Machu Picchu, (Quechua for “Old Mountain”) is universally known, both for its spectacular archaeological remains, and for its incomparable beauty.
This complex is called a city because there are more than 200 houses still standing today, and in its heyday there would have been more. In addition, its design incorporates squares, temples, roads, steps, terraces, aqueducts, etc.
Machu Picchu, known as the ancient sacred city of the Incas, is undoubtedly the most important and most visited place in Peru. It has a unique beauty that attracts tourists from all over the world and the fact of being located at the top of the mountain make it unique. It is one of the few places in America to be declared a Cultural and Natural Heritage of Humanity site.
There are two famous legends about the origin of the empire of the Incas; One is the legend of Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo, and another is that of the four Ayar brothers. Both legends point to Manco Capac as the founder and first governor of the dynasty. However, the empire would not come into greatness until the time of Pachacutec, probably the most important Inca emperor. Pachacútec would achieve the expansion of the then Inca lordship, establishing the powerful empire of Tahuantinsuyo, which would reach about 2 million square kilometers. It was under his reign that the citadel of Machu Picchu was constructed.
Most archaeologists and historians agree that Machu Picchu was built by the Inca Pachacutec, the greatest statesman of the Tahuantinsuyo empire, who ruled from 1438 to 1471. Archaeologists presume that the construction of the citadel dates from the fifteenth century. The construction of Machu Picchu corresponds to the moment when the then small Inca Empire began to expand. According to archaeologists, this area was the last battle that defined the victory over the chancas, victory that covered prestige and gave power to the Inca Pachacútec.
Pachacútec was the first Inca to go beyond the Cusco valley after his epic victory over the Chancas. He was the one who carried out the expansion of Tahuantinsuyo and is recognized as the “builder” of Cusco. This was one of his greatest works.
The origin of Machu Picchu is attributed with some certainty to Pachacútec, a fierce leader, who was characterized by his territorial conquests, and the development of religion and spirituality. That is why today archaeological studies support the theory that it was a royal retreat dedicated to the worship of the gods and a challenge to the talents of the ruler’s builders.
Built as a refuge for the most select of the Inca aristocracy, the fortress was located on the eastern slope of the Vilcanota mountain range, about 80 km from Cusco, the capital of the empire. Its strategic geographical situation was chosen with admirable success. Surrounded by deep cliffs and away from the sight of strangers through a tangled jungle, the citadel of Machu Picchu possessed the quality of having a single narrow entrance, which allowed, in case of a surprise attack, to be defended by very few warriors.
Occupied by at least three generations of Incas, the citadel of Machu Picchu was abandoned suddenly and mysteriously. The more solid hypotheses explain the disappearance of the citadel from historical memory because Machu Picchu was an unknown place for the lower castes and the routes prohibited anyone who was not part of the small circle of the Inca to pass.
One of the conquests of Pachacútec included the valley of Tampu, which despite being inhabited by a sister nation of Cusco, was not freed of its iron rule. Due to its natural beauty, benign climate (one of the best in the Andes) and rich soil, Pachacútec set in Tampu the favorite settlement of the new imperial nobility, lining the valley with several of the most magnificent cities of Tahuantinsuyo, such as Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu. The choice of the location to construct Machu Picchu had to be made with great care, for it was, and still is, a perfect place to erect a ceremonial center. It was located, according to the researcher Antonio Zapata, in the most important mountain chain due to its sacred character, which begins in Salkantay (the apu, major spirit) and ends at Huayna Picchu. It was a privileged place to observe the movement of the stars and the sun which were Inca divinities.
Rediscovery of Machu Picchu (1894-1911)
The first direct references of visitors to the ruins of Machu Picchu indicate that Agustín Lizárraga, a landlord from Cuzco, arrived at the site on July 14, 1902, guiding the Cuzcoans Gabino Sánchez, Enrique Palma and Justo Ochoa. The visitors left a graffiti with their names on one of the walls of the Temple of the Three Windows that was later verified by several people. There are reports suggesting that Lizárraga had already visited Machu Picchu in the company of Luis Béjar in 1894. Lizárraga showed the constructions to the “visitors”, although the nature of his activities has not been investigated until today.
The Inca city of Machu Picchu is 112.5 km to the northeast of the city of Cusco, with an altitude of 2,350m, inside the Archaeological Park of Machu Picchu, that includes an ample territory of the Province of Urubamba in the region of Cusco.
The area built in Machu Picchu is 530 meters long by 200 meters wide and includes at least 172 enclosures. The complex is clearly divided into two large areas: the agricultural area, consisting of sets of terraces for farming, which lies to the south; And the urban area, which is where the occupants lived and where the main civil and religious activities took place. Both zones are separated by a wall, a moat and a staircase, elements that run parallel by the east slope of the mountain.
The weather is hot and humid during the day and cool at night. The temperature ranges between 12 and 24 degrees Celsius. The area is usually rainy (about 1,955 mm annually), especially between November and March. The rains, which are copious, alternate rapidly with moments of intense solar brightness.
