Machu Picchu, The Lost city of the Incas, is a mystical, sacred place. Touched by the clouds, the ruins are
one of the most enigmatic and beautiful ancient ruins in the world.
Rediscovered on July 24, 1911 by Yale archaeologist Hiram Bingham, Machu Picchu (meaning 'Old Peak' in Quechua, the language spoken by the Incas) was thought to be a sanctuary for the preparation of priestesses and brides for the Inca nobility.
The dramatic setting in a remote area of the Peruvian Andes enhances the shroud of mystery even more. An absolute wonder of human heritage, Machu Picchu will touch your heart and soul in many ways.
Invisible from below and high above the rumbling Urubama river Machu Picchu emits a sacred and spiritual energy. The first sight of Machu Picchu is breathtaking. The city appears to be a natural extension of the hillside. The palaces, temples, terraces, baths and some 150 houses, all in a remarkable state of preservation, are carefully arranged so that the function of the buildings matches the form of the surroundings. The natural slopes host agricultural terraces and aqueducts; the lower areas contain buildings occupied by farmers and teachers, and the most important religious areas are located at the crest of the hill, overlooking the lush Urubamba Valley thousands of feet below.
Although Machu Picchu was known to a handful of Quechua peasants who farmed the area, the outside world was unaware of its
existence until the American historian Hiram Bingham stumbled on it almost by accident on July 24, 1911.
Bingham was not looking for Machu Picchu, he was searching for the lost city of Vilcabamba, the last
stronghold of the Incas and when some local Indians led him to Machu Picchu, he thought he had found it.
The site discovered in 1911 was very different to the one we see today. It was overgrown with thick vegetation and Bingham returned in 1912 and 1915 to clear the thick forest that had taken hostage of the Lost City of the Incas.
The view from The Guardhouse or Caretaker's Hut of the Funerary Rock is just amazing. A dramatic
overview of the citadel unfolds before your eyes. The Guardhouse is one of the few buildings which has
been restored with a thatched roof. The ceremonial rock terrace may have been used to mummify the nobility
and explains the hut's name.
Not far from the Guardhouse, a perennial spring is the source of water for the inhabitants. A water supply canal brings the water to three fountains near the Temple of the Sun. Water continues to be channeled downhill with a total of 16 fountains. This was the domestic water supply for the Inca residents.
The Inca Trail, a well-developed road that connects Cuzco with Machu Picchu, enters the city just below the Caretaker's Hut and I invite you to read my story of the Inca Trail. A story that ended in history with the 1997 Fire Disaster. I was there that day and witnessed human heritage going up in flames.
The Central Plaza
Unless you arrive on the Inca Trail, you'll enter Machu Picchu on the south side and a series of plazas
divide the site in two areas. The area to the left of the plazas contains most of the more interesting
Across the Central Plaza and at the far end of the citadel is the Sacred Rock, an object common to most every Inca village. Before a village could be erected, a sacred stone must be dedicated to the site. The Sacred Stone of Machu Picchu sits at the base of Huayna Picchu (Young Peak), from where you can take a one-hour climb to the top for another excellent view of the entire valley.
If you enter Machu Picchu on the Inca Trail than you pass The Guardhouse and soon come to a beautiful series of 16 connected ceremonial baths that cascade across the ruins accompanied by a flight of stairs. Just above and on the left is the sacred city's only round building, The Temple of the Sun, it is here that you'll find the citadel finest stonework.
Located underneath the Temple of the Sun is the Royal Tomb which contains ceremonial niches and an Inca cross carved from one wall. The Royal Tomb has been the site of numerous mummy excavations. Of more than 100 skeletal remains discovered at Machu Picchu, 80% were women. This fact, among others, leads many historians to surmise that Machu Picchu was inhabited primarily by high priests and chosen women. Until today it is a mystery what the true purpose of Machu Picchu was.
Climbing the stairs above the ceremonial baths, you reach an area of jumbled rocks. From there you can follow a short path leading to the four-sided Sacred Plaza. The remaining three sides of the Sacred Plaza are flanked by important buildings. The Temple of the Three Windows offers an excellent view of the Central Plaza below.
The Intiwatana is believed to have been designed as an astronomic clock by the Incas. It was not used in telling the time of
day but, rather, the time of year.
The Intiwatana stone (meaning 'Hitching Post of the Sun') has been shown to be a precise indicator of the date of the two equinoxes and other significant celestial periods.
There were several Intiwatanas in various important Inca sites but all, with the known exception of the one in Machu Picchu, have been destroyed by the Spanish conquistadores
Getting to Machu Picchu:
Machu Picchu lies 43 miles (70 kilometers) northwest of the city of Cuzco on an altitude of 7,700 feet (2,350 meters)
above sea level. You can visit the enigmatic ruins by train or by hiking the Inca Trail or the Lares Trek.
There are daily trains from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes. In Aguas Calientes you can either hop on the bus for the steep route to Machu Picchu or do the climb on foot.
Due to the impact of mass tourism on Machu Picchu only 500 permits per day are issued for the Inca Trail. This permit should be booked well in advance. The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is closed in February for maintenance.
The Lares Trek offers an alternative, but equally breathtaking, hike to Machu Picchu. You do not need permits for the Lares Trek.
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Other excellent websites of Machu Picchu
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Machu Picchu 1997 Fire Disaster
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*© Photograph "Machu Picchu" provided by Dreamstime.com