While I was in Costa Rica over spring break, my dad got transferred to Lima, Peru, thus this is a country I will be visiting frequently for the next three years. This week’s blog post is about Machu Picchu, one of the tourist sites I hope to visit at some point when I go to Peru.
Machu Picchu is an Inca citadel located in the countryside of the Cuzco region in the Peruvian Andes overlooking the Urubamba River. The citadel is believed by historians to have been a royal or sacred religious site or a temple for the Inca leaders. It was built by orders of Emperor Pachacútec, the ninth ruler of the Incas, in the 15th century, during the period of expansion and the height of the Incan Empire. The Empire of the Incas was established in Cuzco around 1200 A.D. There are two famous legends about the origin of the empire; one of the legends is the legend of Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo and another is that of the four Ayar brothers. Both of these legends suggest that the founder and first leader of the dynasty was Manco Capac, however the most important Inca emperor was Pachacútec. He was emperor during a great period for the Incas and is recognized for achieving the expansion of the Inca dominion. He began a series of conquests in the continent managing to establish the empire of Tahuantinsuyo, which was about 2 million square kilometres large and covered the territory that stretches from modern day Ecuador to Chile.
In the 16th century when the Spanish invaded Peru, the Inca Empire fell and the civilization was essentially eradicated by the Spanish leaving Machu Picchu completely uninhabited. The American historian and archaeologist Hiram Bingham III, who was a professor at Yale University, discovered Machu Picchu in 1911. A year later with the help of Yale University, the National Geographic Society and the Peruvian government, he was able to begin doing archaeological work in the area, from 1912 until 1915. Multiple tombs of the ancient inhabitants were found on the site. Before 1911, the existence of the abandoned citadel was most likely only known by the locals of the Cuzco region because when Bingham made his discovery, the citadel was largely intact, thus it appears to be that the Spanish conquistadors never visited the place or knew about it altogether.
The citadel of Machu Picchu is an extraordinary work of engineering that is divided into various sections. The biggest and perhaps most important one is the Temple of the Sun, it is located in the urban sector and is only accessed through the main gate, which was put in place for the protection and security of the city. Machu Picchu was built in this particular Andes mountain because it is the highest point. The Incas believed that from this stand point they could contemplate heaven more closely and they would be closer positioned to the sun. The sun is very important in Incan culture because the Sun god was believed by the Incas to be the ancestor of their civilization (fun fact: the Peruvian currency is called “Sol” the Spanish word for sun). The most important building in Machu Picchu is inside the Temple of the Sun, it is called Torreon and it marks the exact point of the highest altitude in the entire citadel. Another piece is the pyramid of Intiwuatana, which is located in the Hanan sector of the urban area. It is situated on the slopes of one of the hills and it is more like level embankments that were placed to take the form of a pyramid. The Liturgical Fountains were named by the Inca civilization as “paqchas”; they have a spiritual and sacred value in the citadel since natural elements like water and fire were perceived to be gods in Incan mythology, much like the sun. The fountains are supposed to be a representation of the water god and a place of worship. The Incas created a whole system to provide water to these fountains, which would supply the whole citadel from deep inside the mountain. The Sacred Plaza is at the centre of the citadel, believed to be a political centre. It is surrounded by the temples and terraces that were not used for cultivation thus it is thought to have been used to accommodate spectators, perhaps for the celebrations and festivities of the civilization.
Today, the site of Machu Picchu is the most popular touristic site in Peru and one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world. It was also declared Cultural Heritage by UNESCO and voted as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Machu Picchu is a magnificent work of architecture and certainly the greatest heritage left by the ancient Incan civilization.