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Machu Picchu

Inca Trail Machu Picchu

Inca Trail Machu Picchu

“The lost city of the Incas”

Machu Picchu is a 15th-century Inca site; on the eastern slope of the Andes and overlooks the Urubamba River hundreds of feet below.

The site’s excellent preservation, the quality of its architecture, and the breathtaking mountain vista it occupies has made Machu Picchu one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world today. The site covers 32,592 hectares. Terraced fields on the edge of the site were once used for growing crops, likely maize and potatoes.

Machu Picchu, also spelled Machupijchu,  site of ancient Inca ruins located about 50 miles (80 km) northwest of Cuzco, Peru, in the Cordillera de Vilcabamba of the Andes Mountains. It is perched above the Urubamba River valley in a narrow saddle between two sharp peaks—Machu Picchu (“Old Peak”) and Huaynapicchu (“young Peak”)—at an elevation of 2,400 meters about sea level. One of the few major pre-Columbian ruins found nearly intact, Machu Picchu was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983.

The breathtaking Inca city of Machu Picchu was built atop the Andes Mountains in Peru. Machu Picchu is believed to have been a royal estate or sacred religious site for Inca leaders, whose civilization was virtually wiped out by Spanish invaders in the 16th century. For hundreds of years, until the American archaeologist Hiram Bingham stumbled upon it in 1911, the abandoned citadel’s existence was a secret known only to peasants living in the region. The site stretches over an impressive 5-mile distance, featuring more than 3,000 stone steps that link its many different levels. Today, hundreds of thousands of people tramp through Machu Picchu every year, braving crowds and landslides to see the sun set over its towering stone monuments and marvel at the mysterious splendor of one of the world’s most famous manmade wonders.

Machu Picchu is believed to have been built by Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, the ninth ruler of the Inca, in the mid-1400s. An empire builder, Pachacuti initiated a series of conquests that would eventually see the Inca grow into a South American realm that stretched from Ecuador to Chile.

Machu Picchu’s Inca Past

Historians believe Machu Picchu was built at the height of the Inca Empire, which dominated western South America in the 15th and 16th centuries. It was abandoned an estimated 100 years after its construction, probably around the time the Spanish began their conquest of the mighty pre-Columbian civilization in the 1530s. There is no evidence that the conquistadors ever attacked or even reached the mountaintop citadel, however; for this reason, some have suggested that the residents’ desertion occurred because of a smallpox epidemic.

Machu Picchu was discovered by  Mr. Hiram Bingham in 1911

Inca Trail Machu Picchu

Inca Trail Machu Picchu

In the summer of 1911 the American archaeologist Hiram Bingham arrived in Peru with a small team of explorers hoping to find “Vilcabamba la Vieja” , the last Inca stronghold to fall to the Spanish. Traveling on foot and by mule, Bingham and his team made their way from Cusco into the Urubamba Valley, where a local farmer told them of some ruins located at the top of a nearby mountain. The farmer called the mountain Machu Picchu, which translates to “old peak” in the native Quechua language. On July 24, after a tough climb to the mountain’s ridge in cold and drizzly weather, Bingham met a small group of peasants who showed him the rest of the way. Led by an 11-year-old boy, Bingham got his first glimpse of the intricate network of stone terraces marking the entrance to Machu Picchu.

The excited Bingham spread the word about his discovery in a best-selling book, “The Lost City of the Incas,” sending hordes of eager tourists flocking to Peru to follow in his footsteps up the formerly obscure Inca Trail. He also excavated artifacts from Machu Picchu and took them to Yale University for further inspection, igniting a custody dispute that lasted nearly 100 years. It was not until the Peruvian government filed a lawsuit and lobbied President Barack Obama for the return of the items that Yale agreed to complete their repatriation.

Although he is credited with making Machu Picchu known to the world—indeed, the highway tour buses use to reach it bears his name—it is not certain that Bingham was the first outsider to visit it. There is evidence that missionaries and other explorers reached the site during the 19th and early 20th centuries but were simply less vocal about what they uncovered there.

The Site of Machu Picchu

In the midst of a tropical mountain forest on the eastern slopes of the Peruvian Andes, Machu Picchu’s walls, terraces, stairways and ramps blend seamlessly into its natural setting. The site’s finely crafted stonework, terraced fields and sophisticated irrigation system bear witness to the Inca civilization’s architectural, agricultural and engineering prowess. Its central buildings are prime examples of a masonry technique mastered by the Incas in which stones were cut to fit together without mortar.

Archaeologists have identified several distinct sectors that together comprise the city, including a farming zone, a residential neighborhood, a royal district and a sacred area. Machu Picchu’s most distinct and famous structures include the Temple of the Sun and the Intihuatana stone, a sculpted granite rock that is believed to have functioned as a solar clock or calendar.

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Inca Trail Machu Picchu