Situated at over 2400 meters altitude, the lost city of Machu Picchu and is certainly the most known symbol of the Inca empire. Machu Picchu is located in the Urubamba Valley in Peru, about 70 kilometers from Cusco, and re-got the attention of the world after 1911, when it was rediscovered by a group of American archeologists,after beeing forgotten for centuries .
History of Machu Picchu
The story says that the city was built in the mid-fifteenth century and served as a resort for the Incas nobles . There were temples and palaces, monuments and statues dedicated to Inca gods and courtyards where the servants lived. There were never more than 1,000 inhabitants In the city, and during the rainy season when nobles didn’t come to these places, the number of permanent residents did not exceeded 100 . So, today, the Inca mountain resort is the most important archaeological sites in South America, visited by tourists. In 1983 it became a protected area by UNESCO, an organization that tries to take measures to prevent the destruction of this place by tourists (in 2006, almost 800,000 people visited Machu Picchu).
Visiting Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu was most likely a royal estate and religious retreat. The city has an altitude of 8,000 feet (2400 meters), and is high above the Urubamba River canyon cloud forest, so it likely did not have any administrative, military or commercial use. After Pachacuti’s death, Machu Picchu became the property of his allus, or kinship group, which was responsible for it’s maintenance, administration, and any new construction.
Machu Picchu is comprised of approximately 200 buildings, most being residences, although there are temples, storage structures and other public buildings. It has polygonal masonry, characteristic of the late Inca period.
About 1,200 people lived in and around Machu Picchu, most of them women, children, and priests. The buildings are thought to have been planned and built under the supervision of professional Inca architects. Most of the structures are built of granite blocks cut with bronze or stone tools, and smoothed with sand. The blocks fit together perfectly without mortar, although none of the blocks are the same size and have many faces; some have as many as 30 corners. The joints are so tight that even the thinnest of knife blades can’t be forced between the stones. Another unique thing about Machu Picchu is the integration of the architecture into the landscape. Existing stone formations were used in the construction of structures, sculptures are carved into the rock, water flows through cisterns and stone channels, and temples hang on steep precipices.
The houses had steep thatched roofs and trapezoidal doors; windows were unusual. Some of the houses were two stories tall; the second story was probably reached by ladder, which likely was made of rope since there weren’t many trees at Machu Picchu’s altitude. The houses, in groups of up to ten gathered around a communal courtyard, or aligned on narrow terraces, were connected by narrow alleys. At the center were large open squares; livestock enclosures and terraces for growing maize stretched around the edge of the city.
The Incas planted crops such as potatoes and maize at Machu Picchu. To get the highest yield possible, they used advanced terracing and irrigation methods to reduce erosion and increase the area available for cultivation. However, it probably did not produce a large enough surplus to export agricultural products to Cuzco, the Incan capital.
Do not miss at Machu Picchu :
– Sun Gate (Inti Punku) – if you’ve just arrived via the Inka Trail, this will be your first experience of the ruins.
– Temple of the Sun – Near the summit of the main city, the stonework on the temple is incredible. Look closely and you will see that there are a variety of stone walls throughout the city.
- Intihuatana – A stone carved so that on certain days, at dawn, the sun makes a certain shadow, thus working as a sun dial. From Quechua: Inti = sun, huatana = to take, grab: thus grabing (measuring) the sun. (pronounce ‘intiwatana’)
- Temple of the Three Windows
- Main Temple
- Temple of the Condor – The tour guides will try to tell you that this was a temple, but look closely: between the wings of the condor is a chamber with grooves cut in the stone to secure manacles, a walkway behind where a torturer may walk to whip the prisoner’s backs, and a scary looking pit to let the blood of prisoners drain. Clearly the condor was a symbol of cruel justice, but a sanitized version is told for the benefit of middle-aged tourists and their children.
- Wayna Picchu. Towering above the north end Machu Picchu is this steep mountain, often the backdrop to many photos of the ruins
- If you have some time at hand, or long for a sparkle of solitude, you can also walk to the Moon Temple (Templo de la Luna) and the Great Cave (Gran Caverne).