Machu Picchu is an ancient Inca citadel built by the king Pachacuteq in the 15th-century. The iconic Inca site is located in the region of Cusco in southern Peru, at an altitude of (2,430 m /7,970 ft).
Machu Picchu, means “Old Mountain” in Quechua
Built, 1438 AC.
Location, Cusco – Peru
Altitude, 2 430 m / 7,970 ft.
Distance from Cusco, 80 Km / 50 mile
STORY OF MACHU PICCHU
Most modern archaeologists and historians agree that Machu Picchu was built by the Inca Pachacuteq, the greatest statesman of Tahuantinsuyo, who ruled from 1438 to 1471. Archaeologists assume that the construction of the citadel would date from the fifteenth century approximately based on a chronological date given by the carbon-14 or radiocarbon.
The construction of Machu Picchu began when the Inca’s territory started to grow. According to archaeologists, in this area was fought the last battle that defined victory over the Chancas, covering prestigious victory and gave power to the Inca Pachacutec.
The Inca Pachacuteq was the first to emerge beyond the valley of Cusco after his epic victory over the Chancas. He conducted the Tahuantinsuyo expansion and recognized it as the “constructor” of Cusco. This was one of his greatest works.
The origin of Machu Picchu is attributed with some certainty to Pachacuteq, embattled president, who was characterized by territorial conquests, and the development of religion and spirituality. Today there are archaeological studies supporting the theory that he got incredible leadership and building skills.
Constructed as a home for the elite of the Incas aristocracy, the citadel was located on the eastern slopes of the Vilcanota mountain range, about 80 miles from Cusco, the capital of the empire. Its strategic location was chosen with admirable success. Surrounded by steep cliffs and away from the sight of strangers in a tangled forest, the citadel of Machu Picchu had the quality of having only one narrow entrance, allowing, in case of a surprise attack, to be defended by very few warriors.
Occupied by at least three generations of Inca emperors, Machu Picchu was abandoned in a sudden and mysterious decision. The strongest hypothesis explain his disappearance from the historical memory because the Incan city was unknown to the lower castes and their routes prohibited for anyone who was not part of the small circle of the Inca king.
Parts of the valley included Tampu, despite being inhabited by that sister nation of Cusco, did not escape his iron rule. The Natural beauty, mild climate, and rich soil possibly called Pachacuteq’s attention. Site selection for lifting Machu Picchu must have been made with great care, as it was, and still is, a great place to raise a ceremonial center. According to researcher Antonio Zapata, the ancient citadel was located in a very sacred spot surrounded by Salkantay and Veronica Snow Mountains.
DISCOVERY OF MACHU PICCHU
While the rediscovery of the citadel is attributed to the American historian Hiram Bingham, there are sources that indicate that Agustin Lizarraga, a tenant of Cuzco homelands came to the ruins nine years before the historian. According to Hiram Bingham, Lizarraga would have left an inscription in one of the walls of the Temple of the Three Windows. This registration would have been subsequently deleted.
Lizarraga’s story and his visits to the ancient Inca ruins have attracted the attention of Hiram Bingham, who was in the area investigating the last holdouts of the Inca´s in Vilcabamba. Bingham, very interested in these rumors, began the search along with Melchor Arriaga and sergeant, reaching Machu Picchu in July 1911. There, the American historian would find two families, the Recharte and Alvarez, who had settled in the platforms of the south of the ruins. It was finally a child of the Richarte family who guided Bingham to the “urban area” of the ruins, which was covered by thick undergrowth.
Immediately, Bingham understood the enormous historical value of the ruins discovered and contacted Yale University, the National Geographic Society, and the Peruvian government, requesting sponsorship to start the studies in the Inca archaeological site. The archaeological excavation was carried out from 1912 to 1915. In this period, they managed to clear the vegetation that covered the whole citadel. The Inca tombs were also excavated, which were found beyond the city walls.
