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History of Machu Picchu - Inca Civilization - History

History of Machu Picchu - Inca Civilization - History

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The first thing that people think about when they hear Peru is Machu Picchu. Located just outside of Cuzco in the northwest countryside is the marvelous Machu Picchu which is visited by thousands of tourists every day. It is said to be a holy site or royal estate of the Incan leaders. The Inca civilization was nearly wiped out by the Spanish conquerors during the sixteenth century. Machu Picchu had been abandoned for hundreds of years until Hiram Bingham, an American archaeologist found it in 1911. Only the peasants that lived in the region knew about the existence of the abandoned citadel. Most tourists to Peru only visit the country due to Machu Picchu after going through travel information which fascinates them of the might of the Inca civilization.

Stretching over 5 miles, the Machu Picchu features over 3000 stone steps which link to many different levels. The towering stone monuments are a favorite among tourists who venture to Peru to take in the mysterious splendor of it all.

Incan Past of the Machu Picchu

According to historians, the Machu Picchu had been built during the height of the Inca civilization. Western South America was dominated by the Inca Empire during the period of fifteenth to sixteenth century. The Machu Picchu is believed to have been abandoned 100 years after it had been constructed when the Spanish conquerors arrived. However, there is a lack of evidence which suggests that the conquistadors were able to reach the citadel or even attacked. Thus, some historians believe that the desertion of Machu Picchu occurred due to a smallpox epidemic. Made up of over 150 buildings that range from sanctuaries to temples to houses and baths, the Machu Picchu is a magnificent citadel.
Most archaeologists are of the view that Machu Picchu was a royal estate for nobles and Incan emperors. On the other hand, there are many that believe that it was a holy site because it is close to the mountains which the Incas considered sacred. There are many different theories that have propped up over the years since this manmade wonder was first unveiled.

Discovery of Machu Picchu by Hiram Bingham

Hiram Bingham came to Peru in 1911 with a team of explorers in hopes to find the last Incan stronghold which fell in the hands of the Spanish. The American archaeologist traveled by foot and rode a mule from Cuzco to the Urubamba Valley. Once there, a local farmer mentioned that there are some ruins which are found at the top of the mountain. Machu Picchu was the name that the farmer used for referring to the mountain which means “old peak” in the Quechua language.
After a difficult climb on July 24, Hiram Bingham and his team fought the drizzly cold weather to make it to the top until a group of peasants helped guide them to their final destination. This is when Hiram got a first glimpse of the manmade wonder that is Machu Picchu. The intricate stone network that showcased the terraces that marked the entrance excited Hiram beyond words. Hiram wrote about his discover in his book “The Lost City of the Incas”. This helped spread the word about Machu Picchu and led to many tourists from around the world heading on the Inca Trail. Moreover, Hiram also excavated various artifacts which were taken to Yale University. This led to a custodial battle between the American government and the Peruvian government until Yale University agreed to repatriate the artifacts.
Although Hiram might claim to be the first outsider to visit the Machu Picchu, it is possible that many others had already discovered the site. Some of the evidence suggests that explorers and missionaries had reached Machu Picchu during the nineteenth or early twentieth century. But, they did not publicize what they uncovered.

The Site

Located near the tropical mountain forest in the Peruvian Andes, the Machu Picchu boasts beautiful ramps, stairways, terraces, and walls which seamlessly blend in well with the natural environment. The site is made of finely crafted stonework. It even has its own sophisticated irrigation system which showcases the splendor of the Incan architectural works. The terraced fields had been perfectly planned. Moreover the engineering and agricultural prowess of it all will take you away. The central buildings are made from masonry techniques that had been mastered to perfection by the Incas. The techniques involved the cutting of stones without any mortar.
Several distinctive sections have been identified by archaeologists which come together to form a city. It includes a sacred area, a royal district, residential neighborhoods, and a farming zone. The Intihuatana and the Temple of the Sun are two of the most famous structures that are found in Machu Picchu. The Intihuatana stone is sculpted granite rock which functioned like a calendar or solar clock.

The Temple of the Sun

Known for its spiritual significance, the Temple of the Sun has an intricate elliptical design which is similar to the Incan sun temple found in Cuzco. The temple is located next to the residence of the emperor. The rock inside of the temple is believed to have been the altar. The June Solstice held great importance to the Incas as it is during that time that sun shone directly into the temple.

