Five centuries ago, before the Spanish conquest of Peru, a horde of fabulous Incan treasure disappeared. Tons of gold formed into statues, sun shields, ceremonial objects were well hidden by the Incas somewhere underground beneath the city of Cuzco. The search for these underground chambers where the sacred treasure was hidden – a colossal engineering feat no less mysterious than that which was hidden – has occupied in vain scores of adventurers and investigators. No one, until now, has been able to find these priceless artifacts.

Javier Sierra is a well known spanish writer and journalist. He is the editor of the magazine Más Allá de la Ciencia (Beyond Science) and author of five books. The more recent one, In Search of the Golden Age (not yet in English), is an account of his research through the world behind ancient mysteries.

I could hardly believe my eyes. In spite of what had been told to me repeatedly before taking off, “you are going to be surprised when you get there.” was the promise. Everything I had imagined fell short. In the center of Cuzco, an ever-widening investigative organization without precedent has been formed, using state-of-the-art technology in their search for underground structures without the need to excavate; equipment synchronized with satellites, powerful software, capable of creating three-dimensional images beginning with the signals from the powerful ground-penetrating radar, and the joint efforts of capable scientists and adventurers.

Never before has anything like it been seen, nor by anyone in Cuzco, with the exception of what was on the verge of being used to dig into the heart of the Inca Empire. This archaeological investigative equipment that I had been invited to witness had been obtained between August and December last year; equipment of a type never known in the previous 500 years, equipment that could penetrate one of the fundamental South American enigmas… and threaten to uncover “the secret”, upsetting what was cherished by these lands.

The first investigations

But it will be better if I start at the beginning and not get ahead of the events. In reality, this adventure began to gestate toward the end of 1982. In October of that year an expedition of six Catalonians reached the foothills of Cuzco some 3,400 meters above sea level, after having left their vessel on the coast; one in which they intended to use to explore around the world, but never completed. That 17 meter sailboat, the Bohic Ruz, with its crew on board would not return home nor forsake the land of the Incas.

Anselm Pi, the captain, at the head of his men, using two powerful Lada brand all-terrain vehicles, began the ascent up the Andes. They were striving to explore the country; study its natural resources and, along the way, explore some of its mysteries.

One morning while most of the team was on the outskirts of Cuzco, Anselm and his friend, Francesc Serrat, decided to go to the Monastery of Santo Domingo in the heart of the city. As many before them, they too had heard stories about the existence of a tunnel that ran from one end of Cuzco to the other, perhaps built by the Incas long before the arrival of Pizarro. These same rumors assured that Atahualpa himself could have hidden the most valuable part of the sacred furnishings of the Temple of the Sun in order to save it from the rapacious conquistadors, and that it should be there still. Anselm and Francesc knew also that Garcilaso de la Vega, “The Inca” (one of the foremost chroniclers of the sixteenth century, son of Inca Princess Chimpu Ocllo and a Spanish Captain) confirmed the existence of this tunnel in his writings. “The Inca” revealed in his Royal Commentaries that beneath Sacsayhuaman ran a “system of underground passages as long as needed to connect tower to tower.” He also noted that the place “was so complicated that not even the bravest would venture to enter without a guide.

Later historians like Felipe Guamán Poma de Ayala, an Indian who traveled throughout Peru in order to develop his 1615 New Chronicle and Good Government. was even more explicit. He used the word chinkana, the Quechuan word for “labyrinth”, referring to an “opening beneath the earth that reaches to Santo Domingo“, indicating that the existence of the subterranean structure almost two kilometers in length ought to join the massive ruins of Sacsayhuaman with the ancient Temple of the Sun, or Koricancha, over which the Dominicans had built the monastery that Anselm and Francesc had arranged to visit.

