Atahulpa’s Cuarto de Rescate | A Ransom fit for an Emperor
This small room, called the ‘Ransom Room’ or ‘El Cuarto del Rescate’ is believed to be the place where the Inca Empire’s demise began with the capture of the Emperor Atahualpa.
When Atahualpa was captured in Cajamarca, he understood almost immediately that the main interest of the Spanish conquistadors was gold and silver. After the bloodbath of Cajamarca, Hernando de Soto was sent to inspect the camp of the Incas. They didn’t show any resistance as they were instructs by Atahualpa (himself instructed by Pizarro), to do not attempt anything. De Soto soon brought back more gold and silver than the Spaniards could expect: 8,000 pesos of gold, 7,000 marks of silver and 14 emeralds. In addition, he brought back large figures of gold, but also small and large dishes, cups, basins and other pieces.
Back then, it seems like Atahualpa was not suspecting that a full-scale invasion will follow the arrival of these men, and observing their interest for precious metals, he thoughts he could bargain his freedom against a large quantity of gold and silver. He offered a room full of gold.
According to Pizarro’s secretary, Francisco Xerez, The room measured 22 feet long by 17 feet wide. However, we get different measurements from other sources. According to Cristobal de Mena, Captain of Pizarro’s army, the ransom room measured 25 by 15 feet; for Hernando Pizarro 30 to 35 by 17 to 18 feet; for Ruiz de Arce 20 by 15 feet; and finally in Nouvelles certaines des Isles du Perou (called the French Relation with the Spanish Conquest) the room measured 20 by 18 feet. A white line, located 8 feet high (the same height is mentioned by most chroniclers), was the limit under which the room was supposed to be filled with multiple pieces of gold.
In addition, Atahualpa promised to fill the entire hut twice over with silver.
Finally, he offered to complete the ransom within 2 months, just enough time to send messengers to Cuzco and Quito, and transport the gold and silver to Cajamarca.
The offer was officially consigned has a pledge by Xerez. According to him, the room measured 88 cubic meters (3,000 cubic feet).
After a few weeks, the first llama-loads started arriving in Cajamarca. The chronicles indicate various amounts of gold. 20,000 pesos of gold one day, to 60,000 another day. The llamas carried large pitchers or jars made of gold or silver (50 to 75 pounds each), and other type of vessels. Pizarro ordered to keep a detailed inventory of the ransom, and the room was guarded 24/7 by guards. It is also mentioned that one of Atahulpa’s brothers arrived with a convoy carrying a huge load of gold pieces, and much more was on its way but was delayed. To keep up with the delivery date, Atahualpa asked Pizarro to send some troops to Cuzco to oversee and accelerate the process. Three men volunteered and left Cajamarca on February 15 1533. With the obliged assistance of the General Quisquis, entered in Cuzco where they entered the temple of the sun. The walls were covered with gold that was soon removed by the Spaniards. According to Xerez, they removed the equivalent of 700 plates, 4.5 pounds of pure gold each once melted down. They also sealed a building full of gold and silver for a future expedition, and reported seeing massive pieces of gold everywhere across the city.
A few months afterwards, the ‘procurement chain’ started being efficient and the room was probably closed to be entirely filled when, on May 3rd 1533, Pizarro ordered to melt down the precious metals so the rooms could contain more of them. 10 days later, one of the three volunteers who went to Cuzco arrived back to Cajamarca where he reported the large quantity of gold that was on its way.
On June 17th 1533, Pizarro organized the distribution of the hoard, which only started a month later because the melting took some time. It is recorded that since Pizarro issued his order, over 11 tons of gold pieces were melted, producing 13,420 pounds of 22.5 carat of gold, which was the equivalent of 26,539 pesos de oro, and 26,000 pounds of silver. The pure gold and silver was then marked with a royal seal so it became an official ‘war loot’ and the king would get his share, as detailed in the Cedula Real given to Pizarro. In addition to this huge treasure, Pizarro rewarded himself with Atahulpa’s throne, a massive 183 pounds piece of 15-carat gold.
