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
Picchu is perhaps the most recognizable symbol of the Inca
Empire. Often referred to as “The Lost City of the
the site was designated as a United Nations Educational World
Heritage Site in 1983.
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.
believed that the site was chosen for its unique location
and geological features. In 1981, the area surrounding Machu
Picchu was declared a “Historical
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.
space is composed of 140 constructions including temples,
sanctuaries, parks and residences. According to archaeologists,
the urban sector
of Machu Picchu was
into three great districts: the Sacred District,
the Popular District, and the District of the Priests and
Nobility (royalty zone).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.