Machu Picchu, Peru
One of the New Seven Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu ("Old mountain") is a pre-Columbian Inca site located in Peru. It is 2,400 meters (7,875 ft) above sea level and situated on a mountain ridge above the Urubamba Valley, 80 km (50 mi) northwest of Cusco. Machu Picchu is probably the most familiar symbol of the Inca Empire, as well as the most magnificent. It is often referred to as "The Lost City of the Incas" . It has become an extremely popular tourist attraction over the years.
The site was declared a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary in 1981. In addition to the ruins, this sanctuary area includes a large portion of adjoining region, 325.92 square kilometers, rich with flora and fauna. The primary buildings of the ruins are the Intihuatana, the Temple of the Sun, and the Room of the Three Windows located in an area referred to as the Sacred District of Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1983 when it was described as "an absolute masterpiece of architecture and a unique testimony to the Inca civilization". And, on July 7, 2007, Machu Picchu was voted as one of New Open World Corporation's New Seven Wonders of the World.
A growing number of people visit Machu Picchu each year. In the late 1990s, the Peruvian government granted concessions to allow the construction of a cable car to the ruins and development of a luxury hotel, including a tourist complex with boutiques and restaurants. These plans were met with protests from scientists, academics and the Peruvian public, worried that the greater numbers of visitors would pose tremendous physical burdens on the ruins. For this reason, there were protests against a plan to build a further bridge to the site and a no-fly zone exists in the area. UNESCO is considering putting Machu Picchu on its list of endangered World Heritage Sites. The World Monuments Fund placed Machu Picchu on its 2008 Watch List of the 100 Most Endangered Sites in the world.
Construction & Discovery of Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu was built around 1450 at the height of the Inca Empire in its classical style of polished dry-stone walls. It was abandoned a hundred years later at the time of the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire. It lay forgotten for centuries until being brought to worldwide attention in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, an American historian then employed as a lecturer at Yale University. He was led there by locals who frequented the site. Bingham undertook archaeological studies and completed a survey of the area. Bingham coined the name "The Lost City of the Incas", which was the title of his first book. He never gave any credit to those who led him to Machu Picchu, mentioning only "local rumor" as his guide. In September 2007, Peru and Yale University reached an agreement regarding the return of artifacts which Hiram Bingham had removed from Machu Picchu in the early 20th century
Citadel: Celestial Site Theory
In 1911, after years of previous trips and explorations around the area, Hiram Bingham was led to the citadel by Quechuans, people who were living in Machu Picchu, in the original Inca infrastructure. Even though most of the original inhabitants had died within a century of the city's construction, a small number of families survived so by the time the site was 'discovered' in 1911, there were still mummies (mostly women) in Machu Picchu and some families still living on the site. Bingham made several more trips and conducted excavations on the site through 1915. He wrote a number of books and articles about the discovery of Machu Picchu in his lifetime. It should be noted at this point that there have been controversies about the true discoverer of the site and the date upon which it was discovered, some putting it as early as 1901, but the site's discovery is generally attributed to Bingham.
Bingham, along with several others, originally hypothesized that the citadel was the traditional birthplace of the Inca people or the spiritual center of the "Virgins of the Suns". While several theories exist as to why the site was constructed, research conducted by scholars, such as John Rowe and Richard Burger, has convinced most archaeologists that Machu Picchu was an estate of the Inca emperor, Pachacuti. In addition, Johan Reinhard presented evidence that the site was selected based on its position relative to sacred landscape features. One such example is its mountains, which are purported to be in alignment with key astronomical events.
Although the citadel is located only about 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Cusco, the Inca capital, it was never found and consequently not plundered and destroyed by the Spanish, as was the case with many other Inca sites. Over the centuries, the surrounding jungle grew over the site, and few knew of its existence.
Possible Extraterrestrial Connections
Machu Picchu's unusual patterns are best viewed from the sky. Some people believe it to be a landing strip for extraterrestrials, much like Peru's Nazca Lines. Its celestial observatory depicts many patterns found on petroglyphs throughout the world.
