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Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu, Peru

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Machu Picchu, Peru - History

When Hiram Bingham and his team re discovered Machu Picchu it was fully covered in vegetation.

It is believed that Machu Picchu was built around AD 1460 by Inca Pachacutec at the height of the Inca empire. Pachacutec is credited with the expansion of the Tawantinsuyo and the consolidation of power. There are many theories as to why Machu Picchu was built but few among the most plausible. The most common conclusion from experts on Inca history and archaeologists is that it was built first and foremost as a retreat for the Inca and his family. Machu Picchu was also a sacred center where the Inca and his family could worship natural resources, the Sun and other deities important to Inca religion. Understanding Inca history is a puzzle as they did not have a written language so there is no record of its history. Historians and archaeologists were able to tell us about their history by studying their artifacts.

Machu Picchu was strategically located in the ridge between Mountain Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu in the most inaccessible area of the Urubamba River. It is so hidden that not even the Spaniard conquerors were able to find it. The reason for its remote location is not certain but historians speculate that it was either for security or it was a special place to access the gods, or maybe both. In case of an attack by the enemy there is only one entry point which would have been easier to spot in case of invasion and simple to defend. To the Incas, mountains were specially sacred, specially snow capped mountains with its dependable supply of water. The site where Machu Picchu was built was surrounded by religious features. Priests noticed the movement of the sun, moon and stars and how they aligned with mountain peaks during certain times of the year such as the solstice. They carefully observed these events before planning the location of each building.

Machu Picchu was a work in progress and it is believed that it was built throughout the duration of the Inca Empire. The main buildings and structures were built while Pachacutec reigned from 1438 to 1470, successive generations kept adding to it and it was abandoned in 1572 when the Spaniards arrived in Cusco.

Discovery by Hiram Bingham

The Spaniards never found Machu Picchu, so unlike other Inca cities, it was never destroyed or changed, only a few local families who farmed nearby knew of its existence but not its significance. On a sunny day in July 1911, guided by a peasant boy, Hiram Bingham, an American explorer, accidentally discovered the “Lost City of the Incas”. Hiram Bingham’s expedition was sponsored by Yale University and the National Geographic Society and was in search of Vilcabamba or the “last resting place of the Incas”. The city was covered by vegetation, hiding beneath dense foliage and overgrown trees and its walls covered with moss, it was almost invisible. To his surprise it was in intact condition just how the Incas had left it 1572. Bingham had just discovered the ruins of Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu was designated an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. It stood hidden in the Andes Mountains for about 400 years with no maintenance and sign of soil erosion. Its construction was so innovative and ingenious, the use of drainage and materials have allowed the citadel to stand for more than 400 years.

Today Machu Picchu is part of the heritage of the Inca Civilization. The Inca ruins is one of the most visited tourist attractions in South America and the most popular tourist destination in Peru. In order to protect its national heritage the government of Peru has declared it a National Sanctuary. In 1983 UNESCO gave Machu Picchu the status of World Heritage site.


What single archaeological site has garnered colossal historic and symbolic importance, not just for a nation but for the whole world? The answer: Machu Picchu. A sacred place that was inaccessible to outsiders for centuries, but totally accessible to local natives who for many years lived around this ruin and who may or may not have known about its universal significance and transcendence.

Among the many people who have been named as Machu Picchu discoverers, one stands out from the rest due to his connections to his Alma Mater, Yale University. This person is Hiram Bingham. Many things have been said about the teacher with a conqueror’s soul, however there’s an untold story behind the discovery of Machu Picchu.

1909 is the year that Bingham first came to Perú. He arrived at Choquequirao, also known as the sister of Machu Picchu. He arrived like an intuitive explorer, following his instincts and reading the chroniclers for clues, and started to scour the entire settlement.

1910 is another important year, the year that Alberto Giesecke PhD assumed the responsibility of leading San Antonio Abad del Cusco University. Like Bingham, Giesecke was North American. In his 14 years as Rector, he advanced many archaeological projects and excavations.

The following year, 1911, Braulio Polo y la Borda, owner of the Echarati estate in the Convencion Valley, had as his guest Dr. Giesecke, and told him that the place was littered with archaeological sites, among them Machu Picchu.

On his way back from the Convencion, Giesecke wrote to Bingham about the details of his conversation with Polo y la Borda, and that is the reason why Bingham came to the archaeological site.

Bingham had also read many chroniclers and traveler diaries, including one written by Charles Wiener, who was the first to talk about Machu Picchu in his description of Perú and the indigenous populations. Weiner’s diary is dated 1880.

Wiener was in the zone around the year 1876, compiling the information that the locals gave to him including the names of Machu and Huayna Picchu. He made around 20 maps and wrote 30 letters.

With enough information to track down the archaeological sites, Bingham obtained a scientific commission, sponsored by Yale University.