The Machu Picchu of Today

The Machu Picchu has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site ever since 1983. It is considered a New Wonder of the World. Thus, the Machu Picchu is one of the most visited attractions in not just Peru but South America. It has led to an influx of tourists from around the world which has led to great development in all nearby towns. However, environmental degradation is a reality which endangers the site. It is due to this reason that the Peruvian government has taken various preventative measures to ensure that the ruins are protected from erosion and mass tourism. The Machu Picchu continues to attract hordes of tourists every year.

History of Machu Picchu - Inca Civilization - History

Individual stones (mostly granite) ➝ shaped to fit together

Located near the Inca capital (Cusco)

Composed of houses & terraces built by fitting individually carved stones together

Terraces essentially = steps built into the side of the mountain

Provide land for agriculture

16 stone channels drain water out of structure or into fountains

One fountain may have acted as a ritual bath for the emperor

Wood & thatch used for roofing

Entrances, windows, & niches are trapezoidal

Made up of a stone enclosure with windows above a cave structure

Originally used as a palace for Inca emperors- Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui - mid 15th century

Overlooks the Urubamba river (near modern day Peru)

near Inca capital of Cusco, and nearly 3,000 feet lower in elevation

Chosen because of its proximity to Adean landscape- sight lines to other mountains “apus”

These mountains symbolize the spirits of ancestors

Emperor would only live there for part of the year in a “separate compound southwest of the sight”- shows his “stand alone” royal status

Pachacuti believed he was the descendent of the sun or the sun himself- why this work was known as the “temple of the sun”

People viewed the sun as divine- emperor had divine rights

Cross cultural connection with other European emperors (i.e. Louis XIV)

Yanaconas and Mitimaes lived there also (year round)

Yanacona- “retainer” or person who commanded others to come and work for the Incan empire

Most worked as metalsmiths on the side

Mitimaes- the colonists that the yanaconas commanded to come and work at Machu Picchu.

Hiram Bingham III (1875-1956) discovered Machu Picchu and proceeded to excavate it

His team at Yale (Peabody Museum) agreed that after excavation they would return the artifacts to Peru (Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Peru on November 23 2010, a second Memorandum of Understanding with the University of Cuzco (UNSAAC) on February 11, 2011)

Main building construction = typical Inca elite architecture

Stones shaped to fit one another, not to look uniform

Each stone had a protruding side & a concave side that locked them with other stones but allowed for movement during earthquakes

Outward faces were always smooth

Buildings & layout highlight social divisions

Structures for people of lower class were made more crudely & not in the typical Inca elite style

Most high status buildings are together in the northeast

Emperor lived to the southwest, further symbolizing his status as ruler

The observatory is next to his residence, drawing connections between status, royal authority, ritual, and astronomy

Pachacuti was claimed as a descendent of the sun (Inti), a position that contributed to his right to rule

Was responsible for conducting many rituals

Machu Picchu contains many religious structures

A testament to the importance the Inca placed on religion & ritual

Used rituals to reinforce their relationship with the supernatural force of existence

Cave of the observatory may represent the Inca underworld

Structure acts as a representation of Inca myth as much as a center for astronomical study

Carved boulder located in ritual sector of Machu Picchu

Reflected belief in spirits within the earth

Reinforced Inca connection to them

Emperor was very spiritually engaged and was the spiritual leader of his people- performed rituals relating to supernatural forces at this site

Number of religious artifacts represent power of the emperor

The Intihuatana or a carved boulder (“hitching post of the sun”)- used sun and shadows to tell the time (religious rituals were very time oriented)

Used for astronomy and studying the sky- people went to the high points of the building

Area where the elite could gather- plan the fate of the empire, have feasts, and perform religious acts.

Recreation of Inca myth- people would travel to Machu picchu and feel connected to their ancestors who also made great pilgrimages

Then and now Machu Picchu is burdened by its high visitation rate- difficult to maintain the historical integrity of the site

Power-authority- divine leaders

Sun and divine rights of emperor

History/memory of Inca people

Performance (term used loosely- religious rituals were active)

Both the Stupa & the Inca observatory work to allow for a better understanding of our lives

Stupa stimulates circumambulation & movement towards enlightenment

Observatory facilitates exploration of astronomy & our universe

Both also act as physical representations of aspects of an ideology/religion

Observatory cave basement theorized to be a representation of the Inca underworld

