Ascending to 2,438 meters of altitude is not only rewarded with an idyllic postcard, but also a journey through time through legendary ruins.
Machu Picchu symbolized the great power of the Inca Empire. Built on the heights, at the foot of the majestic hills of Huayna Picchu and Huchuy Picchu, in the Andean mountain range, this city that was rediscovered in 1911 by the American explorer Hiram Bingham, who considered it to be a refuge for the Inca accompanied by the virgins of the Sol. It was later thought to be a military fortress and has also been seen as a unique sacred center. Although the latest investigations suggest that it was a temporary royal residence. Be that as it may, Machu Picchu, declared in 2007 as the New Wonder of the Modern World, evokes mystery and feeds the most diverse enigmas, which is reflected in its almost 200 buildings at 2,438 meters of altitude.
WELCOME TO MACHU PICCHU WITH LAMAS
After crossing the access point to this sacred city, you go up a ramp that leads to the stepped terraces that are an example of Inca art. The Incas thus maximized the scarce cultivable space and avoided landslides due to torrential rains. The greenery of these terraces and the llamas that walk through them invite you to take photos with the most iconic animal in Peru. Leaving behind the terraces, you enter the upper neighborhood, Hanan, crossing a wall that surrounded the llacta (city in Quechua).
THE ONLY CIRCULAR CONSTRUCTION IN THE CITY
Once inside, the traveler enters a stone labyrinth whose most emblematic building is the Temple of the Sun, the only circular structure in Machu Picchu. But the most surprising thing is the fact that it was built on a huge natural rock that serves as its foundation. The Inca architects took advantage of the shape of this rock to give continuity to the building by reducing the width of the blocks, which is barely noticeable. The Incas did not know the wheel nor did they have draft animals, so observing large constructions integrated into nature is a magnificent example of the skill of their architects, engineers and stonemasons.
A MEDIEVAL TOWER?
It is also known as «the tower» for its resemblance to a medieval tower. The lower part houses an enigmatic cave, full of altars and niches, which suggests that it was a place of worship. Perhaps it was the royal mausoleum where the mummy of the Inca Pachacuti rested, «the transformer of the world», who erected this city in the mid-15th century.
After climbing a few steps from the outside, you access the upper part of the Temple of the Sun where a surprisingly solid circular wall with open trapezoidal windows surrounds a large granite stone inside, a kind of altar, which at each solstice, at dawn It was illuminated by sunlight. The orientation of its windows is perfectly aligned to receive the first rays of the sun at the solstices. For this reason, it is believed that, in addition to being a temple dedicated to the cult of the star king, it was also an astronomical observatory.
DEITIES AND VIEWS
In the Inca civilization, the main god was Inti, the Sun, whose rays gave sustenance and life to all beings. Temples in his honor, generally built of stone and circular in shape, were found everywhere in the Empire.
But the best thing is its location, from where you can see a beautiful sunrise over the Vilcabamba mountain range and an overwhelming view of the Urubamba river canyon and Putucusi hill.
PRINCESS OR PRIEST?
After enjoying the magnificent views from the Temple of the Sun, a few meters away, in a beautiful square, is the Ñusta Palace or Priestly House. Although he is better known by his first name, it is not known for sure what his function was. The ñusta was a princess who belonged to the panaca, or royal family, of the ruling Inca, which was made up of the coya, the main wife, the secondary wives, or concubines, and the male princes, called auquis. Each panaca had his personal servants (yanas), his own land for agriculture, and private residences. Finely worked stones of excellent quality were used for its construction, so it is believed that important members of society lived here, perhaps even the ñusta. In this two-story building, which did not communicate through the interior, niches can also be seen, which indicates that it was related to the ceremonies that were officiated in the neighboring Temple of the Sun. Therefore, it is not ruled out that it was a chapel of the temple itself. Another hypothesis is that it was a temple dedicated to the Moon. Whatever its function, in the same square shared by the two buildings stands a wall that Hiram Bingham baptized as the most beautiful of Inca architecture.