On July 1911, Bingham trekked into the Vilcabamba valley, lead by Melchor Arteaga, who took Bingham through San Miguel to Machu Picchu, arriving in a thick and wooded jungle with some buildings that couldn’t be seen. With a machete in his hand, Bingham walked through the entire place and concluded that this was where Manco Inca lived and fought against the Spanish conquers.

Now, we have to go back to the year 1902. July 14th of 1902 to be exact, which is when the real discoverer of Machu Picchu, Agustín Lizárraga, formed an expedition with his cousin, Enrique Palma Ruíz, who at the time was administrator of the Collpani Estate as well as Gabino Sánchez and his agricultural laborer Toribio Recharte. The expedition was in search of new land for agriculture.

When Lizárraga arrived, he observed the whole Machu Picchu Sanctuary and was aware that he found an amazing and breathtaking site. On a wall in the Temple of the Three Windows, he carved an an inscription that said: Agustín Lizárraga, July 14th 1902. Years later, Bingham found the inscription and recorded it in his field notes.

In 1903, Lizárraga started planting corn and other vegetables on the site’s terraces. He left the laborer, Toribio Recharte, to tend the plantation with his family, and 4 years later, in 1907, another laborer came to the place: Anacleto Álvarez, also with his family.

1904 was the year that Lizárraga began to travel with another family, the Ochoas, from the Collpani Estate, along with his estate workers.

Why is it that Hiram Bingham became the so called discoverer of Machu Picchu and gained notoriety in all newspapers and scientific reviews? The French explorer Simone Waisbard, in her book called “Machu Picchu Mysteries” said that Lizárraga was a well-versed connoisseur of the zone. It was he who spread all the information about Machu Picchu.

Alfred Bingham, Bingham´s son, in his book called “Portrait of an Explorer,” mentioned that his father omitted all references to Lizárraga. Many photographs taken by Bingham during the initial investigation of the site showed that many of the constructions were not covered in thick vegetation and these were also not included in his annotations and final conclusions.

One of the things that caught the attention of many people who studied the site, even Bingham’s son, is a line in one of Hiram Bingham’s notebooks which reads “Agustín Lizárraga was the real discoverer of Machu Picchu he lives on the San Miguel Bridge.”

In subsequent years, the mass media played an important role in elevating Bingham as the only discoverer of Machu Picchu, especially National Geographic which published articles by and about Bingham. In the eyes of the world, he remains as the only and real discoverer. It is true that Bingham was well-positioned and systematically studied Machu Picchu. It is because of him that Machu Picchu is known by the entire world. But it is equally true that he wasn’t the real discoverer of Machu Picchu.

These 2 people, Agustín Lizárraga and Hiram Bingham, who had nothing in common the first, a simple farmer with an incipient knowledge of History and Archaeology and the second, a well-respected teacher who had everything to be able to organize an expedition and surround himself with the best professionals their paths converged in this amazing discovery that changed their lives and changed the course of everything that we know about one of the most and important civilizations of all time: the Incas and the Tahuantinsuyo Empire.

Machu Picchu History

The citadel of Machu Picchu has had several periods of occupation. Taken from the chronicles, the construction style and ceramics found has deducted the following:

Initial Period: 1300 AD
Classic Period: 1400 AD
Imperial Period: 1533 AD
Transition Period: 1533-1572 AD

The story of Machu Picchu

Most modern archaeologists and historians agree that Machu Picchu was built by the Inca Pachacutec, the greatest statesman of Tahuantinsuyo, who ruled from 1438 to 1471. Archaeologists assume that the construction of the citadel would date from the fifteenth century approximately chronological date given by the carbon-14 or radiocarbon.

The construction of Machu Picchu began when the Inca´s territory started to grow. According to archaeologists, in this area was fought the last battle that defined victory over the Chancas, covering prestigious victory and gave power to the Inca Pachacutec.

Inca Pachacutec was the first to emerge beyond the valley of Cusco after his epic victory over the Chancas. He conducted the Tahuantinsuyo expansion and recognized it as the “constructor” of Cusco. This was one of his greatest works.

The origin of Machu Picchu is attributed with some certainty to Pachacutec, embattled president, which was characterized by territorial conquests, and the development of religion and spirituality. From today there is archaeological studies supportting the theory that it was a royal estate destined to the cult of the gods and a challenge to the ruler to built skills.

Built as a refuge for the elite of the Incas aristocracy, the fortress was located on the eastern slopes of the Vilcanota mountain range, about 80 miles from Cusco, the capital of the empire. Its strategic location was chosen with admirable success. Surrounded by steep cliffs and away from the sight of strangers in a tangled forest, the citadel of Machu Picchu had the quality of having only one narrow entrance, allowing, in case of a surprise attack,to be defended by very few warriors.
Occupied by at least three generations of Incas, Machu Picchu was abandoned in a sudden and mysterious decision. The strongest hypothesis explain his disappearance from the historical memory because that Machu Picchu was unknown to the lower castes and their routes prohibited for anyone who was not part of the small circle of the Inca.

