About Machu Picchu

A short guide to Machu Picchu.

The Legendary "Lost City of Machu Picchu" is without a doubt the most important attraction in Peru and one of the world's most impressive archaeological sites. Built by the Incas on the summit of Machu Picchu (Old Peak), over- looking the deep canyon of the Urubamba river in a semi-tropical area 120 Km. (75 miles) from the city of Cuzco at 7,000 feet above sea level.

Machu Picchu is also one of the Inca's best kept secrets. They did not leave written records and Spanish chronicles make no mention of the citadel. Discovered in 1911 by the American professor Hiram Bingham. The building style is "late imperial Inca". It is thought to have been a sanctuary or temple inhabited by high priests and the "Virgins of the Sun". Excavations revealed that of the 135 skeletons found, 109 were women. No signs of post-Conquest occupation were unearthed.

The original entrance to the complex is on the southwestern side of the citadel at the end of the Inca Trail, a short walk away from "Intipunko " (Sun Gate), the ancient final check point to Machu Picchu. The present entrance on the southeastern side leads to the agricultural section.

The complex can be divided into three distinct sections: Agricultural, urban, and religious.

The agricultural area consists of a series of terraces and irrigation channels that serve dual purpose as cultivation platforms and as retention walls to avoid erosion. Smaller buildings next to some large terraces are thought to have served as lookout posts.

The urban section starts at the wall that separates it from the agricultural area. This group of buildings were constructed on the ridge that descends abruptly to the Urubamba valley. In the southern part of the section are found a series of niches carved in a rock known as "the jail" with elements that include man size niches and underground dungeons.. Stone rings would have served to hold the prisoner's arms.

The group of refined structures next to "the jail" is known as "the intellectuals' quarters", with tall walls, nooks, and windows built with reddish stone. These are considered to have been accommodations for the Amautas (high ranked teachers). One of the buildings has several circular holes carved on the rock floor named the "mortar room" believed to have been used for preparation of dyes.

The largest urban section in Machu Picchu, located in the northwestern part, is reached by a 67 steps staircase and involves a group of buildings not as finely constructed as other parts of the complex.

The central plaza that separates the religious from the urban section, has a great rock in the center. The religious section contains splendid architecture and masonry work. One of the most important and enigmatic is probably the Intihuatana shrine, this block of granite was presumably used to make astronomical observations.

Descending the hill next to this site is the Great Central Temple, a three walled building with fine stonework and an attached smaller temple called the "Sacristy". Next to this structure is another three walled building, known as the Temple of the Three Windows, so called because of the trapezoidal openings on the east wall. Directly across is the Royal sector, with ample buildings typical of Inca royalty. A very important structure in this section is the "Temple of the Sun", a circular tower with the best stonework of Machu Picchu. Its base forms a cavern known as the Royal Tomb. Recent studies show that the actual purpose was for astronomical observance.

Huayna Picchu, "young peak" is as much a part of the site as the buildings of the citadel. The towering granite peak overlooks Machu Picchu to the North with a steep, well- preserved original Inca path, well worth the one hour climb for an astounding view of the citadel and the entire valley.

The Temple of the Moon, located halfway down in an underground chamber on the north side of Huayna Picchu, is a fairly recent discovery. The access to this site is rather difficult and diverges left from the main trail. It contains finely carved structures on large boulders. The trip up and down takes about three hours.

We recommend: The Machu Picchu Guidebook. Wright & Zegarra. 2004. Johnson Books.

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