Learn about Machu Picchu

Trip Start Jun 10, 2012
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Trip End Aug 17, 2013


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Flag of Peru  , Cusco,
Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Machu Picchu is one of the most popular sites of ruins from all of ancient history. It was built by the Inca around the year 1450, but no one knows for sure why it was built. Many believe it was started by the Inca emperor Pachacuti, or earth shaker. It is likely that it was constructed to celebrate the defeat of another powerful ethnic group called the Chancas. The site is located at 7,970 feet on a high mountain ridge above the Urubamba Valley in Peru. The name Machu Picchu translates to "Old Peak" in the Quechua language. It is often referred to as "City of the Gods."
Although Machu Picchu was built around the mid-14th century, it was abandoned in 1572, just a hundred years later. We are not sure why, but it is possible that smallpox brought by travelers killed most of the inhabitants. Spanish conquistadors never found Machu Picchu, but they destroyed all of the Inca cities at the bottom of the mountains. This may have been another reason the Incas left Machu Picchu 40 years later.
Machu Picchu is located in a place of great geological importance. The specific mountains it is built on are very sacred and hold high religious importance with the Inca. Most people believe it was built for celebration, but there are many other theories. It may have been an Inca llaqta, "a settlement built to control the economy of conquered regions." Another theory states that it may have been a prison built for the most dangerous criminals, or it could have also been a large agricultural testing system.
One of the most interesting and mysterious features of Machu Picchu is the sundial, or Intihuatana stone. This stone was very sacred to the Inca. It functioned as an astrological calendar. Twice a year, (March 21st and September 21st) during the equinoxes, the sun is directly overhead and the stone casts no shadow. The Incas believed that during this time, the sun sat on the pillar and became tied to the rock. The name, Intihuatana, actually means "hitching post of the sun." It does not only show the equinoxes, but aligns with the solstices also. It did not just function as a sundial though. Many ceremonies took place around it. It's said to "bestow celestial vision upon any spiritual person who touches their forehead to the stone." It is very highly valued today because it is the last Intihuatana stone left of the Inca. All others were located and destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors. It is said that when one of these stones were broken, it released all power and gods that inhabited it. Since the Intihuatana stone in Machu Picchu is still whole, it still contains all of its original power.
After Machu Picchu was abandoned in 1572, it was not found for another 400 years. On July 24 1911, the discovery was announced by American historian Hiram Bingham. He was led to the site by a local 11-year old boy named Pablito Alvarez. So apparently it was not completely abandoned - some Quecha people (part of the local ethnic group) were living in the original structures.
Bingham continued to investigate Machu Picchu. He wrote several books about the site, and collected many artifacts. Him and his team were opposed by the locals, who said they were harming the site and accused them of stealing artifacts and smuggling them back to America.
In April 1913, National Geographic published an issue devoted entirely to Machu Picchu. After that, it gained a lot of publicity. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, and was described as "an absolute masterpiece of architecture and a unique testimony to the Inca civilization." In 2007, Machu Picchu was elected one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Since Machu Picchu has become more and more popular, it is also impacted from tourism. In 2008, the World Monuments Fund placed it on the list of 100 most endangered sites in the world. That means it is in high danger of degrading. There is now a limit as to how many tourists are allowed per year.
Almost all of the buildings in Machu Picchu are constructed of just stones; no mortar. This technique is called ashlar. The stones are so tightly packed that you can not even slip a thin knife between them. These large boulders had to be carried up the mountain side, most likely carried by hundreds of men. Each building was also specifically built to withstand earthquakes. That is a reason why Machu Picchu is still standing today.
Machu Picchu is one of the most famous sites in Inca history. I am very exited to be one of the 25,000 people a year that hike the 43 kilometers of the Inca trail. I feel so lucky to be able to go there and experience the mystical beauty of the ruins.
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