Part of the gains of the valley included Pachacútec Tampu, despite being inhabited by that sister nation of Cusco, did not escape his iron rule. Natural beauty, mild climate (one of the best in the Andes) and rich soil, Pachacutec noticed Tampu favorite settlement of the new imperial nobility, gracing the valley with several of the most magnificent cities Tahuantinsuyo as Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu. Site selection for lifting Machu Picchu must have been made with great care, as it was, and still is, a great place to raise a ceremonial center. It was located, according to researcher Antonio Zapata, the largest mountain by its sacredness, which begins in the Salcantay (The Apus, greater spirit) and ends at the Huayna Picchu. It was a privileged to observe the movement of the stars and the sun, The Inca´s deities.
Furthermore, according to their research, the place had a quarry nearby that could provide the finest white granite stones.

July 24th, 1911 is known as the date of the “discovery” of the famous Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, architectural treasure that had been hidden for more than four centuries under the lush nature of the Urubamba canyon. This discovery was made by controversial anthropologist, historian or simply by the American explorer, amateur archeology, Yale University professor Hiram Bingham.

Although the discovery points to Bingham, the researcher of Cusco, Simone Waisbard said that the finding was the result of a chance, since Enrique Palma, Gabino Sánchez, and Agustín Lizarraga, were the first to visit these archaeological remains on those stones and they left their names recorded on July 14th, 1901. And also because the English archaeologist was looking in that moment at Vitco City, the last refuge of the Incas and the last point of resistance against the Spanish. So the discovery of Bingham would reduce the spread of the fact to science. However, to its main protagonist until this day was not the result of chance, but a strenuous investigation based on information supplied by peasants, as well as several years of travel and exploration in the area.

Before that Machu Picchu´s discovery is likely to be part of the estates and Kutija Qollapani. Over the years the property was known as a Q `property unit. Palma ,Sanchez and Lizarraga found the indigenous Anacleto living in the place.Alvarez, who had cultivated the land during eight years ago was leased for twelve soles annually.

The owners of the estate could never have known meter by meter all over the place because of its large size and, especially, by its topography as rugged and irregular. People did indeed know of Machu Picchu and even lived in it, but they had no idea of his greatness and of how important it was. When they left it alone they had the opportunity to make it known to the world.


While the rediscovery of the citadel is attributed to the American historian Hiram Bingham, there are sources that indicate that Agustin Lizarraga, a tenant of Cuzco homelands came to the ruins nine years before the historian . According to Hiram Bingham, Lizarraga would have left an inscription in one of the walls of the Temple of the Three Windows. This registration would have been subsequently deleted.

Lizarraga’s story and his visits to the ancient Inca ruins have attracted the attention of Hiram Bingham, who was in the area investigating the last holdouts of the Inca´s in Vilcabamba. Bingham, very interested in these rumors, began the search for these ruins, reaching Machu Picchu in Cuzco.Lessee company Melchor Arriaga and a sergeant of the Peruvian Civil War in July 1911. There, the American historian would find two families, the Recharte and Alvarez, who had settled in the platforms of the south of the ruins. It was finally a child of the family who guided Recharte Bingham to the “urban area” of the ruins, which was covered by thick undergrowth.

Immediately, Bingham understood the enormous historical value of the ruins discovered and contacted Yale University, the National Geographic Society and the Peruvian government, requesting sponsorship to start the studies in the Inca archaeological site. The archaeological work was carried out from 1912 to 1915. In this period, they managed to clear the weeds that outrigger the Citadel and the Inca tombs were excavated being found beyond the city walls.
In 1913, National Geographic magazine published in an extensive article of Machu Picchu and the jobs that were done there, revealing to the world the citadel. With the passing of the years, the importance of tourism in the citadel of Machu Picchu would grow, first nationally and then internationally, becoming a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1983.

Machu Picchu nowadays.

Machu Picchu was designated one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007, Machu Picchu is Peru´s most visited attraction and South America’s most famous ruins, welcoming hundreds of thousands of people a year. Increasing tourism, the development of nearby towns and environmental degradation continue to take their toll on the site, which is also home to several endangered species. As a result, the Peruvian government has taken steps to protect the ruins and prevent erosion of the mountainside in recent years.

When you think of Machu Picchu, one of the first names that comes to our minds is Hiram Bingham, but few persons know who Agustín Lizárraga is, one of the unrecognized discovers of the Sanctuary.

1.- Machu Picchu and the new findings

Is Machu Picchu considered a Ruin?

The city of Machu Picchu conserved many of its original structures, expressed on the zones that were chosen by Pachacutec, he found a granite plateau where many people started a very expensive and ambitious project, built a citadel that would last forever.