The Stupa is an imitation of the universe & the human body in the lotus position

Machu Picchu

The Citadel of Machu Picchu is as we know today this fortress from the Inca Empire whose ruins date from the 1300 DC. However, "Old Mountain," as its translation indicates, comes from the indigenous language Quechua. This native language is still being used in some villages in the southern part of the country, where this city is well known as the greatest Machu Picchu. The Citadel contains the remains of the ancient settlement formed by this village part of the Inca civilization, located at the east side of the valley constituted by mountain systems, Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu, and the Central Andes in the South of the country. This geographical location on the eastern slope of the Cordillera de Vilcanota, just 80 kilometers from the city of Cuzco, still holds many of the remains and ruins built on stone that are all over the slopes of these mountain systems, presenting the different periods of the Inca civilization that left their traces and treasures at the Citadel of Machu Picchu.

The construction of the Citadel of Machu Picchu is attributed to the pronounced emperor, also known as one of the most intelligent statesmen Inca, Pachacuti. During the empire of Pachacuti, empire that started in 1438 B.C. but early ended in 1471 B.C., the Inca government planned the development of the citadel to tackle the problem of the over-population, at the same time that the exploitation of the land. The demographic situation forced Pachacuti to send a series of exploration teams that established the first settlements and villages all over the mountains. After a great victory in the battle of Machu Picchu, the rule of Pachacuti began its expansion, reaching its highest culmination with the creation of the great city of Cuzco.

Everything indicates that the main reason was not the over-population problem as much as the intellectual demographic expansion because, Pachacuti was well known as a spiritual leader and an extraordinary pioneer. This is why explains that the Citadel was strictly reserved for the high Inca aristocracy. Although it was strategically designed to take advantage of this unreachable location, the Citadel knew how to accommodate more than three generations while avoiding access to anyone who was not part of the Inca aristocracy, and that is basically one of the reasons that explains why there was only a single entrance which was used in their favor to improve measures for the protection of the city. The settlement is located between deep valleys surrounded by miles of the dense jungle, so it could easily be defended in case of attack, but it was also used to prevent access from the lower social classes plebeian. The fact of such high levels of restriction to get access to it could lead to isolation and the disappearance, following the abandonment of the city and its very important legacy of the Inca civilization.

The Empire of Tahuantinsuyo is the only one that has these colossal architectural wonders include the world-famous citadels of the Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu. Pachacuti chose the exact location of these settlements based on both, the development of agronomic production and the extraction of mineral deposits. These valleys have been well known for providing extraordinary resources such as minerals or exceptional land but also because the area has great weather conditions ideal for agriculture. All these resources made this location perfect for Pachacuti to start the expansion of the Empire into these unexplored territories that now show a large number of buildings and infrastructures that formed this big city: quarries, fields for both crop and livestock urban and religious centers and a network of communication constituted by countless paths and passages through the mountains. The city of Machu Picchu was created at the same time with the idea of accommodating only high class nobility of the Inca Empire, which is why this citadel presents the most precious works of architecture of the Empire. There is also an explanation of why this settlement was only for the high social class and it has to do with the geographical location. Machu Picchu was extremely important for the civilization because the system of mountains had a high spiritual meaning. Obviously, Machu Picchu was a holy sanctuary that held a spiritual meaning but this civilization religious faith was based on astronomy studies where the stars were representing the Inca Civilization divinities what gives Machu Picchu the status of planetarium.

The town was completely built in stone and stands at a very high altitude, precisely 2,400 meters above sea level. There is no doubt that this was the perfect place for meditation: the sanctuary for the high class of the Incan society. However, such impressive urban focus needed of all the infrastructures that all cities need. The slopes of the mountain range of the Vilcanota still represents the supply of the citizens, where one can still find an large number of highlands that were designed for the agriculture and livestock, as well as hundreds of small-scale quarries.

Although it has scrapped the idea that the Machu Picchu came to form part of a system of fortifications of a warlike nature, is recognized, on the other hand, that the Machu Picchu was also designed with the idea of hosting a number of buildings designed to provide defensive measures against possible attacks by other neighboring civilizations with which the Inca Empire maintained several territorial clashes. This superb architectural design was carried out thanks to the perfect location and final location of the Citadel, which took advantage of the excellent conditions of camouflage, which gave this extreme spot surrounded by deep valleys and thick jungle. History confirms that Huayna Picchu was the surveillance of the city of Machu Picchu, which served you as a lookout to the territorial threatened neighboring civilizations, and later of the Spanish conquerors. In this way, the city could be prepared to receive the attack enemy, if the enemy could get to the exact location of the city as well as the path to it. Therefore, this sanctuary was allowed to retain its purpose as a center of leisure and recreation as well as shelter for the high society because it was hidden in the Andean jungle.

