Maya civilization was magnificent, and the Aztecs ruled with terrible splendor, but the Incas of Peru controlled the largest native empire in the Americas. Toward the end of the 14th century, the Incas fanned out from their base in the Cuzco region of the southern Andes. For the next century and a half, their holdings increased until the Inca world was invaded by Conquistadors under the command of Francisco Pizarro in 1532. At the time of that clash, the Incas held sway over some 12 million people in what is now Peru and Ecuador, as well as parts of Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina.
The origin of the Incas is shrouded in mystery, but what is known is that they expanded into a New World empire under the ruler Pachacuti. Pachacuti’s sons continued the conquests. One of them, Topa Inca (who reigned from 1471 to 1493), took much of present-day Ecuador, the south coast of Peru, northern Chile, and most of northwestern Argentina, as well as a portion of the Bolivian plateau.
War was a constant Inca activity, but when the Incas weren’t fighting, they were building. The greatest surviving monument of Inca architecture is the citadel of Machu Picchu. Situated on a lofty precipice between steep mountain peaks 7,875 feet above sea level on the eastern slopes of the Andes, the fortified town boasts fine stone buildings with extensive agricultural terraces that make the settlement look as if it had been physically carved. out of the mountainsides.