Paradoxically, it wasn’t difficult to convince the abbot to let them have a look at the many trap doors scattered about the floor of the church. During the reconstruction of the monastery after the earthquake that destroyed Cuzco in 1950, these wooden doors were nailed into the flooring that protected fragments of Inca walls, opened and allowed for archaeological sampling as well as entering a series of crypts very difficult to access. Anselm and Francesc went down into one of these. After descending some stairs, and turning on a very old light they and the abbot stood still, contemplating something difficult to forget. “Behind the wall our host showed us”, remembers Anselm Pi, “a great tunnel. We were aware of the importance of removing some of the loose stones. The chamber must have been very wide and was pitch black. The abbot wouldn’t let us go farther and made us leave.”

Deadly tunnel

The monk must have had his reason for stopping his guests from going farther.

Like his predecessors, he knew what befell those who had entered the various openings. Only nine years after Poma de Ayala published his complete work, in the 17th century, three Spaniards -Francisco Rueda, Juan Hinojosa and Antonio Orvé- looked for the entrance of the Chinkana at Sacsayhuaman and went deep into an opening in search of the lost gold. No one ever saw them again. Later, in the middle of the 18th century, two students tried again with the same outcome. They went down the same opening… and disappeared!

Nevertheless, that endeavor bore unexpected fruit. Days later one of the young men emerged from the floor next to the main altar at Santo Domingo church; dehydrated, with signs of dementia, and holding an ear of corn made of solid gold. The poor soul then fell dead from exhaustion. He died without being able to explain where he had been, and what is worse, where he had found this strange trophy. As it was, the impressive souvenir of this student, whose name or nationality no one knew, forever dispelled any doubt about the legend of the Inca treasure and the secret tunnels of the Koricancha, which in Quechua means the corral of gold.

From corn to gold

The “choclo”, as the Peruvians call this type of corn on the cob, is still today the best proof in existence of an important legacy beneath the Andean subsoil. However, where will it end? Anselm Pi went over that detail, promising to return to Cuzco properly equipped to resolve the mystery of the tunnel.

In the meantime events continued.

In March, 1994, another spanish researcher, Vicente Paris, and myself visited the monastery of Santo Domingo to proceed with our own inquiries. The year before, Paris had discovered that all the places in Cuzco in which it was rumored that there were openings to the “tunnel of the Incas” followed exactly a line leading straight to Sacsayhuaman. Pinpointing these on a satellite photograph of the city, his hypothesis was confirmed: the cathedral, the convent of Santa Catalina and San Cristobal church were situated in a straight line almost two thousand meters long, that should go from Sacsahuaman to the ancient Koricancha.

This is not so strange: Those places were built on the foundation of Inca Temples and Palaces, a singularly important fact relating to the era when the Inca gold disappeared, and that will allow us for taking the first step to uncover such an important gallery.

But what about the golden corn?

Our visit in 1994 had some surprises. For one thing, the crypt Anselm Pi and Francesc Serrat had visited twelve years before had disappeared. Neither of the two underground chambers we visited conformed to the previous description given, and the wall that blocked the access to “a great tunnel” was no longer discernable.

But there was more. The abbot of the monastery that we had met, Father Benigno Gamarra, recently appointed Prior of Santo Domingo, arranged to meet me early one morning to show me something that had been kept secret until now.

Figure 1I remember it well. The priest met me in his study a little before daybreak on March 21, in order to resolve the mystery of the golden corn. “I’m only going to tell this to you, I will let you take photographs and ask questions on one condition,” he warned, “That you do not reveal what I’m about to tell you until I am no longer here.” I accepted. Gamarra then unwrapped a small bundle on the table of his study in which two elaborately encrusted gold crowns had been protected. “The ‘choclo’ that you asked about was melted down shortly after the death of the student and my predecessors used the gold we obtained to make these crowns for the Virgin and the Christ Child that we have in the church.” “And why are they not in the church with the images for which they were made?” I asked while I was admiring the gold wasted on them. “They have been hidden a long time so as not to arouse the ambitions of treasure hunters.”

