Machu Picchu

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Machu Picchu (Quechua: Old Mountain; sometimes called the "Lost City of the Incas") is a well-preserved pre-Columbian Inca ruin located on a high mountain ridge, at an elevation of about 2,350 m (7,710 ft) Machu Picchu is located above the Urubamba Valley in modern-day Peru, about 70 km (44 mi) northwest of Cuzco. Geographic coordinates: Template:Coor dms.


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A young tree sits amid Machu Picchu

The site is probably the most familiar symbol of the Inca Empire, due to its unique location, its geological features, and its late discovery in 1911. Since 1983 the site has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been the subject of concerns about the damage of tourism.

It is thought the city was built by the Sapa Inca Pachacuti starting in about 1440 and was inhabited until the Spanish conquest of Peru in 1532. Archeological evidence (together with recent work on early colonial documents) shows that Machu Picchu was not a conventional city, but a country retreat town for Inca nobility (similar to the Roman villas). The site has a large palace and temples to Inca deities around a courtyard, with other buildings for support staff. It is estimated that a maximum of only about 750 people resided in Machu Picchu at any one time, and probably only a small fraction of that number lived in the town during the rainy season and when no noblity were visiting.

It is thought that the site was chosen for its unique location and geological features. It is said that the silhouette of the mountain range behind Machu Picchu represents the face of the Inca looking upward towards the sky, with the largest peak, Huayna Picchu (meaning Young Mountain), representing his nose. The Inca believed that the solid rock of the Earth should not be cut and so built this city from rock quarried from loose boulders found in the area. Some of the stone architecture uses no mortar, relying on extremely precise cutting of blocks that results in walls with cracks between stones less than 1 mm wide.

In 1913, the site received significant publicity after the National Geographic Society devoted their entire April 1913 issue to Machu Picchu.

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The Intihuatana ("tie the sun") is believed to have been designed as an astronomic clock by the Incas

In 2003, some 400,000 people visited Machu Picchu, and UNESCO has expressed concern about the damage this volume of tourism is causing to the site. Peruvian authorities insist that there is no problem, and that the remoteness of the site will impose natural limits on tourism [1]. Periodically, proposals are made to install a cable car to the site, but such proposals have so far always been rejected [2].

One of the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda's best-known works is "The Heights of Machu Picchu", inspired by the city:

"Machu Picchu es un viaje a la serenidad del alma, a la eterna fusión con el cosmos, allí sentimos nuestra fragilidad. Es una de las maravillas más grandes de Sudamérica. Un reposar de mariposas en el epicentro del gran círculo de la vida. Otro milagro más"

("Machu Picchu is a trip to the serenity of the soul, to the eternal fusion with the cosmos, we felt our fragility there. She is one of the greatest wonders of South America. The rest of butterflies in the epicenter of the great circle of the life. It is a miracle.")


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Location of Machu Picchu

The holy city of Machu Picchu (quechua:Machu piqchu; "old mountain") is located 130 kilometers to the northwest of Cusco, in the crest of the mountain Machu Picchu, located about 2,200 meters above sea level. It is one of the most important archaeological centers in South America and as a consequence the most visited tourist attraction in Peru.

From the top, at the cliff of Machu Picchu, one can appreciate the vertical precipice of 600 metres ending at the foot of the Urubamba River. The view and feeling are extraordinary. The path is for a single person, altitude sickness is mitigated by chewing coca leaf or muña, an aromatic grass that has many properties that surpass penicillin. As the rise continues, the thick air fills the lungs and produces fatigue. Food should be consumed but before a share of it should be offer to the Appus gods, for the alliance between two new friends.

The location of the city was a military secret because its deep precipices, on the brink of sharp cliffs, and rustic mountains were an excellent natural defense.

The Machu Picchu Sanctuary

In 1981 an area of 325.92 square kilometres surrounding Machu Picchu was declared a "Historical Sancturary" of Peru. This area, which is not only limited to the ruins themselves, also includes the regional landscape with its flora and fauna, highlighting the abundance of orchids.

The most firm theories maintain that it was an Incan "llacta": a settlement build up to control the economy of the conquered regions. It was the most beautiful llacta of the Incan empire, and would have been built with the specific purpose of protecting the most select of the Incan aristocracy in the event of an attack. It seems it was used in a particular moment as Zapa Inca's "resting place" and also as an "observatory". After the Spanish conquest, it was the stronghold of Manco Inca's revolt.

