New Wonders of the World
Picchu is a city located high
in the Andes Mountains in modern
Peru. It lies 43 miles northwest
of Cuzco at the top of a ridge,
hiding it from the Urabamba gorge
below. The ridge is between a
block of highland and the massive
Huaynac Picchu, around which the
Urubamba River takes a sharp bend.
The surrounding area is covered
in dense bush, some of it covering
Pre-Colombian cultivation terraces.
Incan Ruins of Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu (Quechua:
Machu Pikchu, "Old Peak",
is a pre-Columbian Inca site located
2,430 metres (8,000 ft) above sea
level. It is situated on a mountain
ridge above the Urubamba Valley in
Peru, which is 80 kilometres (50 mi)
northwest of Cuzco and through which
the Urubamba River flows. Often referred
to as "The Lost City of the Incas",
Machu Picchu is one of the most familiar
symbols of the Inca Empire.
The Incas started building
it around AD 1430 but was abandoned
as an official site for the Inca rulers
a hundred years later at the time
of the Spanish conquest of the Inca
Empire. Although known locally, it
was largely unknown to the outside
world before being brought to international
attention in 1911 by Hiram Bingham,
an American historian. Since then,
Machu Picchu has become an important
Machu Picchu was declared
a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary in
1981 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site
in 1983. Since it was not plundered
by the Spanish when they conquered
the Incas, it is especially important
as a cultural site and is considered
a sacred place.
Machu Picchu was built
in the classical Inca style, with
polished dry-stone walls. Its primary
buildings are the Intihuatana, the
Temple of the Sun, and the Room of
the Three Windows. These are located
in what is known by archaeologists
as the Sacred District of Machu Picchu.
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 twentieth century.
Machu Picchu was constructed around
1462, at the height of the Inca Empire.
It was abandoned less than 100 years
later. It is likely that most of its
inhabitants were wiped out by smallpox
before the Spanish conquistadores
arrived in the area, and there is
no record of their having known of
the remote city. Hiram Bingham hypothesized
that the citadel was the traditional
birthplace of the Inca of the "Virgins
of the Suns".
Another theory maintains
that Machu Picchu was an Inca "llacta",
a settlement built to control the
economy of these conquered regions.
Yet another asserts that it may have
been built as a prison for a select
few who had committed heinous crimes
against Inca society. 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
because of its position relative to
sacred landscape features such as
its mountains, which are purported
to be in alignment with key astronomical
events that would have been important
to the Incas.
View of the city of Machu Picchu in
1911Although the citadel is located
only about 80 kilometers (50 miles)
from Cusco, the Inca capital, it was
never found by the Spanish and consequently
not plundered and destroyed, as was
the case with many other Inca sites.
Over the centuries, the surrounding
jungle grew over much of the site,
and few knew of its existence. On
July 24, 1911, Machu Picchu was brought
to the attention of scholars by Hiram
Bingham, an American historian employed
as a lecturer at Yale University.
Bingham was led up to Machu Picchu
by a local 11 year old Quechua boy
named Pablito Alvarez. 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.
Bingham had been searching
for the city of Vilcapampa, the last
Inca refuge and spot of resistance
during the Spanish conquest of Peru.
In 1911, after years of previous trips
and explorations around the zone,
he was led to the citadel by Quechuans.
These people were living in Machu
Picchu, in the original Inca infrastructure.
Bingham made several more trips and
conducted excavations on the site
through 1915, carrying off artifacts.
He wrote a number of books and articles
about the discovery of Machu Picchu
in his lifetime.
The site received significant
publicity after the National Geographic
Society devoted their entire April
1913 issue to Machu Picchu.
An area of 325.92 square
kilometers surrounding Machu Picchu
was declared a "Historical Sanctuary"
of Peru in 1971. In addition to the
ruins, this sanctuary area includes
a large portion of adjoining region,
rich with flora and fauna.
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".