They knew how to take advantage of the ground that sometimes was so difficult to measure and prevent earthquakes and other calamities. The use of stones like Basalt, andesite and many other kind of stones that made it so resistant for many natural disasters.

These stones were brought from a place called the Batholitic of Vilcabamba, where all the stones were cut and brought to the Sanctuary and also to build the city of Cusco when the Spanish conquer arrived to these sites.

The constructions made in Machu Picchu, correspond to a specific kind of mandate of the Pachacutec Inca, who wants to preserved the environment and the ecology. It is well known that the Incas never knew the wheel, but it is not hard to understand that in this place the wheel never worked because of the land and the inclination of the site, because many people say that how is that possible that few men could bring from a long distance huge blocks of stone already cut so perfectly that when they were put on top of each other, not even a hair could pass between them.

Every construction made in Machu Picchu has a specific function: Religious, administrative, politic and social, the two most important was the religious and the administrative, because the religious part was the everyday ritual of their life and transit over Machu Picchu, and the administrative part,was because every product must pass by the control of the guardians that kept very safe the Sanctuary and the Tambos, the storages that kept all of the products that grew in the Citadel.

Why Ruins and not Amazing work of engineering?

Machu Picchu is considered as one of the seven modern wonders of the world, because of its amazing construction, but the name ruin is not the adequate, ruin is a place where everything is about to collapse or fall down, it is not the case of Machu Picchu: Take the example of some of the sites in Europe, the Roman Forum, the Parthenon, they are ruins because the state of the construction, but for many people is not a ruin, is a sign of the greatness of the ancient world, and this ancient world is the legacy for many people.

Sincerely that the word ruin is not the accurate word to describe Machu Picchu.

The word Sanctuary describes very well the complex of Machu Picchu, because in that place many rituals and sacrifices were offered to calm and maintain happy one of the most important deities of the Tahuantinsuyo: The Sun, their father, their creator. It is not coincidence that Machu Picchu was built over high altitude, the reason is that they felt closer to the sky, and closer to their God.

The status of modern wonder has to be our pride because is our responsibility that Machu Picchu keeps the category of that, competing with the Giza Pyramids, the Petra.

The Temple and many others, The National Institute of Culture (INC) is the organization that fights to keep the Machu Picchu culture and legacy alive, showing us that this Sanctuary is one of its kind, there will not be another Machu Picchu and that must put us in the position of not destroying our national and world patrimony.

2) The real name of Machu Picchu: Patallaqta

Patallaqta comes from two words in Quechua, Pata which means steps, and Llaqta, which means town, this name comes from the way that the constructions were settle, initially the Machu Picchu complex is going to function to administrated the place, but its importance caught the eyes of Pachacutec, who saw that this place could be a Sanctuary and a pilgrimage place.

A Spanish Historian, Mari Carmen Rubio, said that this name comes from the chronicles written by Juan de Betanzos in the XVI century, saying that Pachacutec was buried in this Sanctuary, Here is the reason why Betanzos said that: Every Inca was buried in the Coricancha Temple (The temple of the sun) but according to Betanzos, Pachacutec was buried in Patallaqta and his rests were left in a crock pot.

But the story is not ending here, because the Incas always made 2 bundles, one was taken to the Coricancha and the other to a special place where nobody expect. Some priests could worship the rest of the body. Pachacutec was like the south American Alexander the great, a man who conquered many territories and was one of the few governors who arrived to the jungle, an unknown territory but very fertile to grow many products.

Now, the name Machu Picchu comes from the Spanish word Pico (Peak) and the word to describe a mountain is Orqo, is not its original name, it was a Spanish way to mention this place, and the name itself could have been invented in the republican time.

Federico Kauffman Doig, one of the most important Archaeologists said that Machu Picchu is the way that the people of these places in their very poor Spanish were referring to the Sanctuary. He said that the real and original name is not Patallaqta, is Llaqta Pata, because that is the correct way to pronounce it in the Quechua language.

When Hiram Bingham arrived to the city of Cusco, they told him that one of these places, where the people lived for centuries was called Llactapacta, a place near to where Bingham found Machu Picchu. According to Mari Carmen Martin, this place was never abandoned and maybe that’s why this place never lost its original name.

Llactapacta was indeed a royal house, in modern terms it could be a mansion where Pachacutec might have lived in the XV century, Llactapacta also is known as the town ¨above¨ ( Llaqta-place, Pacta-Steps or altitude).

The Spanish Historian found in 1987,82 chapters of the Chronicle of Juan de Betanzos called Suma y Narración de los Incas, written in 1551, who relates about the organization of the Incas at that time.

Other fact is that Machu Picchu has many names used by the local natives, one of them is Vitcos, and more recently is Cajaroma, the last one comes from the Betanzos chronicle, who mentioned that this city could be the real Machu Picchu, because according to Betanzos this is one of the many cities that Pachacutec conquered when he was the governor of the Tahuantinsuyo Empire, but also this could be the land of a jungle tribe that lived when Pachacutec had the control of the entire Empire.