In 1913, National Geographic magazine published in an extensive article of Machu Picchu and the jobs that were done there, revealing to the world the citadel. With the passing of the years, the importance of tourism in the citadel of Machu Picchu would grow, first nationally and then internationally, becoming a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1983.
MACHU PICCHU NOWADAYS
Machu Picchu was designated one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007, Machu Picchu is Peru’s most visited attraction and South America’s most famous tourist destination, welcoming hundreds of thousands of people every year.
The Peruvian government just changed the policies to visit Machu Picchu. For instance, now you have two different schedules: Morning 6:00 am – 12:00 pm, and afternoon 12:00 pm – 5:00 pm. This might help us to control the environmental degradation and cultural impact in the area.
DESCRIPTION OF MACHU PICCHU
Today, in a simple way Machu Picchu is divided into two main sectors: farming and urban. The Farming Sector is located just after entering from the tourist hotel; over here there are very broad artificial farming terraces; they are only some of all the ones existing in the region, as most of them are covered by thick vegetation. By the eastern end of the terraces, there are five buildings that maybe served to house the farmers who cultivated this sector; those buildings are known as the “Farmers’ Group“. On the upper end of those terraces there is a small room having just 3 walls known as the “Watchman Post” constructed in a strategic place; from this point, there is a broad view of the Urubamba canyon in two different directions. In the vicinity is the named “Funerary Rock“; it is a loose boulder placed knowingly in that spot, carved as an altar with some steps and a ring. It is supposed to have served in order to carry out all the embalming process as well as for drying the mummies up. Nevertheless, it seems that this rock had also a certain relationship with solar observations. Further south from the “Funerary Rock” is the largest building in Machupicchu; it is a “Kallanka” that has 8 access openings on its front wall and 2 on the side ones. Because of its location near the trails, its dimensions, and morphology, that building must have been a sort of “Tambo” and served as a lodge for a large number of persons. Some authors name this building as “Headquarters” and some others as “Workshops“.
Machupicchu was a very exclusive city and its population selected among the nobility, therefore, it had a very effective security and protective system. Crossing the Dry Moat is the Urban Sector; even farther is the “Fountains Street” containing 16 Liturgical Fountains. In the Inkan Society the water was always considered as a special deity, therefore, there were normally fountains and reservoirs for its cult. The main fountain is located in front of a building having just three walls that in the Inkan Architecture is named “Wayrana” that is supposed to be a ceremonial center from where the “Willaq Uma” (High Priest) had to carry out diverse ceremonies in order to worship the water.
Nearby, is the “Sun Temple” that was a complex originally very well protected. In Inkan times only the priests and the Inka could use those temples; thus, they remained closed and protected. Common people had popular ceremonies in open areas or plazas like the one in Machupicchu or Qosqo. The entrance into the Sun Temple is through a magnificent double jamb doorway, which on its interior surface shows its security system with a stone ring over the lintel where the wooden door must have been hung, and the two stakes inside small carved boxes in the interior jambs where the door’s crossing bar was tied. The temple itself was built over a huge “in-situ” boulder.
Under the “Sun Temple” there is an interesting small cave known as the “Royal Tomb“; it was named that by Bingham believing that it could shelter the mummy of a Cusquenian nobleman or possibly that of an Inka, but he wrote that nothing was found inside it. The relationship would be logical: the Inka buried under his father’s temple. Without any doubt that small cave must have been related to the Ukju Pacha (underground world) and the cult of dead people. Inside the small cave, on the right side wall, there are two large trapezoidal niches where they kept the Inca mummies.
In front of the Sun Temple is the “Royal Group“. It is a classical “kancha” (an apartment for an extended family); it is the only one that is found in the area and the only one that is very solid and built with carved stones. There is no doubt that it was the Inka’s dwelling.
