‘Machu Picchu’ or ‘Machu Pikchu’, as it is often pronounced as, is the world renowned 15th century archeological Inca site nestled atop the Andes mountain ridge in the Cusco region of Peru. The site is considered as the best example of the architectural achievement of the Inca Empire when it was at its peak & is now reckoned as the most famous tourist destination in Peru.
The mysterious ruins of ‘Machu Picchu’ hide innumerable secrets underneath it, which still remain unresolved despite of the extensive study carried out by myriad scholars for so many years. The ruins are situated 2430 meters (7,970 feet) above sea level looking over the picturesque valley of the Urubamba River that flanks this site from three sides. In the early days of its discovery, this massive stone-built City of Inca dynasty was referred as ‘Lost City of Incas’, however, it is now being considered as the most celebrated face of Incas prowess & glory!
HISTORY IN BRIEF:
The history behind the discovery of ‘Machu Picchu’ is a fascinating one! The construction of ‘Machu Picchu’ was done in the 14th century, but this incredible architectural marvel was seldom known to the outside world until 1911! The place was introduced to the modern world by an American professor- ‘Hiram Bingham’, who was guided to the place by 11 years old Indigenous boy. Although ‘Machu Picchu’ managed to conceal its identity from the outside world for nearly 500 years, it was a well known site for the local Indigenous people.
The Incan dynasty was dissolved by the Spanish conquerors & the city of ‘Machu Picchu’ got lost in the history in the early 16th century. Even though the Spanish Conquerors ruled in Peru for several years, they remained unaware of the presence of ‘Machu Picchu’ in the high mountains, which aided the city’s isolation as well as its preservation.
The exact purpose behind the construction of ‘Machu Picchu’ is still the topic of debates among the historians. Many theories were speculated related to the purpose of this ancient city. Many historians think that the ‘Machu Picchu’ was a place of royal retreat, while others have speculated that the place was the ceremonial site for high priests & the ‘Virgins of the Sun’, who were the women dedicated to the Inca Sun god. However, the most recent study has put forth a new theory which illustrates that ‘Machu Picchu’ was built as the personal estate for the Incan Emperor ‘Pachacuti’ who ruled here between 1438-1472.
The fact that the Inca had no written language which resulted in the lack of records related to the history was a huge obstacle in understanding the true purpose of this incredible city. However, the archeologists & anthropologists were hugely benefited from the conserved ruins of ‘Machu Picchu’ as they were able to extract valuable insights about the Incas.
‘Machu Picchu’ was constructed in the traditional Incan style architecture, wherein polished dry-stones are used for the walls. The site can be divided into two parts- Urban sector & Agricultural sector. Alternatively, the place can be distinguished as the Upper town & the lower town. The city makes excellent use of the naturally steep alpine terrain. The most important religious buildings are situated on the crest of the mountains whereas; the warehouses & agricultural area are located in the lower sectors of the city.
The myriad terraces created along the slope not only conserved the soil from erosion, but also provided an excellent platform for farming as well as for housing more than 200 buildings. The elaborate network of aqueducts & channels were also carved which had created an excellent irrigation system that used the natural slopes to the full advantage. Stone carved staircases were used to bridge different plains across the site.
The eastern part of the city was supposedly used as a residential area, whereas, western part served as the land preserved for religious purpose. Few of the most revered monuments such as the ‘Inti Watana’, three windowed room & the ‘Temple of the Sun’ are worth watching. The city also houses many other important archeological buildings such as the ‘Monumental Mausoleum’ bearing carved images, a three sided building known as the ‘Guardhouse’ connecting to the terrace holding a giant Ceremonial Rock & few trapezoidal shaped rooms meant for the members of the Royal family.
The technique used by the Incas for constructing the buildings is considered as the most amazing & miraculous achievement of the Incan architects. All the buildings are erected using the technique called Ashlar, in which regular shaped stones are cut precisely to fit together perfectly without using mortar. The Incan technique looks even more fascinating considering the fact that the Incas didn’t have a slightest of the hint of important construction materials such as iron or steel. Despite of that, their technique was so amazing that in most of the buildings, stones are arranged so perfectly that even a knife blade fails to penetrate through the gaps!
Despite of the fact that the site of ‘Machu Picchu’ is very much susceptible to the high risks associated with the extreme weather conditions & its natural location that sits right in between two fault lines, the miraculous technique employed by Incas have, so far, surprisingly managed to keep its buildings in very good shape. Although the Ashlar technique of construction & use of stone chips in the construction of terraces to drain off the extra rainwater have protected ‘Machu Picchu’ from the landslides, flooding & up to some extent, from collapsing due to frequent earthquakes, the site is currently facing severe threats of degradation from the natural phenomena like earthquakes & wild weather as well as the heavy pressure of innumerable tourists.
‘Machu Picchu’ was placed in the 2008 Watch List of the ‘100 Most Endangered Sites’ in the world published by the ‘World Monuments Fund’. In 1983, this spectacular place had earned its much deserved place in UNESCO’s list of the ‘World Heritage Site’. In 2007, another gem was studded in the crown of ‘Machu Picchu’ when it was declared as ‘New Seven Wonders of the World’!
Trekking on the trails leading to the ‘Machu Picchu’ is one of the most loved activities of the tourist visiting this part of the world that, apparently, still has very strong connection with the bygone age. Looking up from the basin of the Urubamba River to locate the fog draped pinnacles of ‘Machu Picchu’ or gazing upon the lush green valley from atop the summit are truly the experiences beyond explanations. ‘Machu Picchu’ is truly a class apart destination & undoubtedly, the unique testimony of the geniuses of Incan architecture!