Machu Picchu, also known as the Lost Citadel of the Incas, Sacred City, Cradle of the Inca Empire, is a national historical sanctuary, protected by Peruvian law N 001-81-AA of 1981; located at 2340 meters above sea level in the middle of a tropical forest, the historic sanctuary of Machu Picchu was the most amazing architectural jewel of the Inca Empire. Its main attractions include great walls, terraces, and giant ramps that give the impression of having been sculpted in situ, However, the most amazing thing about this Inca citadel is to imagine how they transported the gigantic stones to the height where it is located, how they did to mold and fit the stones so precisely and why they chose such a hidden place to build it because according to studies indicate that Machu Picchu is the only Inca architectural site where the Spanish did not arrive and therefore the priests did not destroy their temples and / or places of worship that the Incas had.
Main Facts of Machu Picchu
- Machu Picchu is a Quechua word meaning “Old Mountain”.
- Its majestic architecture comprises some 140 structures including walls, platforms, houses, terraces, etc. throughout the citadel.
- It was built by the Inca Pachacutec in approximately 1460.
- Due to being far from the cities of Cusco, it is believed that the Spaniards never reached Machu Picchu and it was forgotten. It was not until 1911 that the American Hiram Bingham arrived at Machu Picchu and made this magnificent wonder known to the world.
- The main buildings of Machu Picchu are the Intihuatana, the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Three Windows.
- Machu Picchu is considered the most important and well known symbol of the Inca Empire.
- It is also known as the Lost City of the Incas.
- Machu Picchu received worldwide attention in 1913 when the National Geographic Society magazine dedicated its entire April issue to the recently rediscovered stone city.
- Machu Picchu is currently one of the 7 wonders of the world, a World Heritage Site, Historical Sanctuary of Peru and probably the most important Natural Archaeological Site in Latin America.
- When Hiram Bingham arrived at Machu Picchu according to historians he found people living there and some ancient mummies were found.
- It is located at 2,400 meters above sea level, its climate is warm – temperate because it is near the edge of the jungle.
Machu Picchu Technical Facts
Due to its location strategically established for its protection, the number of temples and their architectural quality and due to the small number of “Kanchas” (rooms for large families), and the various characteristics of Machu Picchu was originally a center of regional power dependent on Cusco. It was a small religious and political capital. It was probably used as a dwelling by the Inca or any high ranking dignitary of the Capital as well as for a selected nobility that had many privileges being attended by hundreds of servants.
Most modern archaeologists and historians claim that Machu Picchu was built and used by Inca Pachacutec, who was the greatest builder of Tawantinsuyo who ruled from 1438 to 1471, as his royal estate. Scholars use for this statement the chronological dating given by carbon 14 or radiocarbon. Its undoubted “Imperial Inca” architectural style, the predominant ceramic style and a couple of ancient chronicles found in Cusco archives. Moreover, the archaeological and architectural evidence totally rules out any possibility of pre-Inca settlements in this Inca citadel.
According to the buildings found in this Inca village, the population during its heyday is normally estimated at about 1000 people. Osteologist John W. Verano, after a recent study of the mummies found by Bingham’s expeditions, affirms that there was a relative balance between the male and female population in Machu Picchu, thus discarding the theory based on George Eaton’s study that erroneously affirmed that 80% of that population were women. That theory said that Machu Picchu was an important “Aqllawasi” or House of Chosen Women, chosen from among the most beautiful and virtuous, who were considered the wives of the Sun.
Many modern scholars suggest that a large percentage of them were also wives of the Inca, considering that he was the son of the Sun; therefore, a living god. So it was normal for the Inca to have hundreds of concubines, and for example, history says that Wayna Qhapaq who was the father of Waskar and Atawallpa had more than 400 children. However, his main wife must have been a sister of his; this being the only way that the Inca descendants could conserve their “solar blood” that they supposedly had. The heir to the throne had to be a son of the Inca and his sister. From John Verano’s meticulous study, it is also known that the population at Machu Picchu was ethnically heterogeneous and its people were not really strong, nor did they show signs of having participated in warlike activities.
Rather, its classification fits perfectly with the theory that Machu Picchu was a royal mansion belonging to the Inca Pachakuteq, and the human remains found belong to the servants of that mansion, where the height of adult men was an average of 1.57 meters, and that of the women was 1.48 meters. It is evident that this Inca Village suffered a bad depopulation for unknown causes, about which although some hypothetical logical reasons are outlined, it is believed that once there was a terrible epidemic that forced the abandonment of the village built in a humid area with abundant insects. Even until the first decades of the 20th century, several epidemics were frequently reported in this area, mainly malaria.
