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What was Machu Picchu?

History, description, and details

What was Machu Picchu?

Machu Picchu is a Quechua word (second official language in Peru) meaning “Old Mountain”. It is the name of the Inca citadel that is located 112 km northwest of Cusco, surrounded by a humid forest in the high jungle, crossed by the Urubamba River. It is located in the province of Urubamba, district of Machu Picchu. The altitude of Machu Picchu goes from 2700 to 2450 meters above sea level.

There is much confusion among travelers when for example they are told that “to visit Machu Picchu you have to reach ‘Machu Picchu town'” or the when they will go up to Machu Picchu and they are told that you can access the optional mountain called “Mountain Machu Picchu” “

Machu Picchu Village: Also called Aguas Calientes, is the small town located at the foot of the mountain range and where you regularly spend the night before visiting the archaeological site of Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu: Properly said is cataloged to the entire archaeological complex located in the upper part.

Mountain Machu Picchu: It sits next to Huayna Picchu, one of the 2 optional mountains located within the archaeological complex which can be accessed once inside.

History of Machu Picchu

The actual citadel is built between two mountains, to the south the mountain Machu Picchu (Old Mountain) and to the north, a little lower, Huayna Picchu (Young Mountain). 700m further down, in the canyon you can see the Urubamba River meandering. The citadel is surrounded by great abysses and the lush Cuzco forest. This majestically imposing citadel, with its buildings, temples and terraces nestled between the mountains make Machu Picchu one of the most beautiful places on our planet.

Machu Picchu was built between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Like other cities of the Inca nobility, this was a small, beautiful, and self-sustainable city, because it had terraces that food was in abundance. It is also known that it was populated by a large number of inhabitants, but only nobles, priests and the sacred “aqllas” (virgins of the sun). There was also a population of peasants who worked the fields but did not live within the citadel. The reason for the abandonment of Machu Picchu is still not clear.

Machu Picchu was part of a system of exchange of essential products for the life of the empire and the people of the jungle. From the low forests there came valuable products for the Incas: coca, medicinal herbs, feathers of exotic birds for ritual ceremonies, certain varieties of delicious chilis, and from the Andes the dehydrated potatoes and the corn were supplied.

The main attraction of Machu Picchu is the level of technological development achieved by its builders in terms of architecture and stone work. The joints of some of these stones are so narrow that not even a needle can be inserted. The most significant stone is the solar calendar “Intihuatana” or “hitching post of the Sun.” This stone allowed the Incas to know the date precisely, the seasons and the weather throughout the year.

It is thought that the population in Machu Picchu was between 500 and 1000 inhabitants belonging to the panaca of Pachacuteq, however for the lower castes it was an unknown place. The routes to the citadel were forbidden for anyone who was not part of the Inca’s small circle.

When Pachacuteq was dying, all his properties were administered by his panaca and a new government of the Inca began Túpac Yupanqui (1470-1493) and Huayna Capac (1493-1529).

Rediscovery of Machu Picchu (1894-1911)

On July 14, 1902, Mr. Agustín Lizárraga introduced Machu Picchu to Cusco: with Gabino Sánchez, Enrique Palma and Justo Ochoa who left their names inscribed in the Temple of the Three Windows. There is also other data which claims that Agustín Lizárraga had visited Machu Picchu with Luis Béjar in 1894.

On July 24, 1911, the American Hiram Bingham arrived at Machu Picchu guided by Melchor Arteaga and a Civil Guard sergeant named Carrasco. During their journey they found two families living there: the Recharte and the Álvarez who used the platforms of the south to cultivate. And it’s Pablo Recharte one of the sons of the family who guides Bingham towards the urban area covered by weeds.

Hiram Bingham, (1875-1956) the American professor, is considered the “discoverer” of Machu Picchu. Bingham made 3 trips to Peru in total, the first was in 1911. His other expeditions were financed by Yale University and The National Geographic Society in 1912. In his different expeditions Bingham managed to take around 11,000 photos of the complex and managed promote this discovery in a catchy way to the intellectual field of the time.

Between 1924 and 1928 Martin Chambi and Juan Manuel Figueroa made a series of photographs in Machu Picchu which were published in different Peruvian magazines, expressing great local interest in the ruins and turning them into a national symbol.

In 1981 Machu Picchu was established within the Protection Zones.

In 1983 Machu Picchu was part of the World Heritage List.

In 2007 Machu Picchu becomes part of the New 7 Wonders of the Modern World; and since then the Government declares every 7th of July “Day of the Historical Sanctuary of Machu Picchu.”

What is the best season to travel to Machu Pichu?

One can travel to Machu Picchu year round, although the best time is between April to November (dry season), usually the average humidity is 80 percent, which is why it is always covered with vegetation. During the rainy season (December – March) there is a risk of mudslides or river overflows that can affect the railroad and the  small nearby towns. During this season, only the Inca Trail is closed for maintenance during February, but not the citadel of Machu Picchu.

The only way to get to Machu Picchu in the Inca times was through the Inca Trail. Today the old Inca Trail is still in usey thousands of tourists have access to Machu Picchu by train. Visitors depart from the train at Machu Picchu Pueblo (also called Aguas Calientes) and then walk or use a bus service to go up to Machu Picchu.

Meaning of Machu Picchu

Why was Machu Picchu was built and what was its meaning? Scholars like Raul Pacheco Herrera, Luis Lumbreras and Mariana Mold de Pease hypothesize that Pachacuteq – the deity/creator of the Inca empire, had the magnificent city built as his personal mausoleum. It must be taken into account that during the Inca empire the Incas rulers were not considered human beings, therefore their remains had a different status than that of common corpses. The mummies were enthroned in Koricancha and were carried in parades on certain holidays.

Although perhaps built as a mausoleum, while Pachacutec was alive Machu Picchu would be an retreat of leisure, pleasure and worship: for him, his panaca and his priests.

Machu Picchu as one of the 7 new wonders of the World

In 2007 Machu Picchu was considered, along with the Great Wall of China and the Taj Mahal, to be one of the seven new wonders of the world. This has brought tremendous attention to this spectacular relic, once lost in the Andes