Forms of access
For those who have around 7 days to visit the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu and are also lovers of adventure, they are recommended to complete the “Inca Trail”. This route is the favorite of many tourists and only last year, more than 15,000 people followed this trail to reach the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu.
Hikers start at the 82 km mark along the Cusco railroad to Machu Picchu (Aguas Calientes), in Ollantaytambo. Directed by guides and in groups of no less than 10 people, they arrive at Machu Picchu after 4 days, traveling 40 km (24.85 miles) along the ancient Inca stone path on the edge of the Urubamba canyon. The road crosses the Inca ruins of Patallacta, Huayllabamba, Runku Rakay, Sayacmarca, Phuyu Pata Marca and Wiñaywayna, as well as passing through natural landscapes, waterfalls, tunnels, abundant flora and fauna.There is vegetation close to the forests, overlooking the snow-covered mountains, and with pure air free of any vestige of pollution it is ideal for bird watching. The mountain guide service includes all equipment, food, tents, porters, etc.
There is also the Shorter Inca Trail that begins at 104 Km where hikers will begin early in the morning and reach Machu Picchu in the early evening.
There are also other alternatives to arrive at the citadel of Machu Picchu such as the Inca Jungle Trail and the Inca Trail Salkantay. These routes also offer an infinity of natural and archeological bounties.
The Inca Jungle Trail is an excellent alternative to get to Machu Picchu, it consists of 4 days of crossing the first of the tour is a descent by bicycle in approximately 3 hours the second and third is an intense trek to reach the Inca city of Machu Picchu is recommended for those who wish to do this type of adventure.
The Salkantay Trail is one of the most spectacular tours to Machu Picchu, an incredible trek through the Andes mountains and the jungle to reach Macchu Picchu is one of the most incredible excursions you can do! This is a wonderfully organized tour and the food was fabulous! A great way to get to Macchu Pichu !!.
The most traditional and frequent way to get to Machu Picchu is to go by train from Ollantaytambo Station in the province of Urubamba to the train station in the town of Machu Picchu (Aguas Calientes).
This is a cheaper way to get to Machu Picchu. The journey starts by taking a bus at dawn (depending on the agency that you use) through Ollantaytambo, Abra Malaga, Santa Maria, Santa Teresa and Hidroeléctrica. Then the visitor will have to hike for 2 hours from the Hidroelectrica to Machu Picchu Village where they will spend the night, ready to climb Machu Picchu early the next morning.
MACHU PICCHU ATTRACTIONS
The Solar Observatory (Intihuatana)
The zone of the Solar Observatory is located about 100m on from the House of the Guardians, where there is a sort of labyrinth where the ruins extend in front of it. The Tower is located towards the left. Formerly a large circular stone that was delicately carved, the larger window of the tower gives access to the best of the fountains of the complex, with trapezoidal niches and an altar. Go up the stairs to the left. After crossing the quarry (to the right of the stairs) you will arrive at a group of rooms without windows and with only one door, the original entrance door. It is a large trapezoidal door. The lintel is a single that weighs several tons.
The House of the Guardians
The House of the Guardians is located in front of a cemetery, which was identified as such by Bingham. It is believed that the cemetery was guarded by a guardian who lived in this house and that the corpses were placed there to be dried in the sun. For those with more than one day in Machu Picchu, this should definitely be your starting point to recognize the ancient Inca Trail. Behind this house is a funerary rock- a flat surface with a small access staircase, so perhaps it served as a funerary altar, that is, a place where the bodies of important personalities were mummified or animal sacrifices were offered.
The Inca House
If you return to the main staircase and descend, the Casa del Inca is located to your left. It is entered through a door located on the north side of the stairs. According to Bingham, this area was the home of the political chief of Machu Picchu. There are also additional rooms for servants. If Pachacutec was the builder of Machu Picchu, this must have been his residence.
Across the street, in front of the Temple of the Sun there is a classic kancha (apartment for an extended family). It is the only one that is in the area. It was built very solid, with carved stones. There is no doubt that this was the abode of the Inca.
Leave the Casa del Inca and walk west (to the left if you look towards the Huayna Picchu). To get to the Main Temple you should look for a staircase that will lead you to the Sacred Plaza. Enter the east side. This square is flanked by three buildings. The building located at the south end of the square corresponds to the house of the main priest. It is a construction made up of four rustic walls whose stones were joined by mud mortar. At the east end of the square is the Temple of the Three Windows. Its three walls show signs that there was previously a roof. From the huge trapezoidal windows you get a breathtaking view of the main square.
The Temple of the Three Windows
A construction of Masma or Wayrana of three walls, although this has a small difference in the front, where there is no wall but a pillar lithic to support the low beam of the roof. The physical element of the presence of the three windows is directly related to the symbolic-ideological trilogy of the religion of the Andean world such as:
Centella – Thunder – Thunder
Sun – Moon – Stars
Puma – Snake – Condor