There are many theories about the real name of Machu Picchu but Cajaroma needs to be investigated to get a conclusion and finally know which was the real name of Machu Picchu.

3) The Qeschawaka Bridge, ancestral legacy

The Qeschawaka Bridge, That connects Qehue with Canas, two of the most important provinces in the Cusco department, is now an issue for its conservation and protection. The bridge crosses the Apurimac River, was an important river for the Inca people many centuries ago, its name comes from the words Qeswa, which means twisted cord, and Chaka which means bridge.

The material used for this bridge is the Ichu, a kind of grass that grows around the highland, this material is dried by the sun and then is used to make some kind of rope to built the bridge.

Every year many natives of the Cusco Communities like Chaupibanda, Qehue and Canas gather around the bridge and start an ancestral ritual called Minka, that consist in doing some community work that is going to be useful to every person who lives around the river.
This kind of material is used by the locals and more effective than the stone or other kind of materials, because it´s easier to rebuilt the bridge, and also avoid disasters such as earthquakes and other calamities.

The Minka lasts 4 days and the main event was the reconstruction of the bridge, which gathered the people who lived in the nearby provinces, after that they celebrated it with dances and drinks for the people who participated of this ancient ritual.

This renovation of the bridge is considered since the year 2009 like a National Heritage, this is an example of the legacy that the Incas left to their generations, and also mentioned the effective and simple technology of the Tahuantinsuyo people.

Why is it important to maintain the tradition alive?

One city without its past is a dead city without no memory a city could not see what its legacy is, and what is worse, they can’t see what its future is. The tradition, the rituals are a huge part of who we are and recreates our past to keep in touch with our ancestors and see where are we from.

Recreating the construction of the bridge is important because it keeps the people together and the relationships between them are closer with the pass of time. Women, men and children work for their community, they built the bridge as many times as they need it.

The Minka is practiced since Inca times, it’s one of the precepts in the moral and ethics that the Incas had, their phrases don’t be a thief, don’t be a liar, don’t be lazy is one of the codes more used in the Andes. The Incas were a culture with so much support between each other, no one is selfish, and everybody contributes to the improvement of each citizen.

Pachacutec, Lord of the Tahuantinsuyo Empire

It all starts with a single person, who transforms the entire Tahuantinsuyo Territory, with his bravery and strength he began to create one of the most important Empires in the History of the world, this person is Pachacutec, The Inca Emperor.

Machu Picchu, the untold story

Two persons, one History in common: being recognized as the first who visited the Sanctuary, one is a local native, who always knew about the place, the other an North American adventurer that with a little luck and good contacts was able to show the entire humanity one of the most beautiful sanctuaries in the History. But behind that there are a lot of things that you must know, Machu Picchu, The untold Story, an encounter with 2 persons with one thing in common: Remain as the original discoverers of this great place.

The Ayar Brothers legend

Many of the stories that an ancient town tells us, is about power, big decisions and fantastic habilities, The Ayar Brothers Legend tells us how Manco Capac remained as the supreme chief of all the Inca Empire.

The Legend of Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo

Is the classic story: Two persons, a man and a woman, a supreme entity that sent them to populate one big territory, The Legend of Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo narrates the story of an ancient group, the founders of one of the most powerful and organized cultures: The Incas and their Empire the Tahuantinsuyo.

Religious significance in Machu Picchu

The Sanctuary is full of cosmic and universal symbolism, but one of the most important aspects is their religious significance in Machu Picchu, with several and particular ways of understanding the universe that Machu Picchu is.


Along the years the history of Machu Picchu continues fascinating a many people, who want to know more about the Inca Empire and its Culture.

The citadel of Machu Picchu is one of the world’s archaeological jewels and the most important tourist destination of Peru. Since being discovered by American archaeologist Hiram Bingham in 1911 has continued to surprise the world.

Archaeologists believe it was built during the fifteenth century by the Incas, but its main purpose is still a mystery. Is told that was populated by a large number of inhabitants, but only by nobles, priests and “aqllas” (virgins of the sun). There was also a population of peasants who worked the fields but did not live inside the citadel.

The city is divided into 3 areas: 2-populated areas and the agricultural sector, which is a vast system of terraces and irrigation canals. The urban sector was divided into two districts, one of them are the most important temples like the Sun, and the actual room. In another neighborhood are located the homes of the nobles and the convent of the “virgins of the sun.” Between the two neighborhoods is a huge open as a square. The surroundings are stunning, the citadel is built on top of a hill surrounded by the Urubamba river and a mountain range, and it seems the center of a ring of mountains.