A PALACE WITH MANY LEGENDS
The royal residence, next to the house of the Ñusta and the temple of the Sun, was a set of rooms where the Inca Pachacuti and his family stayed when they visited the city. The privacy of the royal apartments was guaranteed by a wall and access was through a dark and narrow corridor that led to a bright courtyard. Many legends have arisen around this residence, such as that of a room with a chained puma, a patio where Pachacuti’s own mummy could rest, a private toilet and a magnificent garden in which the orchids competed in beauty with the magnificent views .
THREE WINDOWS FOR THREE BROTHERS
One of the most photographed and iconic buildings in Machu Picchu is the Temple of the Three Windows. It is known that there were originally five, and two of them were closed to turn them into niches or niches where queros (colored wooden vessels used in ceremonies), figurines and other utensils were placed. Many pottery remains were found, probably for rites, but it has not been possible to decipher its meaning or whether it was really a temple. What is most striking, apart from the wonderful views of the Main Square from its windows, is their large size, which is unusually large for this type of construction. This temple is related to one of the main myths about the origin of the Incas, that of the Tambotoco hill. According to legend, from this hill of three caves – which represent the three windows – Manco Cápac I, the mythical founder of the Inca Empire, and his brothers emerged. Beyond its symbolic character, linked to the founding myth, it can be affirmed that it was a wayrona-type building, with three walls, with a stone column in the center of the front, facing the Sacred Plaza. Possibly this column served as support for a beam that supported a huge sloping roof. This had to be thick and heavy to be able to withstand the heavy rains and also its strong winds.
THE PYRAMID IN FRONT OF HUAYNA PICCHU
From the Sacred Plaza, where the Temple of the Three Windows and a couple of other structures are located, starts a steep staircase skillfully carved by the Incas. This leads to the top of the Intihuatana temple, a magnificent pyramid with a stepped shape behind which the Huayna Picchu mountain rises imposingly, the quintessential icon of this sacred city.
THE ENERGY OF THE SACRED STONE
Once you reach the top, an esplanade opens up with a three-wall construction (wayrona), and in front of it, some carved rocks that imitate the shapes of the mountains opposite, as if they were real mirrors. At the highest point, on the same esplanade, stands the sacred stone, carved in one piece, whose peaks were aligned with the most important mountains. In addition, the edges of its points pointed to the four cardinal points, and during the two equinoxes, the Sun passes through the stone without leaving a shadow on it. For the Incas, stones carved in harmony with nature constituted huacas, sacred points, and there were many in the Inca Empire
PLACE NAMES ‘MADE BY’ HIRAM BIGAM
The names of the most important constructions are the fruit of the fertile imagination of their discoverer, Hiram Bingham, and this temple is no exception. The name intihuatana means in Quechua «place where the sun is tied». The North American explorer associated this stone with another similar one that he had seen in Pisac (about 30 km from Cuzco), where the Sun was symbolically tied to the stone so that it would not disappear during the shortest days of the year. Nor is it ruled out that this natural altar was a sundial, and even the scene of sacrificial rites. It seems that the Incas used flames of different colors depending on the ritual that was going to be carried out.
Today there is no exact answer as to the function of this enigmatic stone. The truth is that many of the visitors who have seen and touched it confirm that they feel a special telluric energy, which makes this place the most mystical of Machu Picchu.
THE AGORA OF MACHU PICCHU
At the foot of the Intihuatana pyramid lies the Main Square, in the center of the city, which is the natural division between the lower neighborhood, Hurín, and the upper neighborhood, Hanan. As a reflection of a highly hierarchical society, two well-defined sectors coexisted here: urban and agricultural. The upper part, in the north, corresponded to the urban sector and housed the main buildings of the ruling elite and the priestly caste, who represented spirituality, power, the nobility… The lower neighborhood, in the south, was the agricultural sector and it was formed by terraces that laid the foundations of the city and fed its inhabitants. It was sacrifice and submission to the State.