From the top, at the cliff of Machu Picchu, there is a vertical rock face of 600 meters ending at the foot of the Urubamba River. The location of the city was a military secret because its deep precipices and mountains were an excellent natural defense. The Inca Bridge, an Inca rope bridge across the Urubamba River in the Pongo de Mainique, provided a secret entrance for the Inca army. Another Inca bridge to the west of Machu Picchu, the trunk bridge, has a section across a cliff face with a 6 metres (20 ft) gap in it which could be bridged by two tree trunks. If the trees were removed, it would leave a 570 metres (1,900 ft) fall to the base of the cliffs to discourage invaders. It is above Urubamba Valley.
The city sits in a saddle between two mountains, with a commanding view down two valleys and a nearly impassable mountain at its back. It has a water supply from springs that cannot easily be blocked, and enough land to grow food for about four times as many people as actually lived there. The hillsides leading to it have been terraced, not only to provide more farmland to grow crops, but to steepen the slopes which invaders would have to ascend. There are two high-altitude routes from Machu Picchu across the mountains back to Cuzco, one through the sun gate, and the other across the Inca bridge. Both could easily be blocked if invaders should approach along them. Regardless of its ultimate purpose, it is in a highly defendable position.
Architecture of Machu Picchu
Most of the construction in Machu Picchu uses the classic Inca architectural style of polished dry-stone walls of regular shape. The Incas were masters of this technique, called ashlar, in which blocks of stone are cut to fit together tightly without mortar. The Incas were among the best stone masons the world has seen, and many junctions in the central city are so perfect that not even a knife fits between the stones. Other Inca buildings have been built using mortar, but by Inca standards that was quick, shoddy construction. Peru is a highly seismic land, and mortar-free construction was more earthquake-resistant than using mortar. Inca walls show numerous subtle design details that would prevent them from collapsing in an earthquake.
Doors and windows are trapezoidal and tilt inward from bottom to top, corners are usually rounded, inside corners often incline slightly into the rooms, and "L" shaped blocks are often used to tie outside corners together. Walls do not rise straight from top to bottom but are offset slightly from row to row. As a result, Machu Picchu is a city that has stood up well to earthquakes over the years.
The Incas never used the wheel in any practical manner. How they moved and placed enormous blocks of stones is a mystery, although the general belief is that they used hundreds of men to push the stones up inclined planes. A few of the stones still have knobs on them that could have been used to lever them into position. After they were placed, the Incas would have sanded the knobs away.
The space is composed of 140 constructions including temples, sanctuaries, parks and residences (houses with thatched roofs). There are more than one hundred flights of stone steps - often completely carved from a single block of granite - and a great number of water fountains, interconnected by channels and water-drainages perforated in the rock, designed for the original irrigation system. Evidence has been found to suggest that the irrigation system was used to carry water from a holy spring to each of the houses in turn.
According to archaeologists, the urban sector of Machu Picchu was divided into three great districts: the Sacred District, the Popular District, to the south, and the District of the Priests and the Nobility.
Temple of the Sun
Located in the first zone are the primary archaeological treasures: the Intihuatana, the Temple of the Sun and the Room of the Three Windows. These were dedicated to Inti, their sun god and greatest deity. The Popular District, or Residential District, is the place where the lower class people lived. It includes storage buildings and simple houses to live in. In the royalty area, a sector existed for the nobility: a group of houses located in rows over a slope; the residence of the Amautas (wise persons) was characterized by its reddish walls, and the zone of the Nustas (princesses) had trapezoid-shaped rooms. The Monumental Mausoleum is a carved statue with a vaulted interior and carved drawings. It was used for rites or sacrifices.
As part of their road system, the Inca built a road to Machu Picchu. Today, tens of thousands of tourists walk the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu each year, acclimatising at Cusco before starting on a two- to four-day journey on foot from the Urubamba valley up through the Andes mountain range.
Shamanic legends say that if you're a sensitive person and you rub your forehead against the stone you will see the spirit world. The Intihuatana stone is one of the many ritual stones in South America. They are arranged so they point directly at the sun during the winter solstice.
The Spanish did not find Machu Picchu until the 20th century so the Intihuatana Stone was not destroyed like many other ritual stones. It is also called "The Hitching Point of the Sun" because it was supposed to hold the sun in its place. At midday on March 21st and September 21st the sun stands almost above the pillar creating no shadow at all. It is (as they said before) believed to be an astronomic clock built by the Incas.
The Intihuatana Stone was damaged in September 2000 when a 450 kg (1,000-pound) crane fell onto it, breaking off a piece of stone the size of a ballpoint pen.