Perhaps the biggest attraction of Machu Picchu is the level of technological development achieved by the builders in architecture and stonework. The joints of the stones in some environments are so narrow that even a pin could be inserted. The stone most significant is the “Intihuatana” or solar calendar, which allowed the Incas to know precisely the seasons and the weather throughout the year. However, many found in Machu Picchu more than history and old technologies, but also energy and peace that surrounds all who come and visit so mysterious place.
The construction of Machu Picchu is the time that the small Inca dominion began to grow. According to archaeologists, this area was fought the last battle that defined the victory over the Chanca, covering prestigious victory and gave the power to Inca Pachacutec.

Pachacutec was the first Inca to expand beyond the valley of Cusco after his epic victory over the Chanca. It was conducted by the expansion of Tahuantinsuyo and is recognized as the “constructor” of Cusco. This was one of his greatest works.
The origin of Machu Picchu is attributed with some certainty to Pachacutec, embattled president, who was characterized by territorial gains, and the development of religion and spirituality. From today there is archaeological studies support the theory that it was a royal hacienda destined for the worship of the gods and a challenge to the ruling skills builder.

Built as a refuge for the elite of Inca aristocracy, the fortress was located on the eastern slopes of the Vilcanota mountain range, about 80 km from Cusco, the capital of the empire. Its strategic location was chosen with admirable success. Surrounded by steep cliffs and secluded from the sight of strangers in a tangled forest, the citadel of Machu Picchu had the quality of having only one narrow entrance, allowing, if a surprise attack, be defended by a handful of warriors.

Occupied by at least three generations of Incas, Machu Picchu was abandoned in a sudden and mysterious decision. The most likely theories explain his disappearance from historical memory on the grounds that Machu Picchu was a place unknown to the lower castes and forbidden routes for anyone not part of the small circle of the Inca.

On July 24, 1911 is known as the date of its discovery, an architectural treasure had been hidden for more than four centuries under the lush countryside of the Urubamba canyon. This was found by controversial an American explorer, Hiram Bingham, who led that this impressive Sanctuary was showed to the entire world.


Interior of one of the buildings of Machu Picchu, detail of the windows.
Photograph by Hiram Bingham, 1911

Machu Picchu was probably “abandoned” somewhere in between 1534 and 1570, years in which the Inca state faced conquest and offered some resistance. The crisis unfolded by the early years of colonial rule allowed remaining mitmas to run away from the site. By the same token, its somewhat hidden position turned Machu Picchu into an ideal shelter for escaping Spanish armies and organizing rebellion. The so-called “Incas of Vilcabamba”, the last political representatives of the declining Inca state, led first by Manco Inca and later by Túpac Amaru I , probably gathered at Machu Picchu and launched campaigns of military resistance against the invaders. When the resistance was finally repressed, Machu Picchu would have become part of the larger properties of local curacas, local leaders eventually co-opted by colonial power to collect tribute for the Spanish, but otherwise lost its original purpose.

Kitchen utensils found at the interior of buildings.
Photograph by Hiram Bingham, 1911

There is much speculation about whether the Spanish visited Machu Picchu in colonial times. Documentation about tribute from the Urubamba region includes a narrative about the “Picchu brook”, though this tribute was being collected by local encomenderos and corregidores from the neighboring town of Ollantaytambo. It is unclear whether the Spanish ever ventured themselves deeper into the Urubamba valley and found Machu Picchu. Other researchers have suggested the place was used as a rehearsal site for launchingthe campaign against “idolatry” – this is the colonial Catholic effort to extirpate pre-Columbian rites and beliefs and enforce orthodoxy – due to the archeological evidence of bonfires. Furthermore, these campaigns of extirpation of idolatries would be responsible for taking away the pre-Columbian artifacts that remained in the city after its abandonment. At any rate, whether the Spanish found Machu Picchu or not, the site never became a space for permanent colonial settlement in the way other royal estates did – such as Ollantaytambo and areas within the urban limits of Cusco city. As decades went by, references to Machu Picchu or its area became increasingly elusive and rare, to the extent that its existence was almost completely forgotten aside from a handful of local stories about a “lost city.”

Machu Picchu today

In 2007 Machu Picchu was named one of the Seven New Wonders of the World.

Machu Picchu is South America’s most visited attraction and most famous ruins, welcoming hundreds of thousands of people each year.

Increased tourism, development of nearby cities and environmental degradation continue to affect the site, which is also home to several endangered species.

As a result, the Peruvian government has taken steps to protect the ruins and prevent erosion of the mountain slope in recent years.

When you think of Machu Picchu, one of the first names that comes to mind is Hiram Bingham, but few people know who Agustín Lizárraga is, one of the Sanctuary’s unrecognized discoveries.

There are several ways to get to Machu Picchu, from luxurious private tours to low budgets.