Inca Trail History

Located in the Andes Mountains of Peru is the beautifully constructed and extremely popular Inca Trail. Trekkers from all over the world converge onto these ancient roadways that cover most of Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Chile. The Inca road system was a sophisticated design that is still held in high esteem even today. With thousands of tourists taking the Inca Trail tour every year to Machu Picchu for its beautiful and challenging terrain, few actually understand the historical significance of the ancient road system they walk upon.

Constructed throughout the Cloud Forests, Andean Mountain Ranges, and various Valleys throughout Peru, the Inca Trail road system stretches for thousands of miles. The main attraction however, The Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is 26 miles starting on the outskirts of Ollantaytambo, and ending of course at the sacred Inca site of Machu Picchu. Throughout the Inca Trail tour, trekkers will have the chance to witness and experience ancient Inca tunnel system going through mountains, thousands of Inca staircases ascending up the sides of great mountains, the chance to explore Inca constructions accessible only through the Inca Trail tour, as well as have a unique chance to glimpse the life of the Andean people as they still uphold their traditional living style even today.

Mainstream information sources will say that the Inca civilization lasted only 100 years, when in fact it’s more likely that it lasted much longer. The 100 years of Inca civilization history is referring to is the time when the Inca Empire was aggressively expanding all over the region before the Spanish arrived and ultimately put a stop to that. During that 100 year time period is when the main section of the Traditional Inca Trail was constructed. However, the paths in which the 4 day Inca Trail 4 day Inca Trail is built upon were probably there for hundreds if not thousands of years before the Inca ever arrived. The Inca Empire enhanced these paths by building a stone trail connecting most parts of Peru including Cusco and Machu Picchu. The Inca Empire had access to a large labor force, as every male in society had to do some kind of work project like the Inca Trail, or join the Inca military force.

Sections of the Inca Trail reach elevations of over 16,000 feet in some parts. The Classic Inca Trail tour that travelers and tourists trek however, reaches an elevation of only 13,000 feet. The 26 mile section of the Classic 4 Days Inca Trail usually takes up to four days and three nights to complete. In the time of the Inca however, they had specialized runners or “Chasquis” who could run the entire 26 mile stretch completing dozens of miles in just one day. These messengers would relay important information back and forth from Cusco and Machu Picchu. There is actually a temple located along the Inca Trail tour that is a shrine paying tribute to these amazing Inca runners. Running up hundreds if not thousands of stairs at elevations reaching 16,000 feet and along some pretty difficult Andean Mountain terrain is almost unthinkable by today’s standards. These Inca messengers however were very well trained and were respected by the highest Inca authorities.

Many people view the Classic Inca Trail tour as the one and only Inca Trail there is. This misconception is laughable as there are over 40,000 known “Inca Trails” that hold the same name. The Inca Trail tour is a small section of the 23,000km known Inca Trail road system covering vast distances all over the West Coast of South America. The Classic Inca Trail tour is the most preserved section of the Inca road system for sure, and attracts visitors by the thousands due to its final destination being the amazing Wonder of the World, the great holy sanctuary of Machu Picchu.

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is an amazing glimpse into the history of the Inca Empire and what life may have been like more than 500 years ago in the Andean Mountains. The Inca remind us what humans are capable of with a strong will and unity. If you choose to take the Inca Trail tour as your path to Machu Picchu, be sure to take your time and pay close attention to all the details along the way. It is a true honor for us to be able to walk these same paths as this small 26 mile section of the Inca Trail was the most important section of all. Known as a holy and sacred pilgrimage for the Inca people, reserved only for the elites, enjoy your unique gift of being able to tread these same paths that Inca royalty embarked on generations into the past.


