Lead Image source.
Machu Picchu is a 15th-century Inca site in Peru that is situated on a ridge between the Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu mountains. It is located on the eastern slope of the Andes, 7,970 feet (2,430 meters) above sea level, and overlooks the Urubamba River hundreds of feet below.
Machu Picchu is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world today due to its excellent preservation, the quality of its architecture, and the breathtaking mountain vista it occupies. The site spans 80,000 acres (32,500 hectares). Terraced fields on the site's outskirts were once used to grow crops, most likely maize and potatoes.
Hiram Bingham III, a Yale University professor, visited the site in 1911 and published the site's existence for the first time. He discovered it to be overgrown with vegetation, much of which has since been removed. The buildings were constructed without mortar (as was typical of Inca architecture), with granite stones that were quarried and precisely cut.
When Bingham discovered the site, he was looking for Vilcabamba, the Inca's final capital before their defeat at the hands of the Spanish in 1572.
"An emperor's residence." Machu Picchu is thought to have been built in the mid-1400s by Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, the Inca's ninth ruler. Pachacuti, an empire builder, began a series of conquests that would eventually see the Inca grow into a South American realm stretching from Ecuador to Chile. Many archaeologists believe Machu Picchu was built as a royal estate of sorts, with the presence of elite residences in the site's northeast sector supporting that theory. The emperor and his family would have used it as a temporary respite, with the site supporting a small number of year-round caretakers. In Peru, there are other examples of Inca royal estates. Surprisingly, the emperor's residence appears to be in the southwest corner of the site, away from the other elite residences. It is next to a structure known today as the "Temple of the Sun." A staircase running alongside the royal compound leads to a plaza below, and the emperor was given a garden, a private bath, and even the only private toilet area on the property. Although Machu Picchu has a wall, a modest gateway, and a dry moat (likely used to collect rainwater), it does not appear to have been built for military purposes, and there is no evidence of any battles being fought there.
"Sun Temple." There are a number of structures at Machu Picchu that would have added to the spiritual significance of the site. One of them, the "Temple of the Sun," or Torreón, is elliptical in shape, similar to a sun temple found in Cuzco, the Inca capital. It's close to where the Inca emperor is said to have lived at Machu Picchu. An altar could have been made out of a rock inside the temple. The rising sun shines directly into one of the temple's windows during the June solstice, indicating an alignment between the window, rock, and solstice sun. There is a naturally formed cave beneath the temple that the explorer Bingham referred to as a "royal mausoleum," though there is little evidence that it was used as such. Near the cave entrance is a boulder carved into a stairway, and the underground chamber most likely served a religious function of some kind.
"The Principal Temple and Intihuatana." A series of religious structures border the plaza to the northwest of the site. A carved stone altar can be found in one of the buildings, dubbed the "Principal Temple." When Bingham excavated it, he discovered a layer of white sand, similar to that found in temples in Cuzco, the Incan capital. The "Temple of the Three Windows," which is located next to the "Principal Temple," contains a large amount of broken pottery, which appears to have been ritually smashed. The biggest mystery at Machu Picchu, however, is a massive rock named "the Intihuatana" by Bingham after other carved stones discovered in the Incan empire. At Machu Picchu, the stone is located on a raised platform that towers above the plaza. Its function is unknown, with recent research disproving the idea that it served as a sundial. It could have been used for some kind of astronomical observation. It is also possible that it is linked to the mountains that surround Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu has been abandoned. Machu Picchu did not survive the Inca Empire's demise. The Spanish arrived in South America in the 16th century, bringing with them plagues that afflicted the Incas, as well as military campaigns led by conquistadors. With the fall of the last Incan capital in 1572, their line of rulers came to an end. Machu Picchu, once a royal estate visited by great emperors, has fallen into ruin. The site is now on the list of World Heritage sites maintained by the United Nations.
Some facts about Machu Picchu:
• Each stone was precisely cut to fit together so tightly that no mortar was needed to keep the walls standing
• Machu Picchu sits at 2,430 metres above sea level
• Machu Picchu is a Wonder of the World and a World Heritage-listed site
• The Inca empire was one of the largest in pre-Columbian America covering Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador
• In the Quechua language, Machu Picchu translates to ‘Old Mountain’ or ‘Old Peak’
• A certain artist called Leonardo da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa (1503-1506) during the height of the Inca empire
• The natural setting of Machu Picchu is as impressive as the site itself
• Machu Picchu was used as an astronomical observatory
• It is not exactly known why the Incas abandoned Machu Picchu