At this point, you might be sick of hearing about how bad most empires were.  They fight!  They steal!  They try to take as much land as they can.  Well, let's take a break from them.  Let's head down to Peru in South America where the largest empire in the Americas, known as the Inca Empire, stretched along the mountains to the west.  Climb the mountains, gaze across the tops of the clouds, take a deep, peaceful breath.  It's time to visit the city in the clouds. 


How would you feel if you were the son of the leader of your people, but your father did not choose you to take over the throne?  This is just what happened to the greatest Incan emperor.  Pachacuti is the most famous Inca emperor who ruled from 1438-1471 B.C.E., known for spreading his people through the mountains.  So if he was not chosen by his father, how did he become the leader of his people?  When the Chanka, one of their worst enemies, attacked, his father ran away.  Pachacuti stayed behind and fought them.  He won.  He decided to make his empire all about peace.  He came up with his name, which means "world changer" or "earth-shaker."  He spread his people into the mountains, turning them their land into an empire. 


Fun fact!
 At the height of its power, the Incan Empire stretched along most of the west coast of South America: 2,500 miles long and 500 miles wide. 


Pachacuti tried to made the mountains around him work a lot like the city you live in today . . . at least compared to how it had been working.  You use roads every day.  You use sidewalks and parks.  If you were ever in trouble or there was a fire, you can count on the police or firefighters to come help you out.  After he stopped taking over new land, Pachacuti wanted to give these things to his people.  He started to build new things that helped the Incas live in comfort, even though they were high up in the Andean mountains. 


When thinking about getting from one mountain top to another, you might think of a long climb down and another long climb up.  The Inca people thought of something much better.  They thought of a walk across the clouds.  They would use grasses to make rope that they could use to make bridges from one mountain to another.  A suspension bridge is a bridge over a valley or river that is held on either end by two towers and held up in the middle by ropes.  These bridges made travel way faster over rivers or between valleys.  Just because you can now walk from mountain to mountain does not mean you can survive up there.  


Mountains, especially the tops of mountains, are not known for having much life.  Few plants grow on the rocks and the water heads in one direction: down.  Irrigation is when people lead water from one place to another to help grow food.  The Incan people built and dug out aqueducts and canals so that they could control where the water flowed and when.  Of course, people need more than just water to live.  


Farming might seem hard, if not impossible, on top of a mountain.  It's so steep!  How can we grow food when all the tomatoes and corn just roll right to the bottom.  The Inca fixed this problem by cutting flat parts into the sides of mountains.  Think of them as giant stairs or steps.  Terraces are large flat "steps" cut into the side of a mountain that are used for farming.  As the crops rise up into the clouds, they do look like green stairs right up to heaven.  


It may be hard to picture a city in the clouds.  Especially one that had many of the nice things you use in the city today.  It happened though, because of a man named Pachacuti, the most famous emperor who spread the Inca civilizations through the mountains of Peru.  He did this by helping his people build irrigation, the watering of land for farming, suspension bridges, rope that hold up paths across big spaces, and terraces, cutting out flat pieces of land into the mountain for growing food.  It isn't just a city high up in the clouds.  It's a city high in the cloud of ideas.  


References:

Mankind: the Story of All of Us.  "The Rise of the Incas"  History Channel, 2012.  <http://www.history.com/shows/mankind-the-story-of-all-of-us/videos/mankind-the-story-of-all-of-us-rise-of-the-incas>

Quick History.  "Inca Empire for Kids"  mrdonn.org, 2014.  <http://incas.mrdonn.org/quickhistory.html>