The history of Machu Picchu can be traced back to the ancient Inca Empire, which came into existence around 1200 ad. Furthermore, Machu Pichhu, along with the city of Cuzco, was built under the Rule of Pachacuti, and Topa Inca, as they extended their diplomatic rule over the central and southern highlands of Peru. It is believed that after its construction, Machu Picchu was used as a royal estate for emperors and nobles. There is also the belief that Machu Picchu was used as a religious site, due to its geographical location that features many aspects the Inca saw as sacred. The site was later abandoned, around 100 years after its construction, due most likely to the Spanish invasion of the 1530’s. Not much was know about the site after this until 1911, when the archeologist, Hiram Bingham, claimed to have discovered the site. In July of 1911, Bingham climbed to the top of the two mountains where Machu Pichhu lies, where he was met by a young man who led him to the stone terraces of the site. While Bingham is the most well known for the discovery, it is believed that many other missionaries and explorers had reached the site, but had not been as vocal about their findings.

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is often described as “mysterious,” but in fact a great deal is known about its construction and purpose. It was built as a royal estate for the first Inka emperor, Pachacuti Inka Yupanqui, in the middle of the 15th century, on a mountain saddle overlooking the Urubamba River (in modern day Peru). The location was approximately three days’ walk from the Inka capital of Cusco, and nearly 3,000 feet lower in elevation (7,972 feet / 2,430 meters), with a pleasant climate. It was intended as a place where the Inka emperor and his family could host feasts, perform religious ceremonies, and administer the affairs of empire, while also establishing a claim to land that would be owned by his lineage after his death. The site was chosen and situated for its relationship to the Andean landscape, including sight lines to other mountain peaks, called apus, which have long been considered ancestral deities throughout the Andes. The site contains housing for elites, retainers, and maintenance staff, religious shrines, fountains, and terraces, as well as carved rock outcrops, a signature element of Inka art.


Machu Picchu, Peru, c. 1450–1540, terraces can be seen to the left (photo: Max Reiser, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The site features architecture, from houses to terraces, built by carefully fitting individual stones against each other. Terraces were a common element of highland agriculture long before the Inka. They increased the arable land surface and reduced erosion by creating walled steps down the sides of steep mountains. Each step could then be planted with crops. Terracing took advantage of the landscape and provided some sustenance for the emperor and his entourage during his visits, as well as producing ritually-important maize crops. Further provisions came from the rich lands at the foot of the mountain peak, which were also beholden to Pachacuti and his family.

Stone channel drain, Machu Picchu, Peru, c. 1450–1540 (photo: Eduardo Zárate, CC BY-ND 2.0)

Water management at the site was crucial, and throughout Machu Picchu a system of stone channels drains water from rainfall and from a spring near the site. Some of the water was channelled to stone fountains. There are sixteen in all, descending in elevation through the site. The first in the series is placed outside the door of the emperor’s compound. That fountain is constructed with walls that may have created a ritual bath for the emperor, connected to his duties as a sacred king who performed religious rituals.

The construction of the main buildings is typical of Inka elite architecture. The walls were built of stones that had been individually shaped to fit closely with one another, rather than being shaped into similar units. This was accomplished by a laborious process of pecking at the stones with tools, gradually shaping them so that each stone was uniquely nested against those around it. Each stone had some sides that protruded slightly, and some with slight concave faces, socketing the stones so that they held together, but allowed for earthquake-damping movement in this seismically active region. Outward faces were then worked smooth, so that the walls resemble an intricate mosaic. Most structures were roofed with wood and thatch. Entryways were in the unique Inka shape of a trapezoid, rather than a rectangle. The trapezoid shape was also used for niches and windows in the walls of buildings. Buildings for people or activities of lower status were made using a rough construction technique that did not take the time to shape the stones.

Stone walls and trapezoid-shaped windows, Machu Picchu, Peru, c. 1450–1540 (photo: Jill /Blue Moonbeam Studio, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Population and social dynamics

The emperor and his retinue would only reside at Machu Picchu for part of the year. Most of the people who lived there permanently were yanaconas (retainers) and mitimaes (colonists obligated to move to their location). Graves at Machu Picchu have yielded evidence that many of the yanaconas there were craftspeople, including metalsmiths, who came from all over the empire. The ability to command people across the empire and to oblige them to work for the Inka nobility was an expression of imperial power. The buildings of Machu Picchu clearly show the social divisions of the site, with most of the high-status residential buildings in a cluster to the northeast. The emperor himself lived in a separate compound at the southwest of the site, indicating his unique status as the ruler. The Observatory (below) was adjacent to the royal residence, emphasizing the relationship between the elites, religious ritual, and astronomical observation, including Pachacuti’s claim as both a descendant of the sun (whom the Inka called Inti) and the sun himself.

