Some of you may remember that I promised to do a biog on Machu Picchu a few weeks ago. it may be slightly late, but better late than never!
I went to Machu Picchu three years ago with my family whilst on a tour of South America, and it was an experience I will never forget.
Machu Picchu was built in 1450 by the Incas and is located on a ridge between the Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu mountains in Peru. It sits 7,970 feet (2,430 meters) above sea level on the eastern slope of the Andes and overlooks the Urubamba River hundreds of feet below.
The site’s excellent preservation, the quality of its architecture, and the breathtaking mountain views has made Machu Picchu one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world today. The site covers 80,000 acres. Terraced fields on the edge of the site were once used for growing crops, likely maize and potatoes.
In 1911, an explorer, Hiram Bingham, accidentally discovered it whilst searching for Vilcabamba, the last capital of the Inca before their final defeat at the hands of the Spanish in 1572. He found it covered with vegetation, much of which has now been removed, however it was largely intact, having never been found by Spanish conquistadors. The buildings were made without mortar (typical of the Inca), their granite stones quarried and precisely cut. The only reference to the site at all in Spanish documents is a mention of the word “Picchu” in a 1568 document, the text implying that it belonged to the Inca emperor.
Machu Picchu is believed to have been built by Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, the ninth ruler of the Inca, in the mid-1400s. An empire builder, Pachacuti initiated a series of conquests that would eventually see the Inca grow into a South American realm that stretched from Ecuador to Chile.
Many archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was constructed as a royal estate for use by the emperor and his family. The site also housed a small number of caretakers. Although Machu Picchu has a wall, modest gateway and dry moat (likely used for collecting rainwater) it doesn't appear to have been set up with military purposes in mind, and there is no evidence that a battle of any sort was fought there.
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.
The biggest puzzle at Machu Picchu is a giant rock, named “the Intihuatana” by Bingham, after other carved stones found in the Incan empire. 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.
Machu Picchu did not survive the collapse of the Inca; in the 16th century the Spanish appeared in South America and plagues afflicting the Inca along with military campaigns waged by conquistadors saw the fall of the last Incan capital, in 1572 and their line of rulers came to end. Machu Picchu, a royal estate once visited by great emperors, fell into ruin. Today, the site is on the United Nations' list of World Heritage sites.