Tucked away in the rocky countryside northwest of Cuzco, Peru, Machu Picchu is believed to have been a royal estate or sacred religious site for Inca leaders, whose civilization was virtually wiped out by Spanish invaders in the 16th century.
For hundreds of years, abandoned citadel’s existence was a secret known only to peasants living in the region. The site stretches over an impressive 5-mile distance, featuring more than 3,000 stone steps that link its many different levels. Today, hundreds of thousands of people tramp through Machu Picchu every year, braving crowds and landslides to see the sun set over its towering stone monuments and marvel at the mysterious splendor of one of the world's most famous manmade wonders. Machu Picchu was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in a worldwide Internet poll.
Machu Picchu is a pre-Columbian 15th-century Inca site located 2,430 metres (7,970 ft) above sea level in the Cusco Region of Peru, South America. Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was built around 1450, at the height of the Inca Empire. The construction of Machu Picchu appears to date from the period of the two great Incas, Pachacutec Inca Yupanqui (1438-71) and Tupac Inca Yupanqui (1472-93). It was abandoned just over 100 years later, in 1572, as a belated result of the Spanish Conquest.
It was built in the classical Inca style, with polished dry-stone walls. Its three primary structures are the Intihuatana (Hitching post of the Sun), the Temple of the Sun, and the Room of the Three Windows. These are located in what is known by archaeologists as the Sacred District of Machu Picchu. There is no evidence that the conquistadors ever attacked or even reached the mountaintop citadel, however; for this reason, some have suggested that the residents’ desertion occurred because of a smallpox epidemic.
It is said that Machu Pichu was the traditional birthplace of the Incan "Virgins of the Suns". Most archaeologists think that Machu Picchu was an estate of the Inca emperor Pachacuti. In addition, the site was selected because of its position relative to sacred landscape features such as its mountains, which are purported to be in alignment with key astronomical events important to the Incas.
In the midst of a tropical mountain forest on the eastern slopes of the Peruvian Andes, Machu Picchu’s walls, terraces, stairways and ramps blend seamlessly into its natural setting. The site’s finely crafted stonework, terraced fields and sophisticated irrigation system bear witness to the Inca civilization’s architectural, agricultural and engineering prowess. Its central buildings are prime examples of a masonry technique mastered by the Incas in which stones were cut to fit together without mortar.
Archaeologists have identified several distinct sectors that together comprise the city, including a farming zone, a residential neighborhood, a royal district and a sacred area. Machu Picchu’s most distinct and famous structures include the Temple of the Sun and the Intihuatana stone, a sculpted granite rock that is believed to have functioned as a solar clock or calendar.
Machu Picchu is situated above a loop of the Urubamba River, which surrounds the site on three sides, with cliffs dropping vertically for 450 metres (1,480 ft) to the river at their base. The area is subject to morning mists rising from the river. The location of the city was a military secret. The Inca Bridge, an Inca rope bridge, across the Urubamba River in the Pongo de Mainique, provided a secret entrance for the Inca army. Another Inca bridge was built to the west of Machu Picchu, the tree-trunk bridge, at a location where a gap occurs in the cliff that measures 6 metres (20 ft). It could be bridged by two tree trunks, but with the trees removed, there was a 570 metres (1,870 ft) fall to the base of the cliffs.
In the summer of 1911 the American archaeologist Hiram Bingham arrived in Peru with a small team of explorers hoping to find Vilcabamba, the last Inca stronghold to fall to the Spanish. Traveling on foot and by mule, Bingham and his team made their way from Cuzco into the Urubamba Valley, where a local farmer told them of some ruins located at the top of a nearby mountain. The farmer called the mountain Machu Picchu, which translates to "old peak" in the native Quechua language. On July 24, after a tough climb to the mountain's ridge in cold and drizzly weather, Bingham met a small group of peasants who showed him the rest of the way. Led by an 11-year-old boy, Bingham got his first glimpse of the intricate network of stone terraces marking the entrance to Machu Picchu.
The excited Bingham spread the word about his discovery in a best-selling book, “The Lost City of the Incas,” sending hordes of eager tourists flocking to Peru to follow in his footsteps up the formerly obscure Inca Trail. He also excavated artifacts from Machu Picchu and took them to Yale University for further inspection, igniting a custody dispute that lasted nearly 100 years. It was not until the Peruvian government filed a lawsuit and lobbied President Barack Obama for the return of the items that Yale agreed to complete their repatriation.
Although he is credited with making Machu Picchu known to the world—indeed, the highway tour buses use to reach it bears his name—it is not certain that Bingham was the first outsider to visit it. There is evidence that missionaries and other explorers reached the site during the 19th and early 20th centuries but were simply less vocal about what they uncovered there.
People and Living ..
According to archaeologists, the urban sector of Machu Picchu was divided into three great districts: the Sacred District, the Popular District to the south, and the District of the Priests and the Nobility.
Located in the first zone are the primary archaeological treasures: the Intihuatana, the Temple of the Sun and the Room of the Three Windows. These were dedicated to Inti, their sun god and greatest deity. The Popular District, or Residential District, is the place where the lower-class people lived. It includes storage buildings and simple houses. The royalty area, a sector for the nobility, is a group of houses located in rows over a slope; the residence of the Amautas (wise persons) was characterized by its reddish walls, and the zone of the Ñustas (princesses) had trapezoid-shaped rooms.
The Monumental Mausoleum is a carved statue with a vaulted interior and carved drawings. It was used for rites or sacrifices. The people of Machu Picchu were connected to long-distance trade, as shown by non-local artifacts found at the site.
Temple of the Sun..
Machu Picchu has a number of structures that would have enhanced the spiritual significance of the site.
One of them, the “Temple of the Sun,” or Torreón, has an elliptical design similar to a sun temple found at the Inca capital of Cuzco. It is located near where the Inca emperor is believed to have resided at Machu Picchu. A rock inside the temple could have served as an altar. During the June solstice the rising sun shines directly into one of the temple’s windows, and this indicates an alignment between the window, rock and solstice sun. Beneath the temple lies a cave, naturally formed, which the explorer Bingham referred to as a “royal mausoleum,” although there’s little evidence that it was used as such. A boulder carved into a stairway lies near the cave entrance and the underground chamber likely served a religious function of some form.
Perhaps the biggest puzzle at Machu Picchu is a giant rock, named “the Intihuatana”, is derived from the Quechua language: inti means "sun", and wata- is the verb root "to tie, hitch (up). The Inca believed the stone held the sun in its place along its annual path in the sky.
The stone is situated at 13°9'48" S. On January 30 the sun stands almost above the pillar, casting no shadow at all. On June 21 the stone is casting the longest shadow on his southern side and on December 21 a much shorter one on his northern side. Some researchers believe that it was built as an astronomic clock or calendar. The stone at Machu Picchu is situated on a raised platform that towers above the plaza. Its purpose is a mystery, with recent research disproving the idea that it acted as a sundial. It may have been used for astronomical observations of some form. It may also be connected with the mountains that surround Machu Picchu.
What's the Future..
A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983 and 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 ruins, welcoming hundreds of thousands of people a year. Increased tourism, the development of nearby towns and environmental degradation continue to take their toll on the site, which is also home to several endangered species. As a result, the Peruvian government has taken steps to protect the ruins and prevent erosion of the mountainside in recent years.
In August 2012, Peruvian President has announced plans to build a new international airport in Cusco replacing function of the current small domestic airport to boost tourism with £290 million investment.