The Observatory, seen from above, Machu Picchu, Peru, c. 1440-1540 (photo: Stephen Trever, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

One of the obligations of the royal family was performing rituals that sustained relationships with the supernatural forces that drove existence. The number of religious structures at Machu Picchu is high, indicating that Pachacuti and his lineage were heavily involved in the religious functioning of the empire, a task that underscored his right to rule.


Also called the Temple of the Sun, this building’s purpose is echoed in its unique shape. It is composed of two main parts: an upper curved stone enclosure with windows and niches placed in it, and a cave beneath this structure with masonry additions that hold more niches. Modifications of the windows in the Observatory’s upper walls indicate that they were used to calculate the June solstice, as well as the first morning rise of the constellation Pleiades and other important constellations. The cave beneath the enclosure may refer to the place of the underworld in Inka myth, making the Observatory a building that embodied cosmological thought as much as it facilitated astronomical observation.


Intihuatana, Machu Picchu, Peru, c. 1450–1540 (photo: Sarahh Scher, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The Intihuatana (“hitching post of the sun”) is a carved boulder located in the ritual area of the site, to the west of the main plaza. Carved boulders were a part of the Inka relationship with the earth, and expressions of belief in a landscape inhabited by supernatural forces. Carved boulders of this type are found throughout the heart of the Inka empire. The stone’s name refers to the idea that it was used to track the passage of the sun throughout the year, part of the reckoning of time used to determine when religious events would take place and similar to the Observatory.


Due to its status as an important piece of both global and Peruvian heritage, Machu Picchu has recently become the focus of international attention with regard to both the repatriation of artifacts from the site, and preservation of the existing structures against environmental and human impact.

Covered by jungle and known only to locals since the sixteenth century, Machu Picchu was uncovered by Hiram Bingham III, a professor of South American history at Yale University, in 1911. In addition to the structures at the site, he and his team excavated thousands of artifacts, including ceramics, tools, jewelry and human bones, which he brought back to Yale under an agreement with the Peruvian government at the time. The agreement stipulated that the artifacts could be studied at Yale, with the provision that they could be requested and returned to Peru at any time. Since then, most of the objects have been housed at Yale’s Peabody Museum.

Despite Peru’s repeated demands for the objects’ return over the last century, it took a U.S. federal court case and the intervention of Peru’s president to finally secure their repatriation in 2010. According to the Peabody museum website ,

In a gesture of friendship and in recognition of the unique place that Machu Picchu has come to hold for the people of Cuzco and the Peruvian nation, Yale agreed to return to Peru materials excavated by Bingham at Machu Picchu in 1912. This was the basis of a diplomatic resolution of the dispute between Yale University and the Peruvian government. The agreement was formalized in a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Peru on November 23 2010, a second Memorandum of Understanding with the University of Cuzco (UNSAAC) on February 11, 2011, and the return from the Peabody Museum of materials from Machu Picchu in 2011 and 2012.

The agreement has resulted in ongoing research cooperation between Yale and UNSAAC, and is an example of how repatriation efforts can lead to new and fruitful opportunities for cooperation.

The site of Machu Picchu itself is also now the focus of governmental efforts, as authorities attempt to cope with the great numbers of visitors and their impact on the site, in addition to environmental and agricultural factors that threaten the integrity of the landscape. According to the UNESCO website ,

the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu is among the greatest artistic, architectural and land use achievements anywhere and the most significant tangible legacy of the Inca civilization.…The strongly increasing number of visitors to the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu must be matched by an adequate management regulating access.…The planning and organization of transportation and infrastructure construction, as well as the sanitary and safety conditions for both tourists and new residents attracted by tourism requires the creation of high quality and new long-term solutions, and is a significant ongoing concern.

The government of Peru recently instituted a ticketing system that caps the number of visitors and requires them reserve and pay for daily time slots at the site. Still, UNESCO warns that

Since the time of inscription consistent concerns have been expressed about ecosystem degradation through logging, firewood and commercial plant collection, poor waste management, poaching, agricultural encroachment…, introduced species and water pollution …, in addition from pressures derived from broader development in the region…. Continuous efforts are needed to comply with protected areas and other legislation and plans and prevent further degradation.

