The Andes are the world’s longest exposed mountain range. They lie as a continuous chain of highland along the western coast of South America. The range is over 7,000 km (4,400 miles) long, 200-700 km (300 miles) wide (widest between 18° to 20°S latitude), and of an average height of about 4,000 m (13,000 ft).
The Andes mountains forms north-south axis of cultural influences. The Inca Empire developed in the central Andes during the 15th century. The Incas formed this civilization through imperialistic militarism as well as careful and meticulous governmental management. The government sponsored the construction of aqueducts and roads, some of which, like those created by the Romans a thousand years before them, are still in existence today.
Devastated by deadly European diseases to which they had no immunity, and by a terrible civil war, in 1532 the Incas were defeated by an alliance composed of tens of thousands allies from nations they had subjugated (Huancas, Chachapoyas, Cañaris, etc) and a small army of 180 Spaniards led by Pizarro. One of the few Inca cities the Spanish never found in their conquest was Machu Picchu, which lay hidden on a peak on the edge of the Andes where they descend to the Amazon. The main surviving languages of the Andean peoples are those of the Quechua and Aymara language families.
Several major cities exist in the Andes, among them Bogotá, Quito, La Paz, and Cusco. These and most other cities are now connected with asphalted roads, while smaller town often are connected by dirt roads, which may require a 4×4 vehicle. Because of the arduous terrain, localities where vehicles are of little use remain. Locally, Llamas continue to play an important role as pack animals, but this use has generally diminished in modern times.
The ancient peoples of the Andes such as the Incas have practiced irrigation techniques for over 6,000 years. Because of the mountain slopes, terracing has been a common practice. Terracing, however, was only extensively employed after Incan imperial expansions to fuel their expanding realm. The potato holds a very important role as an internally consumed staple crop. Maize was also an important crop for these people. However, they were mainly used for the production of the culturally important chicha. Currently, tobacco, cotton and coffee are the main export crops. Coca, despite eradication programmes in some countries, remains an important crop for legal local use in a mildly stimulating herbal tea, and, both controversially and illegally, for the production of cocaine.
Photograph of young Peruvian farmers sowing maize and beans.
There is a long history of mining in the Andes, from the Spanish silver mines in Potosí in the 16th century to the vast current porphyry copper deposits of Chuquicamata and Escondida in Chile and Toquepala in Peru. Other metals including iron, gold and tin in addition to non-metallic resources are also important.
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