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Ramson Room of Atahualpa

The Ransom Room of Atahualpa (Cuarto de Rescate) played an important role in Inca history. Although historians debate whether the room was used to hold the gold ransom for Inca Atahualpa or to keep Inca Atahualpa captive, the room’s significance is not in question.

In 1532, Inca Atahualpa had recently ended a civil war by killing his half-brother Huáscar to take control of the Inca empire. At the same time, Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizzaro was traveling towards Cajamarca with the hope of ending a nearly two-year journey to find the heart of the Inca empire. Pizarro had 170 men; Atahualpa had 40,000–80,000.

Pizarro eventually made contact with the Inca and invited Atahualpa to visit the main square of Cajamarca. The square was bordered by three stone buildings, in which the Spaniards hid and prepared to ambush the nearly 5,000 soldiers who accompanied Atahualpa. Atahualpa and his men were not well prepared for battle; instead, they were dressed for ceremony. The Spanish emerged and quickly ambushed the Inca with cannons, swords, and blaring trumpets. Confused and unprepared, the Inca were quickly slaughtered by the Spaniards. During the turmoil, Atahualpa was captured and dragged inside one of the buildings.

From here, Atahualpa offered this ransom: in exchange for his freedom, he would fill a large room with gold and two other rooms with silver. Pizarro agreed. Over the next four months, llama trains brought in gold and silver to Cajamarca, which the Spanish melted down and made into bars. In total, there were about 6,100 kilograms of 22-karat gold and 11,820 kilograms of silver. Despite the fact that Atahualpa met his ransom, he was still killed by the Spanish.

The Ransom Room can be visited today. The structure is small and unassuming, but it does have some wonderful Inca stonework at its base. It’s likely that the room was used as a sun temple before being partially destroyed by the Spanish. Locals contend that this room held the ransom gold; some historians think that the room probably held Atahualpa captive instead. Either way, it’s a fascinating piece of Inca history.