Politics, Tenacity and Fate

When in March of 1999, in Zaragoza, Anselm Pi saw one of the photographs that we took during that meeting with Father Gamarra, who today is assigned to Arequipa, a bright sparkle came to his eyes. “This is the piece that I lacked.” he suspected “Now we have something with which to begin our investigation!”

A few months later, Anselm left for Lima to negotiate with the National Institute of Culture, the palace of Government and Father Gamarra to arrange the conditions for the eventual exploration beneath the Monastery of Santo Domingo in search of the Inca tunnel. The idea appealed to the Dominicans but they worried that whatever eventual archaeological discoveries were found would serve as an excuse for the political authorities to expropriate their land and leave them without their monastery that they had been occupying for close to five centuries. The question was extremely delicate. In fact, it wasn’t resolved until well into the year 2000 when the State guaranteed the Dominicans that their lands would not be expropriated; instead, the concession was made that they would have a museum inside the area where all the artifacts and archaeological relics that were found would be on display permanently.

Anselm moved quickly. His project, which included “using teledetection studies to determine how the tunnel runs and completing an archaeological survey of its entrance” interested a financier from Texas, Michael Galvis, who didn’t hesitate to advance $760,000, the cost of getting started with what would soon come to be know as the Koricancha Project.

Thus, with the help of official permits and financial solvency, Anselm decided to organize his work team with the name Bohic Ruz Explorer, a group comprised of Spaniards, Peruvians, and Chileans, who began working around the middle of August last year. The team integrated two archaeologists, a physicist, a geographer, a geologist, two photographers, a pilot and various specialists in the field of speleology and high-risk exploration, so there would, in their hands, be no delay in achieving first-rate results.

The marvelous machine

This is state-of-the-art technology; an ingenious invention called ‘Ground-Penetrating Radar’ (GPR), capable of detecting objects and man-made structures up to twenty meters underground, due to a series of radio waves that pierce the ground as if they were x-rays, will soon begin unfolding surprising data.

“My main objective [in 2001] was, first to locate the crypt that I had visited in 1982, then, after that, make the subsequent excavations in the church,” admitted Anselm Pi. “When we began our work [this last August] there were only three crypts in the church and none of my team this time was with me when I visited in 1982. Because I thought in 1982 there were four crypts, I believed my memory was not correct. However, when I studied a report that elaborated on UNESCO’s reconstruction of the monastery in 1950 from the earthquake which destroyed Cuzco in 1950, I was convinced it was not a dream. The report catalogued four crypts in the monastery. But, where was the fourth?”

The systematic scanning by the GPR soon found the answer, next to the main altar in a corner known as the Altar of Santa Rosa. This machine with its three antennae, each set at an different frequency, revealed an unexpected find. “The graphics were significant,” explained Jordi Valeriano, physicist for Bohic Ruz Explorer, as he viewed his monitor. “Beneath the altar of Santa Rosa, about four or five meters down, we located a cavity two meters wide that we believe can be the entrance to a great tunnel.”

Anselm had no doubt that was where he had entered twelve years before.

Soon more discoveries followed. Beneath the floor of the museum GPR found Inca walls, drainage systems in the patio, remains in pre-Inca areas beneath the walls of what is called the Inca Temple of the Stars and some vaults now integrated within the monastery itself and some strategically placed within its enclosed area.

Bones everywhere

The work of opening the ground didn’t begin until this past October 23. As a matter of fact, when it was finally decided to raise some parts of the flooring of the church, interpretations of the GPR readings were not yet concluded. There were thousands of radar images to be reviewed and analyzed and the Teledetection Department of Bohic Ruz could not keep up. Therefore, before the graphics revealed the existence of a tunnel underneath the altar of Santa Rosa, the decision was made to open flooring where is would cause the least interference with the religious services. That is, in the interior of the three localized crypts, and beneath the belfry in a chapel easily closed off from the faithful.

