Machu Picchu

Peruvian Connection - Celebrating 30 Years A Newsletter Celebrating Andean Art & Culture, 877-520-PERU
Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu (Quechua Indian for ‘Old Peak’) is a pre-Columbian city built for the Inca ruler, Pachacuti. Situated at 8,000 feet on a mountain ridge overlooking the Urubamba Valley of Peru, the ancient ruins are located about 44 miles northwest of Cuzco.

Machu Picchu is perhaps the most recognizable symbol of the Inca Empire. Often referred to as “The Lost City of the Incas”, the site was designated as a United Nations Educational World Heritage Site in 1983.

This “Lost City” was constructed in the mid 15th century, at the height of the Inca empire, and was abandoned less than 100 years later as the empire collapsed under Spanish conquest. Although it’s located near Cuzco, the Inca capital, it was never found by the Spanish, and unlike many Inca sites, escaped destruction. Over the centuries, the surrounding jungle grew to enshroud the site, and few outsiders knew of its existence. It wasn’t until 1911 that Yale historian and explorer Hiram Bingham brought Machu Picchu to the world’s attention. Bingham and others hypothesized that the citadel was the traditional birthplace of the Inca people or the spiritual center of the “virgins of the sun.” One theory maintains that Machu Picchu was an Inca llacta (a settlement built to control the economy of the conquered regions), and that it may have been constructed with the purpose of protecting the most select of the Inca aristocracy in the event of an attack. Most archaeologists now believe that Machu Picchu was a royal retreat of the Inca emperor Pachacuti. The presence of numerous temples and ritual structures proves that it held spiritual significance for the Inca, regardless of theory.

It’s believed that the site was chosen for its unique location and geological features. In 1981, the area surrounding Machu Picchu was declared a “Historical Sanctuary” of Peru. The natural setting, on the eastern slopes of the Andes, encompasses the upper Amazon basin, which is rich with plant and animal life, including many species of orchids.

The space is composed of 140 constructions including temples, sanctuaries, parks and residences. According to archaeologists, the urban sector of Machu Picchu was

divided into three great districts: the Sacred District, the Popular District, and the District of the Priests and Nobility (royalty zone).

Located in the Sacred District are the primary archaeological treasures: the Intihuatana, the Temple of the Sun and the Room of the Three Windows. These were dedicated to Inti, the Inca sun god and greatest deity. The Popular District is where the working classes lived. It includes storage buildings and simple houses with thatched roofs.

The royalty zone was a sector designed for nobility, with a group of houses 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.

All of the construction in Machu Picchu uses the classic 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. Many junctions are so perfect that not even a knife fits between the stones.

The Incas never used the wheel in any practical manner. How they moved and placed enormous blocks of granite remains a mystery, although the general belief is that they used hundreds of men to push the stones up inclined planes.

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, interconnected by channels and water-drainages perforated in the rock.

A large number of people now visit Machu Picchu, and there is growing concern that the site is being damaged. For this reason, there were protests against a plan to build a further bridge to the site, and a no-fly zone now exists in the area. UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) is considering putting Machu Picchu on its list of endangered world heritage sites. It is currently one of 21 candidates for the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Cuzco, Peru was the location for our upcoming Holiday 2007 catalog, which will arrive in your mail in September. Watch for the Fall catalog, arriving in July.
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