His name was Pedro de Candia and I discovered his existence in a fascinating book “The Royal Commentaries of Peru” written by Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, which my friend Samantha introduced to me. The author is the son of a Spanish conquistador and an Inca Princess. He therefore knows both the Spanish and Inca version and his narrative is gripping. He writes of the glories of the Inca Empire as well as its decadence and downfall. Inter alia, he mentions fabulous treasures, which he describes and which, upon the arrival of the Spanish, were hidden, never to be found again.
Thus, Pedro de Candia appears through the pen of Garcilaso. As his name indicates, Candia being at the time the capital of Venetian-occupied Crete, he was a Cretan. Garcilosa says that he was extremely tall and strong, much more than any Spaniard. He was a condottiere, and adventurer, but he was not alone, he brought with him a posse of Cretans. They went where adventure called them, that is to say the New World, at the time of its discovery and conquest. He joined Pissarro who ventured into the Pacific Ocean, going down the coast of South America. He arrived with a handful of men to the island of Gorgona, in front of the contemporary city Guayaquil, and there, stayed for many months in horrible conditions, not knowing what to do.
Then, they ventured further down and arrived in front of a prosperous valley in which one could see, in the middle, a great city the Incas called Tumbes. What to do? Pedro de Candia found the solution and shared it with Pissarro: “ Let me go alone. If they kill me, you only lose one man. If we all go and we’re killed, that’s the end of the expedition.” Pissarro accepts. Pedro de Candia carefully chooses his garments, a chain mail which drops down to the ground, an extravagant hairdo, a steel shield and, in the other hand, a giant wooden cross. He takes a boat to shore and gets off and starts walking towards the city. The Indian peasants that see him are greatly astonished. They have never seen such a giant, bearded, with white skin, and dressed so strangely. He must be “Sun God”. They are torn between fear and reverence.
Pedro arrives all the way to the city of Tumbes. The doors are open; the local authorities come forward and bow down to the “Sun God”. They take him to the city’s temple which has rooms coated in pure gold. They present him treasures of an unfathomable wealth filled with gold and silver objects. Pedro de Candia keeps his cool, thanks them and returns to the coast to find Pissarro and his companions. At first, they do not want to believe him when he describes all the riches he has seen, but then, finally, he convinces them. Thus suddenly their expedition finds its purpose. They had ventured through austere, difficult, wild, dangerous regions where there was nothing, or almost, and, suddenly, an unfathomable treasure and immense empire offers itself to them. The decision is taken: they will conquer it; but before, they must convince the Spanish authorities and so, they start by returning to Panama, and then to Spain, to lay at the feet of Emperor Charles V their discovery. With the encouragement of the latter, a few hundred men, they leave once again not as explorers but as conquistadors. Pedro de Candia will be involved in all the operations. He will even witness the arrest of the great Inca Atahualpa by Pissarro. The former, for his liberation, offers to fill to the brim the immense room he is imprisoned in with gold. Pissarro accepts.
From every corner of the empire, caravans arrive bearing gold objects, enough to fill the prison of the Great Inca. But there are quarrels. Atahualpa has his brother, the legitimate Great Inca, murdered. He is judged, condemned to death, when the room is far from being filled. It nonetheless contains an immense treasure that will be split between the conquistadores. Pedro de Candia will receive his share.
And then the disputes, the fights start, not between the Spaniards and the Incas, but amongst the Spaniards themselves, between the leaders Pissarro and Almagro. Pedro de Candia and his Cretans, for they have never abandoned him, in this confusion switch from one side to the other before finally taking side with the Indians, the Incas. And so he will be killed by the Spaniards, who suspect him of treason, not without reason.
The writer Garcilaso Inca de la Vega never met Pedro de Candia, but he went to school with his son, who surpassed in both height and corpulence all the other students. Thus, Garcilaso could imagine how much of a giant Pedro de Candia had been, the Cretan who had conquered Peru.
Pedro de Candia had greatly impressed his companions by describing the wonders he had seen at Tumbes, but the Indians had been equally impressed by his appearance. The Incas had been so impressed by the appearance of Pedro de Candia that rumours of it travelled all the way to their capital, Cuzco, high up in the mountains. Obviously, a heightened, embellished, augmented rumour. The “Sun God” had returned. And so, when Pissarro, Pedro de Candia and the meagre troupes they had assembled returned to conquer them, the Inca had ordered his subjects not to fight them, as one does not fight the “Sun God”. Thus, a few hundred Spaniards were able to conquer without crossing the sword once the immense and fabulously wealthy Inca Empire.