HUGE STONE WINGS
From the Main Square, and through a passageway, you reach the Temple of the Condor, located in the lower neighborhood, one of the most unique constructions. Its façade, formed by two rocks that suggest enormous open stone wings, is the element that distinguishes it from the rest of the structures. The shadows cast by these rocks also created the optical illusion of two large condor wings outstretched. In addition, just in front of the façade stands a curious stone sculpture carved in the shape of this bird, with its characteristic ring around its neck. Inside, there are some large niches that some authors believe could have been cells where prisoners were subjected to terrible punishments. Among them, that pumas and snakes ended their lives and their meat was later devoured by a condor, intervening in this punishment the three sacred animals of the Incas. In the lower part of this temple a mummy was found, so this site could also be a tomb.
The condor, that majestic bird that only lives in America, was a sacred animal and highly respected by the Incas. It represented immortality, strength and intelligence. It had the very important mission of making the Sun reborn every day because with its strength it pushed it out of the darkness providing the earth with life and fertility. Therefore, it is not surprising that there was a temple dedicated to this bird in the citadel.
CITY OF VIRGINS
Women, in this society, only had two destinies (without being able to choose): get married or enter the acllahuasi, which means «house of the chosen ones» in Quechua. It was a religious institution created by the Inca Pachacuti and was made up exclusively of women, the acllas or «virgins of the Sun» (as the Spaniards called them). They entered at the age of 8-10 years, previously selected, and were separated from their families, forcing them to take a vow of chastity and work for the State, which financed the institution. These young women, without any contact with society, were under the supervision of the mamaconas, who taught them to spin, weave and perform domestic tasks. They were also in charge of making chicha, an alcoholic beverage obtained by fermenting corn. Among their religious obligations, they had to keep the sacred fire always burning and prepare the ceremonies, of which, unfortunately, they sometimes became involuntary protagonists when they were sacrificed.
After four years of training, the Inca chose the destiny of the young women. The most beautiful became his concubines or secondary wives; they were the huayrur acllas. Others were given to warriors as a reward for their exploits on the battlefield; they were the paco acllas. Only a few remained in the acllahuasi for life, the mamaconas, who were really the virgins of the Sun. The issue of virginity was of the utmost importance since its loss was punishable by death.
THE CHOSEN WOMANS
For a time it was thought that Machu Picchu was the mythical Vilcabamba, the last refuge of the emperor Manco Inca, who fled from the Spanish along with the Virgins of the Sun. This theory of romantic overtones was due to a confusion with the human remains found when Hiram Bingham discovered the city. An osteologist on his team confirmed that the vast majority of the bodies belonged to women, based on the size of the bones. Years later, with new forensic analysis techniques, it was concluded that the skeletons were actually men and women in a percentage close to 50%. Despite this confusion, it is not ruled out that the structure baptized as the house of the Chosen by the American explorer was really the acllahuasi, since there are living spaces, a sanctuary, wayronas for work, product warehouses, and also some bowls of stone on the ground that were probably mortars where the chicha was prepared.
Machu Picchu is undoubtedly the most important tourism destination in South America. Every day, around 3000 people are arriving to visit this ancient Inca Citadel. However, there are still many questions about Machu Picchu nowadays, below find the most interesting facts about Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu was built by Inca Pachacuti.
Peruvian culture started somewhere around 5000 B.C. Caral in the north of Lima is one of the oldest civilizations in Peru; they lived in the desert and survived trading with their neighbors while Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, and India were developing.
The Incas appear in the history line around the 1300s. Many Inca cities were built over the foundation of past civilizations like Cusco, the capital. However, no traces of earlier civilization were found in Machu Picchu. This means that the Incas were the first to arrive at these mountains. Machu Picchu was built between 1400 AD to 1500 AD. This period belongs to Pachacuti, the 9th Inca ruler, and his son Túpac Inca Yupanqui.