On July 7, 2007, Machu
Picchu was voted as one of New Open
World Corporation's New Seven Wonders
of the World. The World Monuments
Fund placed Machu Picchu on its 2008
Watch List of the 100 Most Endangered
Sites in the world because of environmental
degradation resulting from the impact
of tourism, uncontrolled development
in the nearby town of Aguas Calientes
that included a poorly sited tram
to ease visitor access, and the construction
of a bridge across the Vilcanota River
that is likely to bring even more
tourists to the site in defiance of
a court order and government protests
Discovery prior to Bingham
Simone Waisbard, a long-time researcher
of Cusco, claims that Enrique Palma,
Gabino Sánchez, and Agustín
Lizárraga left their names
engraved on one of the rocks at Machu
Picchu on July 14, 1901. Likewise,
in 1904, an engineer named Franklin
supposedly spotted the ruins from
a distant mountain. He told Thomas
Payne, an English Christian missionary
living in the region, about the site,
Payne's family members claim. They
also report that in 1906, Payne and
another fellow missionary named Stuart
E McNairn (1867–1956) climbed
up to the ruins.
It has recently come
to light that the site may have been
discovered and plundered in 1867 by
a German businessman, Augusto Berns.
There is also evidence that a British
missionary, Thomas Payne, and a German
engineer, J. M. von Hassel, arrived
earlier, and maps found by historians
show references to Machu Picchu as
early as 1874.
Location of Machu PicchuMachu Picchu
is 80 kilometers northwest of Cusco,
on the crest of the mountain Machu
Picchu, located about 2,450 meters
(7,710 feet) above sea level, that
is around 1,000 m lower than Cusco.
As such, had a milder climate than
the Inca capital. It is one of the
most important archaeological sites
in South America and the most visited
tourist attraction in Peru.
It is above Urubamba
Valley. From atop the cliff of Machu
Picchu, there is a vertical rock face
of 600 meters rising from the Urubamba
River at the foot of the cliff. The
location of the city was a military
secret, and its deep precipices and
mountains provide excellent natural
defenses. 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 tree-trunk bridge,
at a location where a gap occurs in
the cliff that measures 6 metres (20
ft), 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,
also discouraging invaders.
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 be blocked easily, and enough
land to grow food for about four times
as many people as ever 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 Cusco, one through
the sun gate, and the other across
the Inca bridge. Both easily could
be blocked if invaders should approach
along them. Regardless of its original
purpose, it is strategically located
and readily defended.
Inca dry-stone wall at Machu PicchuThe
central buildings of Machu Picchu
use the classical 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 it is said not even
a blade of grass fits between the
Terraced Fields of Machu Picchu
View of the residential section of
Machu PicchuSome Inca buildings were
constructed using mortar, but by Inca
standards this was quick, shoddy construction,
and was not used in the building of
important structures. Peru is a highly
seismic land, and mortar-free construction
was more earthquake-resistant than
using mortar. The stones of the dry-stone
walls built by the Incas can move
slightly and resettle without the
Inca walls show numerous
design details that also help protect
them from collapsing in an earthquake.
Doors and windows are trapezoidal
and tilt inward from bottom to top;
corners usually are rounded; inside
corners often incline slightly into
the rooms; and "L"-shaped
blocks often were used to tie outside
corners of the structure together.
These walls do not rise straight from
bottom to top but are offset slightly
from row to row.
The Incas never used
the wheel in any practical manner.
Its use in toys demonstrates that
the principle was well-known to them,
although it was not applied in their
engineering. The lack of strong draft
animals as well as terrain and dense
vegetation issues may have rendered
it impractical. How they moved and
placed enormous blocks of stones remains
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; it is
believed that after the stones were
placed, the Incas would have sanded
the knobs away, but a few were overlooked.
The space is composed
of 140 structures or features, including
temples, sanctuaries, parks, and residences
that include 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 that are interconnected
by channels and water-drains perforated
in the rock that were 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 at Machu PicchuLocated
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. In the
royalty area, a sector that existed
for the nobility, includes 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
Ñustas (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 the
Machu Picchu region. Today, tens of
thousands of tourists walk the Inca
Trail to visit 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 to the isolated
Michael Palin takes
a tour around some of the most famous
ancient ruins in the world - the deserted
Inca settlement on Machu Picchu.