Machu Picchu stands 2,430 m above sea-level in the middle of a tropical mountain forest, in an extraordinarily beautiful setting. Historians believe it may have been built around 1450 during the reign of two great Inca rulers, Pachacutec Inca Yupanqui (1438–71) and Tupac Inca Yupanqui (1472–93).
Believed to have been abandoned just over 100 years later in 1572 when the Spaniards conquered the Inca Empire. Yet, other historians believe it is also possible that most of its inhabitants died of small pox introduced by travellers before the Spanish conquistadors arrived.
Though much of the wider world was unaware of its existence, it was no secret to the local Quechua tribe living around its ruins, and who had cleared some of Machu Picchu’s terraces for farming. Even the Spanish conquistadors who conquered the Inca Empire were unsuccessful in their bid to discover these ancient ruins, and this fact, it is believed must have aided Machu Picchu’s isolation and preservation from plunder and destruction over the centuries.
It wasn’t until 1911 when a Yale University professor, Hiram Bingham was led by a Peruvian guide – which some sources say was an 11 year old boy, named Pablito – along a mountainous ridge to the main ruins that he became the first documented Westerner to lay eyes on the lost city of Machu Picchu.
These ruins lie on a high ridge, surrounded on three sides by the windy, turbulent Urubamba River some 2,000 feet (610 meters) below. And because the Incas had no written language, the reason they built the site, how they used it, and why they abandoned it have continued to remain a mystery.
What Does Machu Picchu Look Like?
This complex of palaces and plazas, temples and homes may have been built as a ceremonial site where human sacrifices were carried out, a military stronghold, or a holiday spot for ruling elites for the reason that its location – perched atop a mountain range – is certainly well suited for any of those purposes.
Its buildings are made of cut stone fit together tightly without mortar, such that cracks between successive stones still cannot be penetrated by a knife blade.
Landscape engineering skills are in strong evidence at Machu Picchu. The site’s buildings, walls, terraces, and ramps blend naturally into the rock on which it is situated. Also, the 700-plus terraces preserved soil, promoted agriculture, and served as part of an extensive water-distribution system that conserved water and limited erosion on the steep slopes.
The Inca’s achievements and skills are all the more impressive because the knowledge they had, when compared to modern architectural and engineering knowledge is pretty basic. Also, when the Incas built Machu Picchu some 500 years ago, they had no iron, steel, nor wheels, which goes further to prove the point.
Today Machu Picchu is far from isolated. In fact, it’s a must-see for any visitor to Peru, and is top of the reasons why tourists travel to that nation.
- Though few outside the immediate area knew of its existence, there are speculations that the site may have been discovered and plundered in 1867 by a German businessman, Augusto Berns, while further evidence indicates that German engineer J. M. von Hassel may have arrived earlier due to maps that show references to Machu Picchu as early as 1874.
- In July 2011, tougher entrance rules were introduced to reduce the impact of tourism. Entrance was limited to 2,500 visitors per day, and the entrance to Huayna Picchu (within the citadel) was further restricted to 400 visitors per day, in two time slots of 7 and 10 am.
- In 1983, UNESCO designated Machu Picchu a World Heritage Site, describing it as “an absolute masterpiece of architecture and a unique testimony to the Inca civilisation.”
So would you fancy a visit? I sure would, it’s on my bucket list!
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