inca were influenced by their environment.