But don’t worry, because nowadays several chemicals are used to fumigate the environment, so sanitation conditions are much better here. Another possibility points to the fact that this village had to be abandoned and closed after the death of the Inca ruler who built and used the village. Another hypothetical reason points to the fact that once the Antis (name of the Andes Mountains comes from “Antis” = jungle tribes living in the Amazon Rainforest), who were the worst enemies of the Incas, came to this place carrying out a great massacre. What is clear is that the Inca village was closed, abandoned and forgotten from the time of the Incas until the early twentieth century.
Machu Picchu attractions
Machu Picchu is divided into two main areas: agricultural and urban. This classification is based on the possible uses that the Incas gave to these sectors.
The Agricultural Area is located just after entering from the tourist hotel Belmond Sanctuary Lodge; here there are very wide cultivation terraces that are only some of those existing in the region, since most are covered with thick vegetation. At the eastern end of the terraces, there are five buildings that may have been used to house the farmers who cultivated this area known as the “Farmers Group”, although Bingham called them “The Outer Barracks”. At the upper end of these terraces, there is a small three-walled room known as the “Casa del guardian” built in a strategic location from which there is a wide view of the Urubamba canyon in two different directions. It is here, from where the classic photographs of Machupicchu are taken.
Further south of the “Funerary Rock” is located the largest building of Machu Picchu which is a “Kallanka” that has 8 entrance openings in its front wall and 2 on the sides. Because of its location near the trails, its size and morphology it is thought that this building must have been a kind of “Tambo” and that is why it was used as a shelter for a large number of people.
Some authors call this building “La Sede” and others “Los Talleres”. Passing from the agricultural area to the urban area there is a large “Dry Moat” that served as a barrier between the two areas. Machu Picchu was a very exclusive town and its population was selected among the nobility, therefore it had a very effective security and protection system.
Crossing the dry moat we locate the urban area and then we find the street of the fountains that contains 16 liturgical fountains, in the Inca Society, water was always considered as a special deity, so there were usually fountains and reservoirs for their worship. The main fountain is located in front of a three-walled building that in Inca architecture is called “Wayrana”, which is supposed to be a ceremonial center from where the “Willaq Uma” or High Priest had to perform various ceremonies to worship the water. At present, the water no longer flows through these canals only because the tourist hotel is using it. Originally, the water came from a spring located behind the Machu Picchu mountain. That channel was set aside and along the Inka trail to Intipunku.
Nearby is the “Temple of the Sun” which was originally a very well protected facility. At the time of the Incas, only priests and Incas could use these temples; thus they remain closed and protected. The common people had their popular ceremonies in open areas or plazas like those of Machu Picchu or Cusco.
The entrance to the Temple of the Sun is made through a magnificent double jamb portal, which in its interior surface shows its security system with a stone ring over the lintel where the wooden door must have been hung, and the two nails inside small boxes carved in two interior jambs where the gate of the door was tied. The temple was built on a rock “in situ”. It has a semicircular floor; whose back wall is straight and the whole temple is of “Imperial Inca” architectural type, which is of rectangular stonework with perfect joints. The semicircular wall has two windows; one of them to the east and the other to the north. According to modern scientists, these two windows are the most important solar observatory of Machu Picchu. In the east-facing window, it is possible to precisely configure the winter solstice by measuring the shadow projections on the central rock.
Both windows show false beams carved in projection that surround their exterior surface. These windows were probably used to support components that facilitated solar observations. In the center of the temple is a rock altar carved “in situ”, which was used to perform various ceremonies in honor of the sun. It is here, where animal sacrifices were performed, so that by analyzing their hearts, lungs and viscera, the priests could predict the future. It is also here that the Inca had to symbolically drink “chicha” (corn beer) with his father the Sun. The straight back wall has a window with small holes carved in its sill, which tradition knows as the “Serpent Window” (name given by Bingham). The holes are very similar to those found in the Temple of the Stars in the city of Qoricancha Cusco that according to Garcilaso kept ornaments of precious metals and stones. Possibly also in this place, those holes mentioned had the same use.
The straight walls of the temple have trapezoidal niches on their inner faces that were used to keep various idols and offerings. Some authors claim that originally this temple had a conical thatched roof, and name it as “El Suntur Wasi”, “La Torre Militar”, etc. Under the “Temple of the Sun” there is an interesting small cave known as the Royal Tomb. “So called by Bingham who believed that it could house the mummy of an Inca or a monarch of Machu Picchu; clarifying that nothing was found inside. Then, the relationship would be logical: the Inka buried under the temple of his father sun. Undoubtedly, that small cave must have been related to the Ukju Pacha or subway world and the cult of the dead. Inside the small cave, on the right side wall, there are two large trapezoidal niches with false stone beams protruding from the height of their lintels, and two smaller niches in the deeper wall. On the floor, there is a carving with a symbol of passage, called chacana that represents the three levels of the Andean Religious World.
