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The place we're visiting today takes us

back not so very far in time, to the Inca
site of Machu Picchu.
Often called the Lost City of the Incas.
Machu Picchu is located on a large
mountain ridge in southern Peru's
Urubamba Valley.
Sitting at nearly 8,000 feet above sea
level, it's no easily reachable
It lies approximately 80 kilometers from
Cuzco on the eastern edge of the Peruvian
Andes, near what was the geographical
center of the Inca Empire.
The original buildings, attributed to the
Inca ruler Pachacutec, were constructed
around 1450 CE.
But the site was only occupied for around
100 years before it was abandoned.
Though many theories as to its purpose
have been debated, general consensus is
that Machu Picchu was a royal estate for
the Inca Pachacutec and his family.
Meaning old peak in Ketchaoua, Machu
Picchu was likely never truly lost at
The Yale academic explorer, an amateur
archaeologist, Hiram Bingham, claimed to
have discovered the site on July 24th,
But in fact, he was directed to its
location by a local farmer.
There is debate over whether others had
visited the site prior to Bingham's
But Bingham's name remains closely tied
to Machu Picchu.
When he published news of his supposed
discovery through National Geographic
Society in 1911, Machu Picchu became an
international celebrity.
When Bingham first laid eyes on the site,
it looked nothing like it does today.
Many of the buildings at Machu Picchu
have been restored since Bingham began to
publicize the site.
And today it is actively and carefully
maintained by the Peruvian Ministry of
Culture as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The extant original buildings are
constructed in the characteristic Inca
style, with polished dry-stone.
These are fitted together without the use
of mortar.
A technique called ashlar masonry
construction, and their appearance is
quite striking.
For the sake of convenience, scholars
divide the city into two sectors, the
agricultural sector, and the urban
In the agricultural sector, large
terraces have been built up, that were
likely used for cultivating maize.
And a network of irrigation channels
would have been used to provide water for
the crops.
These working water channels are still
visible throughout the site today.
Some of them having evidently been
abandoned, before completion.
The urban sector is more densely
populated with buildings and includes a
number of the sites most well known
features and structures.
The first areas or set of buildings is
known as the royal group and has been
proposed as a residence for the Sapa Inca
Pachacutec, the ruler of the empire and
his family members.
Nearby stands the semicircular Temple of
the Sun, which would have been accessible
only to the priests and the south Inca.
Through the eastern facing window on it's
rounded wall, the first rays of sunlight
on the summer solstice align with a large
rock altar.
This would have been used to perform
important rituals.
Below the temple of the sun is a cave
that Bingham called the Royal Mausoleum.
There is not much evidence to support his
claim that the cave held burials but it
probably did serve a cult function in
conjunction with the temple.
The other temples at Machu Picchu are the
temple of the Condor, the Temple of Three
Windows and the aptly named, Principle
The Temple of the Condor gets its name
from the rocks lying in front of it that
depict a condor's body, beak, and white
neck collar.
Behind this, forming the entrance to the
temple, two large rocks spread out in the
shape of condor's wings.
It is thought that this temple would have
been dedicated to the Incan condor god,
Apu Kuntur.
On the sacred plaza to the north, the
Temple of Three Windows, as the name
suggests, has three large windows that
overlook parts of the city and the
surrounding mountains.
Bingham thought the windows were intended
to frame the mountains for some cult
And more recent scholars have suggested
that the numerous sherds found beneath
the windows, pointed to ritualistic
drinking and breaking of vessels.
As it stands there are still many
questions about this structure.
The principal temple near by is a three
walled building with niches running all
around the upper wall.
As with the Temple of Three Windows we do
not know exactly which deity was
worshiped here.
But some historians have suggested it may
have been Viracocha, the great creator
god of Inca mythology.
Perhaps the most curious point of
interest in this area is the Intihuatana,
literally meaning the hitching post of
the sun.
The Intihuatana received its name from
Bingham, on the basis of comparison with
stones of other major Inca sites.
Originally thought to be some form of
sundial, the Intihuatana does not fulfill
such a function.
It was, however, clearly an important
location for observing astronomical
phenomena, including the movement of
constellations that indicates seasonal
change, and it also allows observers to
fix solstices or equinoxes based on the
shadow created by the protruding rock.
It has been suggested that this top
component was made to resemble Huayna
Picchu, the mountain that provides it's
Machu Picchu contains many other
interesting structures, including the old
city gate, the guard house, various
warehouses, other high-status dwellings,
and the Sun Gate, located a short hike up
the small mountain to the south of the
These give us a rich picture of a highly
exclusive site.
That, while not entirely self-sufficient,
would have functioned elaborately to
provide for the Sapa Inca, his family,
and their high status visitors.
The group of cold structures we have just
seen confirm that this was indeed no
ordinary place.
There are many unanswered questions about
Machu Picchu, ranging from the purpose or
nature of specific buildings to the
circumstances of its abandonment.
Aspects of the site were left unfinished,
including some of the previously
mentioned water channels.
We know that its abandonment coincides
with a conflict between the Incas and
Spanish Conquistadors.
But we also know that the Spanish
soldiers never found Machu Picchu.
Is it possible that a portion of its
inhabitants succumbed to a disease such
as smallpox, and the remaining people
Did it suddenly fall out of disuse after
the downfall of the last royal family?
We may never have answers to many of
these questions.
But Machu Picchu still remains a major
tourist destination for visitors from
around the world, curious to see this
supposedly forgotten city for themselves.
If you're interested in learning more
about Machu Picchu, try one of the links
provided here.
As Machu Picchu generates a lot of public
interest, there are numerous web sites
presenting information and
interpretations that may or may not be
We recommend checking out some of the
publications about the site, either in
book form or as article via Google

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