Peru: Machu Picchu

As I climb the twisted stone staircase up the mountain, it gives me the view of Machu Picchu that I had seen in countless postcards. This spot is the best-known archaeological site on the entire South American continent. The viewpoint gives me a clear picture of the ruins – allowing me to understand their layout. But soon, the maze of staircases and structures would confuse me.

Referred to as “The Lost City of the Incas,” Machu Picchu is a ruined stone city perched in the mountains of Peru. Despite its beauty, it was abandoned for centuries. While known earlier by a few wanderers and locals, it was not revealed to the rest of the world until Hiram Bingham, while looking for a different lost city, came upon it in 1911. National Geographic brought it further into the spotlight in 1913 by dedicating an entire issue to the site.

Coming down into the bulk of the ruins, I walk along the extensive agriculture terraces that flow down the mountainside. They don’t seem to end – eventually the vegetation just thickens and pulls the terraces from my sight. The terrace system has interesting benefits that I, being more familiar with farming on plains, would not have predicted. The terraces vary in temperature as they climb the mountainside. This allowed the farmers to plant various types of crops in their ideal conditions. Also, rain directed nutrients from the higher crops to improve the soil below.

The central plaza of Machu Picchu is an open grass area that separates the residential and the ceremonial parts of the city. Llamas stroll the plaza, graze on the grass, and lie in the sun. Occasionally, one of them navigates a staircase and wanders out onto the terraces.

I enter the ceremonial area, and come upon the Temple of the Sun, a semi-circular temple made with well-worked stones. The stones interlock and hold together without using mortar. This is a common trait of Inca architecture that makes it earthquake-resistant. Inside the structure is a large altar and a trapezoidal window that is thought to have been used for astronomical observation. Below the temple is a cave called the Royal Tomb, even though no human remains have ever been found there.

I continue up a staircase past a series of ceremonial baths to a quarry. The scattered boulders seem to emphasize the incomplete nature of Machu Picchu. Despite the extensive work the Incas put into this series of mountaintop structures, they never completed the city.

There are many conflicting theories about different aspects of Machu Picchu. Archaeologists cannot agree on whether the city was abandoned before or during the Spanish conquest. Its main purpose isn’t even definite. I have been told that Machu Picchu is a former Inca vacation resort, a prison, a defensive retreat, a temple, or an Inca government city.

As I explored the ruins, I notice that many facts the tour guide suggests disagree with other explanations I have read. Most modern texts say much of the information surrounding this site is guesswork, but the tour guides tend to treat some theories as fact and ignore all the other explanations. If you want deeper knowledge, you must find some good books and do your homework.

Crossing the central plaza leads me into the residential area of the ruins. It is easy to tell that the stonework is of lower quality than what I saw in the ceremonial area. The structures are simple and domestic, making it easy to imagine people using these stone buildings as houses.

Next, I head in the direction the Temple of the Condor. In the Inca religion, the condor is the animal representative of the higher world – with the snake and puma representing the lower world and this world. After a few moments of finding the right viewing angle, I can see in the rocks a carving of a condor’s head. Behind it, large stones spread into the sky representing wings.

Machu Pichu is a large site with over one hundred staircases that can be tiring to climb. One day spent among the stones hardly seems enough – which is why I am coming back tomorrow.

If You Go:

The ruins are open all day long, but are the most crowded from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM. Most people visit on day trips from Cuzco. If you want to see the ruins with less of a crowd, arrange to arrive early in the morning or in the late afternoon. The early buses up the mountainside can be caught by staying overnight in Aguas Calientes. Peak season is from June to August.

The historic sanctuary of Machu Picchu was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.

You can take a virtual tour of Machu Picchu online. An informative brochure is also available on the Peruvian government’s Machu Picchu website.

About the author:
Theodore Scott quit his job to travel around South America. Theodore’s website is www.theodorescott.com

Photo credits:
First Macchu Picchu photograph by Photo by Willian Justen de Vasconcellos on Unsplash
All other photos are by Theodore Scott.

History of the end of the Inca Empire

Depiction of the Spanish Conquerors in mural

According to history, the Inca Empire came to a tragic end when small pox and other diseases killed Huayna Capac and an estimated 2/3 of the population during the years 1524-26. In 1520, a Spanish fleet arrived at the Spanish colony at Panama carrying diseases from Europe previously unknown to the Americas. Before the Spanish arrived in Peru in 1532, these diseases had spread, eventually arriving to destroy the carefully organized Inca state. The empire then fell into a devastating civil war over Inca secession. Historians indicate that Machu Picchu was likely abandoned at this time because cost of maintenance was prohibitive as epidemic and war depleted the remaining male population.

Inca roads, particularly in rugged mountain areas, required continual maintenance. Rainfall in the Machu Picchu region is more than 70 inches annually. Rock slides regularly take out the modern railway and nearby roads. Cleared trails are overgrown by dense vegetation in less than a year. The main roads to Machu Picchu would have been rapidly lost without state organized maintenance.

