Machu Picchu is an ancient archeological Inca
site 69 mi (110 km) Northwest of Cusco in Peru. Peruvian
government secured 326 sq km or 126 miles as a "Historical
Sanctuary" to preserve Machu Picchu archaeological site. In 1983
Machu Picchu was added to a UNESCO World Heritage Site and in
2007 it was chosen as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
History of Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu was found around 1450 by the Incas
during reign of the two great Incas or rulers Pachacutec Inca
Yupanqui (1438- 71) and Tupac Inca Yupanqui (1472- 93). New city
was situated at the end of the Inca Trail on a mountain (450
meters or 1480 feet) above Urubamba River. It served as a
private residence of the main ruler as well as noblemen that
served the royal family. Judging by older ruins around this
archaeological site peasants were first settlers in the area.
However their small hamlets were dwarfed by extensive building
project of Incas. Machu Picchu served as a home for hundreds of
people during dry season of the year, while during wet rainy
season (October- April) most of the royal court left Machu
Picchu and moved back to Cuzco situated 80 kilometers (50 miles)
away. It is likely that only 200 residents remained to keep an
eye over palace, temples and other buildings. Rainy season is
still a dangerous today and often forces the tourists and locals
to evacuate from a region. Keep in mind that you can get soaked
even during "dry" season of the year.
Machu Picchu was abandoned around 1572. We have
no evidence that the Spanish conquistadors ever made to the Lost
City of the Incas. No sacred sites were defaced and pagan cult
buildings were damaged by the invaders. More likely it was
abandoned due to small pox epidemic that swept through the
region. Those who survived the initial wave of the deadly
disease simply ran away to look for isolated regions of the
Andean mountains to escape death.
Machu Picchu was entirely lost despite its
romantic stories that surround it. Local natives often came here
and looked for the shelter. Europeans also passed through this
area, but in smaller numbers. In 1867 a German businessman
Augusto Berns visited the site and looted several objects that
he liked. Further discoveries were made, but most of these were
lesser known and included uncontrolled plundering of the Inca
ruins. First official of re- discovery of Machu Picchu occurred
in 1911 by Hiram Bingham III who performed first scientific digs
in the area.
Travel to Machu Picchu
There are several ways to get to Machu Picchu. Longer
and more romantic way to get here is by hiking the Inca Path.
Unfortunately high number of tourists left a mark on this ancient
system of roads. The only way to hike this road is by taking a hired
local guide and reserve a spot for a hike.
Another way to visit Machu Picchu is by taking a
Cuzco railroad (PeruRail) to Aguas Calienters. It is a small town
situated four miles away from the lost town. Its name is translated
as "hot waters" in Spanish. It gets its name from hot springs that
are abundant here. Spending a night near Machu Picchu will allow you
to travel to the site early in the morning before hordes of tourists
will descend on ancient ruins. Some of the more popular hotels in
the city include Inka Terra Machu Picchu Hotel as well as several
hostels like Presidente, Pachacutec and La Cabana.
Machu Picchu Layout
Sacred Plaza is second largest plaza in Machu
Picchu. Some of the most important buildings in the city are
found here. This includes the Main Temple of the city. The
Sacred Plaza itself was probably a site of spiritual rituals
that were carried out here.
Funerary Rock Hut
Funerary Rock Hut is a medium sized building
near the main entrance to the site and end of the Inca Road.
Early archaeologists believed it was used to mummify bodies
from the royal family as well as nobility and religious
Temple of the Condor
Temple of the Condor is a name given to a
structure that was probably a temple. Much of the base
consists from the natural rock that was shaped by Inca stone
masons. Archaeologists saw a shape of a condor with its
wings spread, thus they gave the building its current name.
Scientists also speculated that the head of the birds served
as a sacrificial altar for ceremonies. Additionally during
digs cave was discovered that contained a mummy. We don't
know the identity of the person who buried here, but it was
probably an important figure, probably a religious leader of
Central Plaza or Main Square of Machu Picchu
takes the central part of the medieval city. It probably
played an important role in religious rituals, celebrations
and other important events in the life of the royal court
and its servants.
Ritual fountain is located just outside of
the Royal Tomb. It consists of 16 baths that probably
carried religious and ceremonial significance. They are all
joined by intricate aqueduct system.
Prison Area is situated near the Temple of
the Condor. It consists of several small niches. Historians
believe it was used to keep prisoners since similar
structures were found in other parts of Incan Empire. Unlike
modern prisons Incan cells were not intended for long stay.
It usually took no more than three days to deliberated on
the fate of the prisoner. He or she could be released,
forced to pay a tribute for a crime or be executed. The
concept of the crime was also somewhat foreign to modern
man. Lust, laziness, disrespect of elders and other
unacceptable behaviour was punishable crimes.
The Royal Tomb
Royal Tomb is a cave like structure that was
used to burry important member of the Inca society.
Archaeologists discovered over 100 mummies of well preserved
ancient people. Most of them were women, indicating that
Machu Picchu was probably an important spiritual and
religious site inhabited by women priests. Inside the tomb
you see now empty ceremonial niches as well as so called
Inca cross. It consists of three stairs representing three
layers of Universe according to Natives beliefs. The first
step represents the kingdom of the Underworld or Afterlife.
It is symbolized by a snake. A second step is a present
human existence. It is symbolized by the jaguar, while the
highest and smallest step is a realm of spiritual or
celestial existence of many gods in the pagan pantheon. It
is symbolized by the condor.
Terraces of Machu Picchu were cut straight
through mountain rock along the slopes. They served a dual
purpose. On one hand it provided an area for farming plants.
Local peasants grew food for their families and members of
the royal court. On the other hand terraces served as a
protection of city structures from collapsing due to flash
floods and earthquakes that hit this area multiple times.
Sacred Rock is a religious formation in the
far corner of the Machu Picchu archaeological site. It was
the heart of every Incan settlement. Before buildings,
temples and palaces were erected here Incan priests blessed
the site by establishing the central Sacred Rock. A path to
Huayna Picchu (Little Peak) begins here.
Huayna Picchu or Little Peak is a picturesque
mountain that forms the back drop for most of pictures and
videos made here. However few tourists realize that it is
part of the complex. Historians believe that it was home to
women priests that lived on top of the mountain. Keep in
mind that only 400 people per day are allowed to climb the
mountain. If you choose to climb the mountain keep in mind
that it is very steep. Dizzying heights also adds to the
experience. First buildings were constructed around this
mountain before Machu Picchu was even found.