We had one surprise after another,” repeats Luis Peries, who is responsible for the security in the excavation areas, when he showed me a pit five meters deep which was excavated for the most part “with a paint brush.” “All we did was lift the flooring and human bones began to appear.” he said. “The ones beneath the belfry were in disarray, as if they had just been tossed into this place. The ones in the crypts appear to have been recently buried.

Many rows of plastic bags, classified and labeled, still wait in the choir hall of the monastery, until the bones can be dated properly. “Until we have the results of the Carbon-14 dating we cannot know to what time period they correspond” explained Anselm Pi. “For now, these findings are reduced to a strange ossuary, and a few Inca ceramic pieces of limited value. But the real excavating will begin in February“, he advised. “It will be then when we not only enter the tunnel that starts beneath the altar of Santa Rosa, but at that point we will be able to prove if the legend of the Inca gold is true.

Anselm, however, shrugs his shoulders when he is asked what kind of objects he thinks he’ll find. Neither he nor anyone else is able to know for certain.

What do they hope to find?

In order to have an idea of the sacred gold of the Temple of the Sun that disappeared before the eyes of the conquistadores, one must inevitably consult the writings of the first historians that referred to it. None of them personally saw the marvels they described, but they repeated what they were told by Spanish soldiers and Incas. Bartolome de las Casas, for example, refers to the most sacred of the objects that were contained in the Temple: The Sun Shield, the “Statue of the Sun”, that is “formed of solid gold with the face of a man and rays of gold emanating from his face.”

Others, like Bernabe Cobo, rounded out his description referring to the statue as “workmanship of finest gold, with the exquisite riches of precious gems.” Father Cobo referred to at least three other golden images of the sun. Sarmiento de Gamboa also described the statues of gold and richly adorned mummies of imperial Incas who preceded Atahualpa to the throne. Not to mention the famous golden chain that Huayna Capac ordered, to be made of heavy links as big as fists of some of two hundred meters long. “It’s impossible to calculate the number of objects that could be buried there below”, Anselm hurriedly clarifies, “but there is no doubt at all that we’re dealing with a very dangerous treasure.

I stared at him. Dangerous? Anselm agreed: “We know that the accumulation of metals over a long period of time, in an enclosed and humid space, such as the subsoil of Cuzco can create toxic substances such as cyanide, mercury or chloride. Inhaling these is probably what killed explorers in times past. But we enter prepared.”

Precautions are taken -airtight suits, like space suits, gas masks, etc.- all the equipment that Bohic Ruz knows might be needed when the time comes. “We can’t imagine what we might find when we open the altar of Santa Rosa in mid February.” In the meantime, in Cuzco, ever since rumors began about the Koricancha Project, the people evinced mixed emotions. Rosa Maria Alzamora, Andean Priestess and last of a large chain of shamans, who advised me during the elaboration of my book In search of the Golden Age (not yet published in English), was at first disturbed when she learned of this project, but then resolved that “perhaps the ‘Pachacuti’, the new five-hundred year cycle that now begins to rule these mountains, and the opening of traditionally the most sacred Andean place, marks this moment,” she suggested. “Nevertheless, whoever enters in the SECRET PLACE ought to be protected spiritually and respect the powers of this place.” “I, too hope they will,” I assured her. “I hope so!” She answered more mysteriously than ever.

Addendum: Four Important Discoveries

The geo-radar or ground penetrating radar (GPR) system has depicted a series of Incan structures in the subsoil of the Monastery of Santo Domingo that have become the priority target to excavate by their investigators. Some of the most significant are:

The tunnel

Figure 2

Between the altar and the first and second columns, about four meters down, the GPR, with its 200 MHZ antenna, has detected the presence of a cavity that goes across the church in the direction of the Plaza de Armas and Sacsayhuaman. One is able to see this structure in the lower left of the attached map of Cuzco. The distortion shown in white, in the center of the image is caused by the metal plate of the Order of Santo Domingo encased in the floor of the church.