In the Inca Society, all the corpses were embalmed and mummified in a fetal positi with the only difference that the mummies of the nobles were kept in the temples, while those of the common people were buried or placed in cemeteries. Inside the Temple of the Sun there is also a two-story high building known by some authors as the “Cerramiento de Ñusta” (ñusta, meaning princess) and as the “Cerramiento del Sacerdote” by some others that because of its location in that installation must have had a close relationship with the Temple and possibly was the Willaq Uma, or place of residence of the High Priest.
Crossing the street in front of the Temple of the Sun, the “Royal Group of Buildings” is located, which is a classic “kancha” (an apartment for a large family); being the only one found in this area and the only one very solid and built in carved stone. There is no doubt that it was the Inka’s dwelling. The group has two large rooms and two small “wayranas” around a central courtyard. The eastern room is known as the dormitory and inside, its southern part is divided in carved stones that make up the “bed”, so it is thought that the Inca may have slept in that corner on blankets woven in vicuña wool.
At the north end of the room, there is a very small compartment that people have dubbed the “bathroom,” which is unusual because bathrooms are not normally found inside apartments. The room in front is known as the ruler’s “study”; and the two small “wayranas” used on the two opposite sides were probably used as a kitchen and workshop. Almost in the middle of the central courtyard is a carved stone that was used as a mortar for grinding grain or other products. Leaving this group by its only entrance, at present there is another exit behind the “studio” that was opened to help tourists walk, in the small and narrow passage, and on the right side and about two meters high a carved ledge There is a stone showing a false beam that has a hole in the middle, which must have been used to contain ceremonial components and perhaps an “aryballus”, which is a classic Inka vessel with a sharp base containing chicha (corn beer).
Going up the stone stairs, the area of “Quarry” or “Granitic Chaos” is located, where there are amorphous granite boulders; which insinuates that they were simply being worked immediately. All the mountains around this Inca town have rocks of the same quality; grayish white granite from the Vilcabamba Batolito region, which proves that the rocks that make up this citadel were already located in this place from the initial time, so they were not transported from the bottom of the valley as some authors tried to affirm.
In this area, there is a partially broken rock frequently pointed out by local guides as not being a genuine Inca work, but only a sample to show the technique used to split stones in Inca times, which was done in 1953. When the magma cooled to form granite stone, a crystallization process occurred whereby these rocks always present ribs, faults or natural lines on their surfaces, these ribs or lines were located by the Quechua stonemasons to make holes along them. Those holes were filled with wooden wedges that were then soaked; thus using that expansion or swelling of soaked wood to split the rocks.
From the quarry, it is possible to go up the stone stairway to the southeast to reach the area known as the “Upper Group” which some historians call this area as the “Main Gate of the City”, or the “Yachay wasi” which means school. In this area there are many walled “pirka” type buildings that apparently were used as public buildings, among which are some “Qollqas” or warehouses.
In this area is located the main gate of the town of Machu Picchu, which was the only entrance from the southeastern part of the town, and was very well protected to allow entry only to its exclusive population. On the inner surface of that gate you can also see its locking system with the stone ring on the lintel and the two stakes inside the small boxes carved in the jambs.
To the west of the quarry is the “Sacred Plaza” (Sacred Group), where at its western end is located the “Main Temple” (Main Temple) which is a Temple type “Wayrana”, since it only has three walls made in rectangular pieces of stone surface and perfect “Imperial Inka” type tight joints. The Great Temple shows seven trapezoidal niches in its central wall and five in each of the lateral ones. In front of it, about 8 meters ahead and near the “Temple of the Three Windows” is a huge partially carved rock that must have been the central pillar of the main temple that supported the roof beams, which is currently called “the altar of sacrifices”.
Currently the main temple has its central wall broken, and moves to the northeast; archaeological work showed that the displacement is due to rain seepage, although some geologists hint that it is due to a geological fault that passes through this place and crosses it, which says more, that there is another fault in the Temple of the Sun. The deity worshipped in this main temple is unknown, although some historians claim that it may have been Wiracocha, the invisible Andean high god. On the other side of the wall on the south side of the temple, there is a small diamond-shaped outcropping made of carved stone that according to some authors, is an allegory of the Southern Cross, a statement that is not definitively proven. At the north end of the “Sacred Plaza” is located the temple of the windows of the trees, which has only three walls and when it was in use had a gable roof, its stones are polygonal, and comparatively must have been earlier or earlier. less important than the “Main Temple”.
Evidence shows that this temple was originally designed to have five windows, but it appears that the last two windows were bricked up after the temple was completed. In the central part of what would become the front wall, there is a single stone pillar used to support the thatched roof, and on its western side a stone carved in steps representing the three levels of the Andean World: the “Hanan-Pacha” (sky), the “Kay-Pacha” (surface of the earth) and the “Ukju-Pacha” (subway). The existence of this Temple made Bingham believe that he had found the mythical Pakaritampu “Tampu T’oqo” or the place where the Inca civilization began; but all this has been proven wrong today.