Given the number of agencies involved in planning and protecting Machu Picchu, UNESCO states, achieving an adequate master plan for the site is an ongoing challenge. Machu Picchu is only one of many such world heritage sites around the world that are dealing with the threats brought by increased visitation, and it points to the tensions between the need for everyone to enjoy and benefit from the experience of seeing these magnificent sites, and the need to preserve them for future generations.

Backstory by Dr. Naraelle Hohensee

Additional resources:

Richard L. Burger and Lucy C. Salazar, Machu Picchu: Unveiling the Mystery of the Incas (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004).

Carolyn Dean, A Culture of Stone: Inka Perspectives on Rock (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010).

Lucy C. Salazar, “Machu Picchu: Mysterious Royal Estate in the Cloud Forest,” in Machu Picchu : Unveiling the Mystery of the Incas, edited by Richard L. Burger and Lucy C. Salazar (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004).

History of Machu Picchu

An icon of Inca civilization, Machu Picchu in its prime was truly fit for a king – or, more accurately, an emperor. While there remains some speculation, it is commonly believed the citadel was built for Inca Pachacuti (also referred to as Pachacutec) who ruled from 1438 until his death in the early 1470s. The ninth Inca ruler, Pachacuti would begin an era of conquest that marked the development of the Inca Empire (or Tawantinsuyu), the largest empire in pre-Columbian America.

Archaeologists estimate that the construction of the mystical mountain city began around 1450 and took decades to complete. Not even a century after the first stone wall had been erected, however, Spanish conquerors began to gain ground in what is today considered the Cuzco region. Remote and off the radar, the tropical mountain top was safe from unknowing Spanish intruders yet was nonetheless abandoned by its people who sought safer ground.

Would Machu Picchu then be completely forgotten? Not necessarily. In 1911, American explorer Hiram Bingham arrived in the Sacred Valley and was guided along the Urubamba River and up the now famous mountainside to the citadel (which he mistook for Vilcabamba) by a duo of local peasant farmers. Though quite overgrown with dense jungle, Machu Picchu had not been a secret to locals – it was, however, a delightful surprise for curious internationals who, having read of Bingham’s so-called discovery in his 1913 book, would begin a longstanding wanderlust tradition of dreaming of Peru.

In the past half a century of its modern history, Machu Picchu has garnered titles such as Peruvian Historical Sanctuary (since 1981), Unesco World Heritage Site (1983), and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World (2007).

A summary of the writing of the Incas

History suggests that the Incas were apparently able to control their remarkable state system through a pyramidal hierarchy with information and direction flowing down through 10 overseers to 100, to a 1000 and so on. We know from historical writing and the archaeological record that they did not possess an alphabet or written language although they certainly utilized symbols and diagrams.

Quipu of the Inca Culture

We know that the Quipu (collection of colored strings and knots) was extensively used as an accounting and record keeping device. History indicates this required a trained interpreter/programmer to accompany it. Although known and used during the early colonial period the technique was not documented and lost to history. The Inca also maintained a class or guild of verbal historians. What records the state may have kept and how remains a mystery.

With the catastrophic collapse of Inca infrastructure following arrival of the Spanish, these specialists/historians were scattered and forgotten. The Spanish, mostly illiterate, uneducated adventurers had little interest in seeking or preserving anything not producing wealth and power. By the time scholars and responsible administrators arrived the information on the history of the Incas and its tradition was lost.

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 &ldquoTemple of the Sun,&rdquo 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 &ldquoroyal mausoleum,&rdquo 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.

What did They find in Machu picchu?

Professor Hiram Bingham returned to Machu picchu in 1912 with a new expedition, and in the years that followed(1914-1915) They excavated and researched the site. He recounts that they explored practically every square inch of the place. The excavations allowed him to piece together 555 ceramic (vases), and nearly 220 bronze, copper, and silver pieces. The stones demostrate the distinct styles of Inca art, shaped to form bracelets, earring, knives, axes, brooches and needles.

The history of Machu Picchu was being open to the world. Through the course of his excavations, Professor Hiram Bingham never found a significant amount of important cultural material amongst the residential areas, leading him to presume that few people actually inhabited Machu picchu.

In the excavations, Professor Hiram Bingham found 164 graves: 102 very young women, 22 men, 7 girls, 4 boys, and the rest infants or unidentifiable. This evidence led reserachers to suspect that the inhabitants of Machu picchu were Acllas women, Inca sun virgins.

Watch the video: Terra X - Das Rätsel von Machu Picchu (August 2022).