The Ancient Salt Ponds of Maras: Perfection of Historical Engineering

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The Maras Salt Ponds are not on top of a must see places list in Peru. However, it hides a treasure, that leaves even the most experienced travellers speechless. Situated near modern Cuzco, this location demands crossing a dirt road far away from the city; up to this day, it is considered by many to be inaccessible. Not only does this place offer an impressive look into our history, but it also gives us great views of the ponds.

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Before the Inca Empire gained power locals, who wanted to find a new fortunes reached Maras. Although it didn’t look like much at first, this area held tremendous amounts of salt ready to be exploited. What used to be a prehistoric ocean, became the main source of salt for indigenous communities.
It has taken centuries to design the hundreds of ponds, that occupy about four square meters each in this area. Every pond has a depth of 12 inches at most, although its small size seems strange, it is perfectly calculated. The idea behind the system is for any person to be able to place their hands in the stream and remove them, with plenty of salt on them.

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With all the research done around the subject, scientists still don’t know how long ago the construction began. However, it must have taken many generations of constant, hard work that required extreme attention to measurements and details.
The hundreds of ponds were build down the hill on purpose. This way, as the altitude decreases, water flows through numerous small channels that extends according to the ponds placement. Next to every pond, there is an outlet for its channel, so the water can be released whenever needed.

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When the Inca Empire was at its most powerful time, the system of Maras had already gained attention from the local community of Cusco. In fact, the level of group organization needed for the system seems very democratic even today.
The law of the time suggested, that outsiders who settled the area could have their own pond. However, they could only get one at the extreme bottom of the system and they had to work their way up. The top of the hill holds the most precious salt, which is pure white. As the water flows downhill, it brings sediment to the ponds, which turn the salt into a cloudier shade.
Whether it’s the local Kachi community which has preserved every tradition for centuries, the complex pond system or simply the view, the Ancient Salt Ponds of Maras are an endless treasure.

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