Machu Picchu



Machu Picchu is definitely the most famous of Peru’s various Inca sites, and is also one of the most famous tourist destinations in the world. In 1983 Machu Picchu was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and in 2007 it was voted to be one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

 

Machu Picchu was constructed in the 15th century by Inca Pachacutec. The exact purpose of the site is unknown, as the only records the Incas kept were in the form of Khipus (knotted strings), and the ability to read them died following the Spanish conquest. However, scholars generally believe it was a royal estate built for Inca Pachacutec, and/or a sacred center where the great political, religious and economic minds of the Inca Empire gathered. Either way, the range of sacred elements and quality of the construction suggest it was place of great importance.

 

Machu Picchu was abandoned during the conquest as the Incas fled the powerful Spanish conquistadors, and this ancient city remained lost for many centuries afterwards.

 

In 1911, an American explorer by the name of Hiram Bingham visited Peru in search of the final city of the Incas, Vilcabamba. With the aid of the prefect of Cusco, he spent many months exploring and cataloging Inca sites in the area, until one day he was led to Machu Picchu by a local farmer who lived in the valley below and was using the terraces to grow his crops.

 

Hiram Bingham was not the first person to visit Machu Picchu, although this is a popular belief. The farmers who lived in the valley knew of its existence, and it is likely that other western explorers had also visited the site during the 19th century. However, Hiram Bingham received his fame because he was the first person to realise the significance of his discovery, and to make it known to the rest of the world.

 

The significance of Machu Picchu is mainly due to its impressive archaeological value, which is highlighted by its stunning location. As you walk through Machu Picchu, you will appreciate the amazing technical skills of the Inca people, and the thought they put into their construction. It is even more impressive because Machu Picchu sits on top of a mountain, in the depths of a tropical forest which offers incredible scenery, admist the unique flora and fauna.

 

Visiting Machu Picchu is definitely a trip of a lifetime that you will never forget. Travel back in time as you explore this amazing citadel, and learn about the fascinating society and culture of the Inca people.

 

Sites of interest

 

The Intihuatana

The Intihuatana is a large, carved rock that was used by the Inca for ceremonial purposes. Perfectly aligned with the sun, its shadow marks various points throughout the year with pin-point accuracy. For example, it was used to calculate when to celebrate Inti Raymi, the winter solstice, and one of the most important celebrations for the Inca Empire. Unfortunately during the filming of a beer commercial in the year 2000, the Intihuatana was irreparably damaged when a crane fell and cracked off a small piece of the rock.

 

The Temple of the Three Windows

One of the most impressive buildings at Machu Picchu, this temple was built to perfection. The main wall contains three perfect, symmetrical ‘windows’ that are aligned to directly face the sunrise. The temple is located in the religious sector of Machu Picchu which suggests it was spiritually important, and Hiram Bingham also found various objects in the temple during his discovery, which suggest it was used for religious ceremonies. There is no exact theory explaining why the temple was built, but it has been suggested that each window represents one of the three tribes that the Incas mythologically originated from, however this has not been confirmed. 

 

The Temple of the Sun

The sun was the principle deity to the Incas, and they believed that the Inca emperor was a direct descendent of the sun, and this is where his authority derived from. The Temple of the Sun is therefore an extremely important part of Macchu Picchu. Its high elevation means it is closer to the sun, and was therefore thought to ensure better performance of rituals and ceremonies. Traditionally, only the priest and the Inca could enter the Temple of the Sun, the rest of the population participated in religious ceremonies at the public square. In addition to religious ceremonies, it was also an important scientific and knowledge center. During the Winter Solstice (Inti Raymi), the sun shines directly through the temple's window falling on a ceremonial stone in the center.

 

The Main Temple (Principal Temple)

The main temple is located close to the Temple of the Sun, and Temple of Three Windows. Covering an extensive area that is 11 meters long and 8 meters wide, the temple houses a ceremonial altar and is believed to be used as one of Machu Picchu’s main public temples. Close by, there is another room called the chamber of ornaments which is believed to have been linked to the temple. No one knows which god was worshipped here, although many believe it to have been Wiracocha, the creator of the world.

 

Huayna Picchu Mountain

Huayna Picchu means young peak in Quechua, and is the large mountain that sits directly behind Machu Picchu. This is a popular destination for trekkers, as you can get great birds-eye views from the top due to the mountain’s proximity to the citadel. Trekkers are also rewarded with incredible views on the way up. There is a limit of 400 people a day who can climb the mountain, and permits need to be purchased in advance. However Machu Picchu Mountain, the larger mountain on the other side of the citadel, is also available for trekking, and is generally less crowded.

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