Machu Picchu means ‘Old Peak’ or ‘Old Mountain’ in the Quechua Indian language. It lies high in the Andes Mountains in Peru, more than 2,100 metres above sea level. There are over 150 buildings ranging from bath houses to temples. It covers an area of 32,500 hectares. It is one of the world’s great tourist destinations.
Machu Picchu was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.
It was voted as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007 in an internet poll.
The Incas expertly built walls using a mortar-free technique called ashlar. Blocks of polished quarried granite stone are cut so precisely and fit together so tightly that you could not insert a pen-knife blade between them. Most of the individual staircases were carved from one slab of stone. There are more than 100 separate flights of stairs.
The area has frequent earthquakes. The design is engineered to withstand these using the mortar-free walls, trapezoid shapes and round corners. Also, an estimated 60% of the construction is underground, providing deep footings. Some of the hidden construction is crushed rock used for drainage. Machu Picchu gets a lot of rain in the wet season.
The Incas used no iron tools to construct Machu Picchu.
No draft animals or wheels were used in moving the massive stone blocks. It’s a mystery how they were moved up steep terrain, but it is generally believed that hundreds of men were used.
Machu Picchu grew food for around four times as many people as ever lived there, thanks to springs for water and terraced farms.
Machu Picchu was built by the Incas around 1450, at the height of the their empire. It was only inhabited for about a century. It was abandoned in 1572 when the Spanish arrived. It may have been abandoned because of an outbreak of smallpox. Archaeologists believe Machu Picchu was built as a royal estate or a ceremonial estate. One thing for sure is that Machu Picchu was an astronomical observatory, and the Intihuatana stone there accurately indicates the two equinoxes a year when the sun sits directly over the stone creating no shadow.
American explorer Hiram Bingham III and Melchor Arteaga are credited with re-discovering Machu Picchu in 1911. Before that only locals and a few visitors knew it existed. A possible visitor may have been German engineer Augusto Berns who may have visited the site 40 years prior.
Bingham’s team took around 40,000 artefacts back to Yale University. A recently agreement means that most of these items may be returned to Peru.
Most cities built by the Incas were destroyed by the Spanish. The fact that Machu Picchu was well probably saved it from destruction.
Machu Picchu Today
Over 30% of Machu Picchu has been reconstructed so visitors can better see how the original structures looked. The reconstruction is continuing.
The Peruvian government limits visitors to a maximum of only 400 visitors per day into the site to protect it.
Machu Picchu can be reached by a train from Cuzco that only takes a few hours. Another way to get to Machu Picchu is the three-day Inca Trail trek with local porters. When trekking, many of the porters sleep with a mirror or other shiny metal object beneath them in the belief that it deflects spirits coming up through the earth and stealing them away. Most porters describe having experienced at some time the feeling of being pulled out of their tents by ancient spirits.
You may not enter dressed in the traditional costume of another country. So don’t wear your kilt or kimono.
The big-budget 2010 Bollywood film ‘Endhiran‘ was partly filmed at Macchu Picchu, one of only a few films to get permission to shoot there.