Due to the significant participation of the Dominicans in the conquest of Peru, the Spaniards couldn’t have chosen a better place to build the church of the order than over the base of the most important monument of the Tawantinsuyo: the Koricancha, which is the largest Indian temple to worship the Sun.
According to the chronicles, it was one of the most magnificent constructions of the Incan Cusco. In the inner part, the precincts’ walls, made of finely polished stone, were entirely covered with gold and silver sheets, idols and the representation of the sun.
After receiving the old temple’s plot during the lots distribution that took place in October 1534, Juan Pizarro, brother of the conqueror, ceded it to the Dominican congregation. The first prior of the convent was Friar Juan de Olías, who occupied this cloister together with a group of Mexican missionaries.
The construction of this community took several years, until its official consecration in 1633. However, the earthquake of 1650 affected so much the see of Santo Domingo that it was practically impossible to inhabit it, just as it was described by the chronicler Esquivel: "there was no church, cell or cloister left that could serve as a shelter". It wasn’t until 1680 that the works to reconstruct the temple and convent, just as they are currently known, started.
The most amazing thing about this building is the perfect adjustment, achieved by the people in charge of the construction, to the primitive Incan temple, which is clearly reflected in the way that the vault arises taking advantage of the curve of the pre-Hispanic wall. A Spanish arcade, apparently used as an open chapel in some occasions, rises over it. In the rest of the temple, the stone walls’ solidity intends to match with the prominence of this old sacred place.
The fronts an the belfry
This belfry was constructed during the 1729-1731 period and it constitutes one of the few significant constructions that date of the XVIII century.
They have a classic style, and it is possible that the two external fronts still keep, to a certain extent, the primitive design.
The purity of its lines does not impede the contrast with the strong unique tower, which reflects the maturity of the Cusco baroque. The wreathed columns, profusely carved, express an intense late baroque and they relate to the Jesús María front that may belong to the same author. With regard to its colonial period, it stands out due to its Renaissance style, the unique baroque tower meticulously carved and an excellent collection of Cusco paintings.
Inside the temple
The layout comprises three basilica-type aisles, being the central aisle pretty much higher than the other two aisles. The bare hewn stone of its walls is accentuated by the almost total lack of altarpieces, which had been replaced by simple niches in most of the lateral chapels. In these chapels we will be able to appreciate some images with a sculptural value, such as the Saint Dominic carved in 1698 by the Indigenous master Melchor Guamán Maita. In the main chapel, also stripped of its altar, it is possible to see a collection of paintings related to the Dominican order that surround the Virgen del Rosario (Virgin of the Rosary) of the Spaniards, main devotion of the temple. The pulpit is baroque, structured by wreathed columns and crowned by the image of Saint Vicente Ferrer.
The paintings that cover the space under the choir are also dedicated to this saint preacher. They are totally adjusted to the curves of the arcs or to the pillars’ shape. All these canvases were painted by Marcos Zapata towards the middle of the XVIII century.
The convent’s porch has some eye-catching wall paintings with "grotesque" motives that decorate the cloister vaults of the ceiling.
The astounding main cloister
When you enter to the main cloister you will be able to appreciate one of the largest and most beautiful Renaissance arcades in the entire city. In the middle of the yard, instead of the traditional fountain, there is a rectangular stone tank proceeding from the Incan temple. The main decoration of the convent is constituted by a cycle of paintings about the life of the order’s founder, Saint Dominic de Guzmán, carried out by José Espinosa de los Monteros around 1675-79. Many of the characters appear with Spanish-style clothes, according to the prevailing fashion trends in the reign of Philip III.
The sacred temple of the sun
At two sides of the cloister, the colonial construction has been removed to expose the temples that surrounded the main Indian temple. They are magnificent hewn stone constructions, perforated by niches and trapezoidal openings, where people worshiped the moon, the lightning, the thunder and the rainbow.
It is worth going through the Koricancha esplanade, which has been recently restored, and finishing the visit in the site museum that presents the archaeological findings carried out during the last excavations in the zone.
Both in the sacristy and in the old chapter house they have installed exhibition rooms of the Dominican museum of religious art, which gathers furniture, silverware, paintings, images and liturgical ornaments treasured for many centuries by this convent.
The convent has a very valuable art gallery with canvases of the XVII and XVIII century. Likewise, there are remarkable images of saints such as Saint Juan Masías, Saint Martín de Porras, Saint Rosa de Lima, and the Virgin of the Rosary, among others.