Going up the stone stairs is the “Quarry” or “Granitic Chaos” sector, where there are amorphous granite boulders; it is suggested that they were being exploited slowly. All the mountains around the Inkan City have the same quality of rocks; that is, white-gray granite of the Vilcabamba Batholith. Therefore, the rocks were in the place and were not transported from the valley’s bottom as some authors pretended to state. In this sector there is a partially broken rock frequently pointed out by local guides; that is not a genuine Inkan work but simply a sample of the technique used by that age in order to split stones, it was made in 1953.
Towards the quarry’s west is the “Sacred Plaza” (Holy Group), where in its western end is the ” Main Temple” (Chief Temple); it is a “Wayrana” type Temple, that is, it has just three walls made with stones that have rectangular faces and perfect snug joints, with the “Imperial Inkan” wall type. The Main Temple shows seven trapezoidal niches on its central wall and five on each of the lateral ones. In front of it, about 8 meters ahead and close to the “Three Window Temple” is a huge boulder partially carved that must have been its central pillar for supporting the roof beams.
On the northern end of the “Sacred Plaza” is the ” Temple of Three Windows”, it only has three walls and when in use it had a two-slope roof; its stones are polygonal, and comparatively it must have been earlier or less important than the “Main Temple”. The evidence indicates that this temple was originally projected for having five windows; it seems that the two end windows were walled up once the Temple was finished. In the central part of what would be the front wall is a single stone pillar that served to support the thatched roof, and on its western side is a carved stone with steps representing the three levels of the Andean World: the “Hanan-Pacha” (heaven), the “Kay-Pacha” (earth surface) and the “Ukju-Pacha” (underground).
In front of the “Main Temple” there is a room having two doorways and “pirka” type rough walls that today is named as the ” Priest’s House”; which is probably because of the architectonic contrast with the surrounding buildings, as the quality of walls is in direct relationship to the importance of every building. Behind the “Main Temple” is a small room of excellent quality that is known as “Ornaments Chamber”; because of its location, it must have kept a close complementary relationship to the Temple. Inside it, in the lower part of the rear wall there is an unusual low platform like a stone seat or couch; moreover, there are two very impressive polygonal boulders in both sides of the entrance that have more than 30 angles each.
From the “Holy Plaza”, towards the northwest is a stairway that rises conducting directly to the “Intiwatana” group, which seen from far away has the shape of an irregular interrupted pyramid that Bingham named “Sacred Hill”. It is impressive how the whole sector was adapted to the shape of the natural hill. Surrounding the hill, there are many narrow terraces that are not necessarily farming ones but served in order to stop erosion and protect the “Intiwatana”. Almost always those narrow terraces were also used as gardens, that is, with an ornamental purpose. By the top of the hill is the famous carved rock named as “Intiwatana“, its shape is irregular (polygonal) finishing with an almost cubic polyhedron on which the top has signs of having been hit. Originally, all the faces of this boulder must have been finely polished; possibly the same way as the Main Temple in Ollantaytambo, that is, it had a smooth surface almost as glass. Moreover, it must have had other auxiliary elements for its use.
The word “Intiwatana” labeling carved stones like this was first used by George Squier in 1877; that name is not found in any ancient chronicle. The correct names would be “saywa” or “sukhanka” that were used by chroniclers. “Intiwatana” is translated as the “place where the sun is tied up” or simply “sun fastener”. The day of the winter solstice (June 21st) the Quechuas had to perform the “Inti Raymi” (Sun Festivity) that was the biggest celebration of the Inkan Society.
Going down by the stairway towards the Intiwatana’s northwest is the north end of Machu Picchu, where the “Sacred Rock” is found. It is a small complex where there are two very similar “wayranas”, one in front of the other and with “pirka” type walls. They served as temples or altars for worshipping the “Sacred Rock” that stands towards the northeast, by the middle of them. The “Sacred Rock” is a natural projection of the mountain and stands surrounded by a stone pedestal, its surface is relatively smooth and was possibly also finely polished. Many scholars believe that the “Sacred Rock” is simply the representation of the Yanantin Mountain, standing behind it. In ancient times the silhouettes of the rock and mountain were identic, but today they are almost similar due to the natural erosion over the rock.