The first temple

Beneath what is called the Temple of the Stars a curious structure has been discovered: at the same depth of the tunnel, they have found what appears to be the remains of an earlier temple. A confusing hodgepodge of straight lines were detected by the GPR at four meters below ground level. The experts believe they are stones pertaining to a pre-Inca area.

Ancient underground corridors

GPR’s, most powerful antenna (400 MHZ) detected a series of arched structures beneath the side entry of the church that could pertain to the ancient underground passages accessing the Temple of the Sun. They found at a lesser depth than the tunnel and its eventual excavation would bring light to this the unknown area which could be the original perimeter of this important Inca Temple.

The searcher of Avalon

Behind the technological investigation that is opening mysteries of the Incan past in Cuzco, is a dreamer. A man that, two decades ago, began an adventure on board a boat called Bohic Ruz, whose objective underscored the metaphysical: to find “Shamballa”, the Avalon of the northern Europeans. There, Anselm Pi believes he will find still living the “mother culture” that so many explorers have looked for so zealously.

I had known Anselm Pi for more than a decade, through Andreas Faber-Kaiser, who was writer/director of the well known spanish magazine Mundo Desconocido, (Unknown World, now closed), and one of the best investigators of the unorthodox, that I have ever known. Back then, I admit, I didn’t pay much attention to him. Then came 1988 and it had been a relatively short time since Anselm (who describes himself as one of the last explorers on the planet) had returned from an adventure that took him halfway around the world, which Faber had been privileged to witness.

Having begun five years earlier in 1983, Anselm Pi was about to conclude an odyssey that is now linked with the investigators of the Inca tunnels in Cuzco. On board a seventeen-meter long, fiberglass boat called the Bohic Ruz, sailing under a French flag, Anselm and six men crossed the Atlantic and into the Pacific through the Panama Canal, in search of what he calls “The Secret”.

Today his investigation enterprise is called Bohic Ruz Explorer in memory of the boat. Anselm continues heading the Society as its President, with headquarters in Cuzco and Dallas.

Everything really begins in 1980. Remember some weeks back in your Andean ‘general headquarters’ when I asked that you recall when you began? At that time I left my work as a director of my family’s textile enterprise and began to consider the idea of leaving on a boat to explore. What I was searching for was ‘Shangri-La’, ‘Shamballa’ or ‘Avalon’, about which so many worldwide traditions talk. I believe this place really exists, and the way to find it is to achieve, ahead of time, an intimate condition of one who searches for it.

And decides to take a long voyage, takes a boat and crosses half of the world….

To be honest with you, the idea is never to return. But in this long voyage of nearly three years, I would find hints of the reality that I was searching for, and certain things would change.

Are you trying to say that the Shamballa you were searching for left clues of its existence throughout the world?


And what did Faber think of all of this?

He knew of our final objective, as we had already agreed on the fundamental ideas. He even participated in some of our adventures during the stop-over of the Bohic Ruz in the United States that turned out to be longer than we had intended. Our original route was to have crossed the Pacific [to India after Peru], but something in Peru captivated us; that was when we finished that journey.

What happened?

Andreas arranged a meeting with Erich von Daniken, as a result of investigations that he was then carrying out. I wasn’t very interested in being there, but the three of us has supper together and it was Daniken who advised me to visit Peru if I wanted to find what I was searching for. What is more, Daniken arranged to meet me in Lima to share with me some personal secrets. He told me that the investigation that I proposed wasn’t possible to accomplish alone; but he believed that with a crew of experts, it could be accomplished.

And so, what was is about?

About ‘the secret’ that I am involved in now. Daniken took me to Cuzco and said that if I was able to solve the mystery that surrounds Sacsayhuman and Quenko (an area very near Sacsayhuaman) I would reach at last explanations of many ‘secrets of the past’.

Did he take you to the tunnels?


Does that mean that the secret is connected to them?