Machu Picchu was abandoned after the Spanish Invasion.
Despite many theories of diseases, wars, and hunger in Machu Picchu, it might have caused the people to abandon the great citadel suddenly. Nowadays, we know that Machu Picchu was still inhabited during the first years of the conquest and abandoned during the retrieve into Vilcabamba, the last capital of the Incas.
Machu Picchu was never lost.
Hiram Bingham arrives at Machu Picchu on the morning of July 24th, 1911. He found 3 families living at the first building right after the entrances: Bingham’s first guide was a little boy 11 years old named “Pablito,” he used to play inside Machu Picchu and knew the Inca city by hand, all this was documented in the first pictures taken in black and white.
Machu Picchu was not Discovered by Hiram Bingham.
When Hiram Bingham arrived in 1911, he found in the temple of the 3 windows and painting saying “Agustin Lizarraga 1902”, he was a farmer from the Santa Teresa town next to Machu Picchu. Unfortunately, he fell into the Urubamba River in 1912 and died.
Hiram Bigham is the scientific Discoverer of Machu Picchu.
Everybody agrees that Hiram Bingham did not discover Machu Picchu. However, Hiram Bingham gave scientific value, historical value and brought the attention back to this citadel. In 1913, “National Geographic” magazine published a detailed article introducing Machu Picchu and its work, revealing the great citadel.
The Inca Trail was used as a Pilgrimage path to Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu has 2 ancient access routes: One is an easy and simple access path along the Urubamba River banks, allowing the arrival to the great citadel in just one day. The other one is the stunning Inca Trail that climbs mountains and arrives at the different temples in the mountain before arriving at Machu Picchu.
Many historians suggest that the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu had a ceremonial purpose, a hike used to prepare travelers for Machu Picchu, the Sacred Citadel. The Inca Trail might represent the first Inca King, Manco Inca’s journey when they exited the Island of the Sun in Lake Titicaca and traveled across the Mountains to Cusco valley, where they found the capital of the great empire.
Yale Returned Artifacts To Peru.
Hiram Bingham III excavated in Machu Picchu between 1912 and 1915, and the artifact found during this time left Peru under a special governmental decree. The Materials were loaned to yale University for research, and they needed to be returned. Some artifacts were returned after World War , but most of them were kept in the school.
In 2008, Peru’s government filed a lawsuit against Yale, and in 2012, after a partnership agreement between Yale University and the Univerity of Cusco, all artifacts were returned.
Machu Picchu was made earthquake-resistant.
Peru is a seismically unstable country, we are situated in the Pacific Ring of Fire, and earthquakes had flattened the cities even long before the Inca nation. Machu Picchu is also built between 2 geological fault lines. However, the Inca engineers knew that, and they built all their cities earthquake-resistant. The stones are cut so tightly that you can’t fit a needle between these spaces.
The best part of Machu Picchu is underground.
Modern engineers in Machu Picchu had estimated that 60 percent of Machu Picchu is underground constructions, and we can only see the remaining 40 percent. This doesn’t mean tunnels. The underground constructions are the drainage system and the building’s foundations on such a steep mountain top.
Machu Picchu water system is very advance.
Before building the city, Inca engineers had to plan how to bring enough water. Machu Picchu is located in the Could Forest, a warm and humid place; the reason why 60 percent of Machu Picchu is underneath is that the Incas were fighting against the humidity, against the rain, and they built the vast drainage system to exit the water from the city and avoid landslides. However, they needed to bring water to the citadel and consumption; this needed to be just enough for all living in Machu Picchu.
They decided to build a 749m long canal with 3% of inclination. There are 16 fountains to distribute the water for each neighborhood; the first one at the top was reserved for the king. This inclination allowed the water to run smoothly through the city even in the rainy season without causing any trouble.
Machu Picchu has 2 Mountains to climb.