The “Main Plaza” is the biggest open and flat space existing in Machu Picchu, it is towards the northeast and by the feet of the “Intiwatana”. It was the place where the population’s popular ceremonies were carried out; perhaps also the “Inti Raymi” or Sun Festivity like as in Qosqo’s Main Square. Nearby this plaza there are terraces that did not have a farming duty but served simply to flatten the terrain; in the totally irregular Machupicchu’s topography, that was the only way to achieve flat spaces.
Three Doorway Unit“, those are basically buildings that served as apartments, storehouses, and some other utilitarian duties. Towards the east of this complex are interesting buildings with different altars, semi-underground buildings, sculpted stones with diverse shapes, etc., and about which there are not deep interpretative studies yet. By this zone, there is also an interesting cave containing a partially carved window named Intimachay that was studied by Dearborn who argues that from inside the cave it is possible to see just 2° of horizon through the window that is aligned with the sunrise in the summer solstice.
Mortars Group“, to which some authors name the “Industrial Sector“. The architectonic quality of its walls indicate that it had a serious importance in the city; Bingham named it as “Ingenuity Group”. This was apparently a very exclusive group because it has a double jamb doorway and inside, it still has the door locking system with two small carved boxes and their stone stakes. Inside that group there is a room having two circular “mortars”, both having almost the same diameter and carved on a granite outcrop in the floor. Some historians suggest that those were mortars used in order to grind diverse elements for making weavings or pottery in the sector that was “industrial”; though, the mortars do not appear to have had much use. Others indicate that those were seats for “aryballus” (pointed base jars) containing “chicha” (maize beer). Likewise, it is suggested that they were filled up with water in order to serve as “mirrors” for astral observations during clear nights, alleging that this enclosure was not roofed.
The “Temple of the Condor” form something like a labyrinth where in its lower and central portion there is a sculpture on a granite outcrop with the shape of an Andean Condor having a beak, the classic white collar around its neck and its whole body. Behind, there are two huge rocks surrounding it; they represent its wings, giving the impression of being a landing condor. It is obvious that this was a sacred spot built on purpose in order to worship the “Apu Kuntur” (Condor God) that was one of the three sacred animals of the Inkan Society.
From Machu Picchu it is also possible to take some other short walks. One of them is towards the “Inkan Bridge” for which, it is necessary to reach the small “Watchman Post” located on the upper area of the farming sector; from that spot, there is a trail towards the southwest. After about 20 minutes of walking, one gets to the present-day end of the path, from where there is a view of the trail carved on the mountain-face as well as of the bases of a drawbridge. It is supposed that the drawbridge structure was of light wood that was removed or saved in order to avoid trespassing of non-authorized persons; thus they enabled the protection of Machupicchu.
Somewhat lower than the same “Watchman Post” is the Inka Trail that originally joined Machu Picchu with Qosqo; that trail is a good sample of the Quechua engineering and construction technology, it still keeps its original pavement of flagstones and it is very wide. When following it, about 1.5 miles is the pass named Intipunku (Sun Gate).
Because of its location strategically established for its protection, because of its number of temples and their architectonic quality, because of the small amount of “kanchas” (apartments for extended families), and because of the several characteristics that Machupicchu presents: originally, it was a regional power center dependent from Qosqo.
That is, it was a small religious and political capital. Surely, it served as a dwelling for the Inka or any high ranked dignitary from the Capital, as well as for a selected nobility that had many privileges and was served by hundreds of servants.
Most modern archaeologists and historians state that Machupicchu was made built and used by Inka Pachakuteq, who was the Tawantinsuyo’s greatest statesman and ruled from 1438 to 1471, as his “Royal Estate”. Scholars use for this assertion the chronological dating given by the carbon 14 or radiocarbon, its doubtless “Imperial Inka” architectonic style, the predominant ceramic pieces, and a couple of ancient chronicles found in the Qosqo archives. Even more, the archaeological evidences discard totally any possibility of pre-Inkan settlements in this region.