Machu Picchu Sanctuary and the Sacred Valley

Three sectors

According to the archaeologists, Machu Picchu was divided in three great sectors: the Sacred District, the Popular District, to the south, and the District of the Priests and the Nobility (residential zone).

Located in the first zone are the primary archaeological treasures: the Intiwatana, the Temple of the Sun and the Room of the Three Windows. These were dedicated to Inti, their sun god and greatest deity.

In the residential area, a sector existed for the nobility: a group of houses located in rows over a slope; the residence of the Amautas (wise persons) was characterized by its redish walls, and the zone of the Ñustas (princesses) had trapezoid-shaped rooms.

Inside the citadel existed a sector assigned as the jail, where the prisoners were punished inside rock niches.

The Monumental Mausoleum is a stone block with a vaulted interior and carved walls. It was used for rites or sacrifices.


Inca wall at Machu Picchu

All the construction in Machu Picchu uses the Inca architectural classic style: construction with polished walls of regular shape, with junctions so perfect in between each block of stone that is almost impossible to believe how they were able to fit them into place. These stones are so tight together that not even a knife fits in between.

It is important to note that the Incas, although they did know about the round shape (the Inti god was represented in that manner), they never applied such a shape. The mobilization of the enormous blocks of stones is a mystery. Nevertheless, it can be noted that although they never used the rounded shape they did utilize the inclined plane. It is believed that they made use of thousands of men to push the stones up the incline. Sadly, the Incas did not leave any documentation about that process because they did not possess a written language.

The space is composed of 140 constructions including temples, sanctuaries, parks and residences.

There are more than one hundred stone grees - often completely carved in a single block of granite and a great amount of water fountains, interconnected by channels and water-drainages perforated on the rock, destined to the original irrigation system.

Until now it has not been possible to imagine how the engineering of the Inca civilization could move stone blocks of up to twenty tons to the top of Machu Picchu.

Inca road system

Among the thousands of roads constructed by the pre-Columbian cultures in South America, the roads of the Inca were some of the most interesting. This network of roads converged at Cusco, the capital of the Inca Empire. One of them went to the city of Machu Picchu. The Incas distinguished between coastal roads and mountain roads, the former was called Camino de los llanos (road of the levels) and the latter was called Cápac Ñam.

Today, thousands of tourists walk the Inca roads -- particularly Cápac Ñam -- each year, acclimatising at Cusco before starting on a two to four-day journey on foot from the Urubamba valley up through the Andes mountain range.

View from Huayna Picchu

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View of Machu Picchu from Huayna Picchu

Anyone who climbs the sacred Huayna Picchu hill will be rewarded with a view of the Machu Picchu from above. Sunrise and sunset are the best moments to appreciate the citadel and the light effects.

The rediscovery

On July 24 1911, Machu Picchu was brought to the attention of the West in the person of Hiram Bingham, an American historian then employed as a lecturer at Yale University. He was led there by locals who frequented the site. This controversial explorer/archaeologist began the archaeological studies there and completed a survey of the area. Bingham coined the name "The Lost City of the Incas", which was the title of his first book.

In the year 2002, traces of another (unknown) twentieth-century Western explorer were found. It appears that Bingham must have attempted to eliminate these traces so as to be known as the discoverer of Machu Picchu.

Despite the fact that the discovery of Machu Picchu is attributed to Bingham, Simone Waisbard, a long-time researcher of Cusco, disagrees with his claim. Enrique Palma, Gabino Sánchez and Agustín Lizárraga left their names engraved on one of the rocks there on July 14, 1901. Bingham had instead been searching for the city of Vitco, the last Inca refuge and spot of resistance during the Spanish conquest of Peru. In 1911, after various years of previous trips and explorations around the zone, he was led to the citadel by Quechuans who were living in Machu Picchu in the original Inca infrastructure. Bingham made several more trips and conducted excavations on the site through 1915. He wrote a number of books and articles about about the discovery of Machu Picchu; his popular account, Lost City of the Incas, became a bestseller.

Bingham took 5,000 archeological artifacts back with him to Yale University. These artifacts -- despite the Peruvian government's longstanding requests for their return -- have yet to be given back.

There is a growing opinion in Peru that Bingham's activities amounted to the despoilation of Peru's cultural patrimony, and were one of the most serious such incidents in Peru.

Sister City

In May 2005, the town of Petra in Jordan, another ruined city and popular tourist attraction, became the sister city of Machu Picchu.

See also

External links



Image sources

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