Almost all visitors want to climb Huayna Picchu Mountain, but few people know about the other Mountain called Machu Picchu Mountain or Montaña. Huayna Picchu will sell out very fast, but you can still climb Machu Picchu Mountain that offers even greater views. Machu Picchu Mountain is the highest mountain with 3082 meters (10111 ft.). It’s important to know that Machu Picchu citadel is different from Machu Picchu Mountain.
Machu Picchu was an astronomical observatory.
Machu Picchu is considered a holy city; there are temples and sacred places all over the town.
Recent studies have shown that most of Machu Picchu’s buildings are oriented with the most important mountains around. One of the best examples is the Intihuatana Stone; the corners of this structure point to Salkantay Mountain, Pumasillo, Yanantin, and the Sungate.
Machu Picchu is divide in 2 sectors.
Machu Picchu was very well organized. The town was divided into 2 main sectors divided by a huge wall.
The agricultural sector is the first part of the terraces where Inca is used for farming maize, beans, and fruits. The terraces have an advanced drainage system.
The urban sector is divided by a tall wall; inside, there are temples, palaces, houses, and plazas. There are around 200 buildings that housed around 800 to 1000 people in total.
Machu Picchu was not destroyed by the Spaniards.
The conquistadors destroyed most Inca sites like Sacsayhuaman, Ollantaytambo, Pisaq. However, Machu Picchu was never found thanks to its hidden location, making it one of the Incas’ best-preserved archaeological treasures.
Machu Picchu has Secret Temple.
This is the Temple of the moon; unfortunately, this place is optional and allowed only to visit the early Huayna Picchu Mountain shift.
Machu Picchu also has a Local Museum located down by the bridge that crosses the Urubamba River. You will see the artifacts found in Machu Picchu and many of the first pictures taken in 1911.
Only Llamas live in Machu Picchu Today.
Machu Picchu is a protected area and a World Heritage Site since 1983. No one can live inside the citadel. However, during your visit, you will see several llamas, they are not native to the area, but they were bought to Machu Picchu to enhance the site’s beauty and trim the grass.
Machu Picchu was not finished.
The question that everybody asks is if Machu Picchu was finished. Many Inca sites in Cusco were not finished like Ollantaytambo invaded by the Spaniards, most of the rocks that the Incas were transporting to built the city were left in the trail; now, these boulders are called “Tired Stones.” The rocks were transported from far away quarries.
Machu Picchu, on the other hand, the quarry was right there, the city was completed. However, like any other modern city, it was still growing, so we see unfinished construction in Machu Picchu.
Only women lived in Machu Picchu?
Among the findings in Machu Picchu, there were around 160 skeletons, most of them were short. From this, Dr. George Eaton, the Osteologist, concluded that most of Machu Picchu’s Inhabitants were women. Bingham concluded that the site was the “temple of the Virgins of the Sun. “
Later research will prove that the amount of female and male skeletons was almost equal, and the reason why the skeleton is short because that was the average height of the Incas by that time.
Machu Picchu has only 2 season.
Machu Picchu has only 2 seasons; the wet and dry seasons.
- The wet season from November to March
- The Dry season from April to October
Machu Picchu means Old Mountain.
Machu Picchu is a compound Quechua word; “Machu” means old or great, and Picchu means mountain.
Machu Picchu is not the real name.
On July 23, 1911, the expedition led by Hiram Bingham reached the small village of Mandor, near Aguas Calientes. The local farmer Melchor Arteaga told the explorers that there were many ruins in the nearby mountains. They asked the name of the site, and he said Machu Picchu.
Unfortunately, there is no record of a town with this name. Over the years, many names have been proposed like Llaqtapta, Karmenqa, etc. However, a few years ago, the historian had found writings from the first conquistador where appeared a list of the Inca Kings and the cities that each of them built. One line says Pachacuti built the Picchu, This could be the real name of Machu Picchu, and the proved that Pachacuti built this incredible city.