Peru Rail | Timeline Machu Picchu

Interactive Timeline of the Inca Citadel Machu Picchu, one of the 7 Wonders of the Modern World and an unmatched sample of the Inca Culture in the Americas. In this version, part of the history of the Incas, why Machu Picchu was built and how it is today.

1200 The Beginning

Chimú and Chancay cultures are established Manco Cápac becomes the first Inca (emperor) and founds the Inca Empire.

1300 Inca Growth

The Ica-Chincha culture flourishes in central-southern Peru.

1350 The Inca Dynasty

Inca Roca (6th Inca) establishes the Cusco dynasty.

1375 Conquest of tribes

Chimú takes the Moche territory.

1438 Domain Expansion

Pachacutec, the ninth Inca, begins with the territorial expansion of the Inca empire. Cusco becomes the center of the Inca Empire.

1460 The Birth of a Wonder

Pachacútec orders the construction of Machu Picchu in the Urubamba Valley at 2430 masl, becoming an important urban and religious center. Likewise, its strategic location in the mountainous jungle served as a checkpoint of the empire with the Antisuyo.

1463 Expansion in Bolivian lands

Topa Inca, son of Pachacutec, continues the expansion of the empire to the east, reaching the Bolivian highlands.

1470 Walking South

Huayna Capac, son of Topa Inca, and his sons Huascar and Atahualpa expanded the empire to Quito in the north and, to Chile and part of Argentina in the south.

1527 Civil War

Huayna Capac dies of smallpox, after this Huascar and Atahualpa are confronted by the leadership of the empire. This confrontation is recognized as the beginning of the decline of the Inca Empire.

1532 Arrival of Spanish Forces

Huascar is killed by Atahualpa forces. At the same time, the arrival of the Spanish forces led by Francisco Pizarro takes place and the conquest of Peru begins.

1533 Collapse of the Empire

Atahualpa is accused of treason and executed by the Spaniards.

1534 Expansion of the Spanish Conquest

The Spanish invade and burn Cusco. The Inca resistance against the Spanish led by Manco Inca summons the nobles of the nearby regions to integrate their court into the exile of Vilcabamba, thus abandoning the Inca sanctuary.

1536 The Resistance

Manco Inca and his army rebel against the Spanish, take refuge in Vilcabamba and create an Inca government there. Later Manco Inca is killed and replaced by successive Sapa Incas chosen by the Spaniards.

1541 The Spanish Mutiny

The civil war between the Spanish conquerors leads to the murder of Francisco Pizarro.

1543 Empowerment of the Spanish Colony

Lima becomes the capital of the first colonial government, the Viceroyalty of Peru, which initially included territory of what is now known as Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile and part of Argentina.

1572 The Last Inca

Tupac Amaru I, the last royal Inca, is captured and executed on the orders of Viceroy Toledo. Vilcabamba´s resistance falls and Spanish power is consolidated in the center of the Andes.

1780 Inca Revolt

Tupac Amaru II, an Indian nobleman who claims to be a descendant of the last Inca emperor, leads a failed revolt against the Spaniards.

1821 The Independence of Peru

General José de San Martín captures Lima and proclaims the independence of Peru.

1824 Defense of Independence

Peru defeats Spain and becomes the last colony in Latin America to obtain its independence.

1874 The First Tracks

Maps of the time that refer to Machu Picchu are discovered.

1911 The Eyes of the World are fixed in Machu Picchu

The American historian and explorer Hiram Bingham travels to Peru with the intention of finding the ancient Inca capital Vilcabamba. It is here when he is guided to Machu Picchu by locals. It should be noted that nine years earlier, in 1902, Agustín Lizárraga from Cusco arrived at this place, but he was not successful in making it known to the world.

1912-1915 The Wonder Study

Bingham puts Machu Picchu at the center of international attention and organizes more expeditions in 1912, 1914 and 1915 to carry out major clearings and excavations.

1981 Historic Sanctuary

Peru declares “Historic Sanctuary” an area of 325.92 square kilometers around Machu Picchu. This Sanctuary comprises the natural environment of the archaeological site, located between the Urubamba River and the cloud forest on the eastern slopes of the Peruvian Andes.

1983 World Heritage Site

UNESCO names Machu Picchu World Heritage Site, describing it as “an absolute masterpiece of architecture and a unique testimony of Inca civilization.”

1999 The Road to Machu Picchu

PeruRail begins its operations, with tourist and luxury train services that offers an unforgettable experience on the way to the wonders of Peru: Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca.

2007 Wonder of the Modern World

On July 7 Machu Picchu is named one of the 7 New Wonders of the Modern World.

2011 Historical Debt

In March begins the return of archaeological pieces extracted by Hiram Bingham, which had been in the hands of Yale University for a century.

2011 Preservation of the Citadel

The daily number of visitors is restricted to 2,500 in order to preserve the citadel and its cultural material.