Yes…(with uncertainty) but then I had not yet established a relationship [with ‘the secret’.], as it was Daniken who insisted I investigate without any idea of its importance. Thus I steered the boat with the entire crew toward Peru. We landed at Ancon where I organized an expedition in order to get to know the entire country. Using two jeeps, we went to Titicaca, Arequipa, Urubamba, Machu Picchu, the southern deserts, Paucartambo and finally, Cuzco. After having covered 25,000 kilometers I was aware that what we were searching for was, in effect, concealed by Andean tradition. I spent three years in Peru focused on the mystery of the tunnels, and soon began to consider this the bridge to what I was searching for.

Then the tunnels are not your final goal?

Absolutely not! I’ve already told you I am going to Avalon. It has to do with a little-understood concept, since it can never be found on the surface of this planet. This island of which so many speak, with all its symbolic riches is but a part of the language that encrypts the secret. In the same way that, even though the legend of King Arthur is located in England the secret is not from there. It was the same in Jerusalem, which is a reflection of the ancient city of Salem during the reign of Melchizedek; which is an ‘internal’ place that no one has been able to locate.

You’ve been looking for this ‘Avalon’ for twenty years. Do you believe you are closer now to the ‘secret’?

Yes. It is very simple: if you make an ‘hermetic’ analysis of the planet, there are only three places where you get near this ‘secret’. One site is Egypt; another is situated in Central Asia; and the last is located in South America. In Egypt, you can follow the clues of ‘the secret’ in its monuments; in Asia explorers like Nicholas Roerich touched on a latent tradition, but it is in South America where this reality is still alive. In the Andes, along that stretch of border that joins the zone of Cuzco, between Nazca and Tiahuanaco, is where ‘the secret’ will be found.

-And are these places your next objective?

Of course. But that doesn’t mean if we discover the tunnels, that ‘Avalon’ will be exposed. What I maintain is that the excavation of those kilometric tunnels is the only way to finally reach ‘Avalon’.

In search of Paititi

The Andean myth that Anselm refers to as the “Avalon of the Andes” is that of the “Paititi”. The mythical City of Gold, known as Eldorado in other places in South America, and that, as was suggested about the duplicity of Salem-Jerusalem, it also would have a double existence. One, the original and lost, and the other one, a copy by a culture of more recent times.

El Paititi always was in front of the faces of the Spaniards: It was Cuzco. Although this was not the real Paititi, since the Incas talked about it as if it was an island in which the Apu beings lived, their spirits, or original Gods. The Incas inherited this idea of a sacred place and built an “Outer Paititi” in Cuzco. Finally they built their two most important sun temples there, Sacsayhuaman and the Koricancha; also an image and likeness of the place where their ‘Apus’ live.

There is something that I don’t understand: what part does Nazca play in this search? It is outside the Andean zone where they still believe in the Apus, in pure desert to the south. It seems to have little to do with the traditions you are talking about.

You have to take this into account: when a civilization such as the Inca one, has such an important spiritual secret to protect, it will use every kind of subterfuge in order to do so. I believe that Nazca forms part of what they wanted to protect. It is a place that pertains to the very same secret.

I don’t understand.

Nasca, should not be studied only astronomically, as Maria Reiche and many others after her did. In reality, Nazca is a giant labyrinth and the hermeticism already tells us that ‘Avalon’ is found at the exact end of the labyrinth. There is the ‘island’.

Then you perceive Nazca to be a type of door?

It is the door. If you use the hermetic language you won’t be confused by this. And, I’ll tell you something else: In the labyrinth is where the ‘guardians’ are. They are there physically, exactly where they were permitted to be in the past, and that is where all of the legends of the labyrinth originated.

Are they flesh and bone?

Of course they are. The virtue of this legend is that it refers to a physical and living matter. If it wasn’t living, Avalon would not exist. It is something physical, or it doesn’t exist at all. For this reason I am compelled to follow the tracks that this tradition has left and to reach it wherever it might be.

Copyright © 2001 Javier Sierra