From their grand citadels to their vast system of roadways and waterworks, the Incas were one of the earliest masters of civil engineering. And while many of these impressive feats are now ruins and museum relics, there are some structures that continue to endure.
Case in point: the Q’eswachaka, a handwoven rope bridge in Quehue, Peru.
Inca rope bridges were once found in abundance throughout the
Empire. In addition to the road system, these simple suspension bridges were vital pieces of
infrastructure that were used frequently by Chasquis runners — highly skilled messengers that relayed correspondence and
official records on foot through the Inca Empire.
Stretching over the Apurimac River, the Q’eswachaka is the last of these ancient bridges and, because it's made of organic materials, it is rebuilt every year using traditional Inca techniques. There's a modern bridge nearby, but the tradition of replacing the old Inca rope bridge every June has become a way for the local indigenous community to honor their resourceful ancestors.
According to UNESCO, which established the bridge as a World Heritage Site in 2010, "the process structures the life of the participating communities, strengthens centuries-old bonds and reaffirms their cultural identity. When the bridge is finished, the communities hold a celebratory festival."
To build the bridge, a local grass called q'oya is handwoven into cords and braids to form massive suspension cables (pictured below). These cables are then strung up on the remains of last year's bridge, and then mat decking and smaller cords of rope are woven in to secure it all together.
"The structure is remarkably safe," explains John Ochsendorf, a professor of civil engineering at M.I.T. "It has been built for centuries in this way, and can hold dozens of people at any one time."