On June 13th 1533, the two other Spanish volunteers finally arrived in Cajamarca with a convoy of 225 llama-loads of silver and gold. Finally 60 additional llama-loads arrived from Cuzco a few days afterwards.
On July 21st 1533, Gaspar de Espinosa wrote to Charles V. In this letter, he confirmed that the Spaniards have collected 50,000 pesos of gold and 20,000 marks of silver.
The dimensions of this room and the records from Xerez and other chroniclers are also often used to determine the potential value of the Llanganatis’ treasure. If about half of the ransom has been delivered and considering that in 2011, at peak, gold value reached $1889.70 a troy ounce (31 g), 44,500 lbs of gold would be equivalent of 648,810 troy ounces, and $1,226,056,257 in today’s currency.
A llama-load is 100 lbs. According to local legends, the treasure of the Llanganatis was carried by 20,000 llama-loads, so we are talking about 29,166,666.479 troy ounces. Considering value peak of gold, the highest valuation would be $551,162,248,740, which is way more than what could have fit in the ransom room. There is absolutely no evidence of this number of llama-loads. Other legends estimate that Ruminahui was on his way to Cajamarca with 700 tons of gold, which is 22,505,522 and so a peak value of $42,528,684,923. Once again, we are talking about a legend and no authentic material allow us to validate the existence of such caravan. The most reliable historical source available today is the chronicle of Pedro Cieza de León, where the author report 300 cargas of gold. A ‘carga’ is a ‘man-load’ which is a maximum of 50lbs. In this case, it would be equal to 15,000lbs or 218,700 troy ounce, for a current conversion of $413,277,390. Another Spanish historian, Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas, wrote about the disappearance of a volume of 600 cargas of gold, the double, so precisely $826,554,780. Finally, Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo speaks, him, about 60,000 cargas of gold.
In today’s days, the room shown to visitors in Cajamarca might not be the famous ‘ransom room’. This room is located right above the main square, in the backyard of a colonial building. It’s larger and longer room than the one described by Xerez. This room was first ‘officialized’ in 1615, when a local presented it to Antonio Vasquez de Espinosa, a Spanish monk of the Discalced Carmelites, as the ‘ransom room’. According to him, the room was 40 feet long. The room was intact and keept as is by the locals , to honor the memory of Atahualpa. For Fray Antonio de Montesinos who also visited the site in the 17th century gave smaller measurements. Finally, for Jose de la Rosa, the room measured 35 by 23 feet.
After the Spanish Conquest, the complex (7 buildings) where the ‘ransom room’ is supposedly located was owned by the curaca of the seven guarangas of Cajamarca called Carguaguatay and then by his son Don Pedro Angasnapon. Later, the complex was owned by the Bethlehemite order and transformed into an hospital. Most buildings were then destroyed to build the city hall and a jail.
Historians think that the actual room was in fact part of a larger complex, probably the temple of the sun, and might have been Atahualpa’s cell. If authentic, this room might have been where Athualpa was kept prisoner, rather than the real ransom room. We can see a line drawn on the wall, at eight feet high, and also a stone where locals claim Atahualpa has been executed. The Inca masonry of the room is not quit impressive, and the doorway has been built after the Spanish Conquest. The room was built with blocks of volcanic stones and features trapezoidal niches and visitors are kept away from the walls by a rope.
The site is located at Jr. Amalia Puga, 722, in Cajamarca, lying just off the Plaza de Armas, across the street from the Iglesia San Francisco.
The ‘Ransom Room’ is opened to the visitors, from Monday to Saturday 9.00am-1.00pm and 3.00pm to 5.00pm; Sunday from 9.00am to noon. The site is closed on Wednesday. Entrance fee: $5. Tickets can be purchased at the tourist office in the Belen complex)