Machu Picchu, also known as the Lost Citadel of the Incas, Sacred City, Cradle of the Inca Empire, is a national historical sanctuary, protected by Peruvian law N 001-81-AA of 1981; located at 2340 meters above sea level in the middle of a tropical forest, the historic sanctuary of Machu Picchu was the most amazing architectural jewel of the Inca Empire. Its main attractions include great walls, terraces, and giant ramps that give the impression of having been sculpted in situ.
However, the most amazing thing about this Inca citadel is to imagine how they transported the gigantic stones to the height where it is located, how they did to mold and fit the stones so precisely and why they chose such a hidden place to build it because according to studies indicate that Machu Picchu is the only Inca architectural site where the Spanish did not arrive and therefore the priests did not destroy their temples and / or places of worship that the Incas had.
Technical Characteristics of Machu Picchu
- Machu Picchu is a Quechua word meaning “Old Mountain”.
- Its majestic architecture comprises about 140 structures including walls, terraces, houses, terraces, etc. throughout the citadel.
- It was built by the Inca Pachacutec approximately in the year 1460.
- Due to being far away from the cities of Cusco, it is believed that the Spaniards never reached Machu Picchu and it was forgotten. It was not until 1911 that the American Hiram Bingham arrived at Machu Picchu and made this magnificent wonder known to the world.
- The main buildings of Machu Picchu are the Intihuatana, the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Three Windows.
- Machu Picchu is considered the most important and world famous symbol of the Inca Empire.
- It is also known as the Lost City of the Incas.
- Machu Picchu received worldwide attention in 1913 when the National Geographic Society magazine dedicated its entire April issue to the recently rediscovered stone city.
- Today Machu Picchu is one of the 7 wonders of the world, a World Heritage Site, a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary and probably the most important Natural Archaeological Site in Latin America.
- When Hiram Bingham arrived at Machu Picchu, according to historians, he found people living there and some ancient mummies.
- It is located 2,400 meters above sea level, its climate is warm – temperate as it is near the edge of the jungle.
Technical Characteristics of Machu Picchu
Due to its location strategically established for its protection, by the number of temples and their architectural quality and due to the small amount of “Kanchas” (rooms for large families), and by the various characteristics that Machu Picchu originally was a regional power center dependent on Cusco. It was a small religious and political capital.
It was probably used as a dwelling for the Inca or any high-ranking dignitary of the Capital as well as for a selected nobility that had many privileges being attended by hundreds of servants. Most modern archaeologists and historians claim that Machu Picchu was built and used by Inca Pachacutec, who was the greatest builder of Tawantinsuyo who ruled from 1438 to 1471, as his royal estate.
Scholars use for this statement the chronological dating given by carbon 14 or radiocarbon. Its undoubted “Imperial Inca” architectural style, the predominant ceramic style and a couple of ancient chronicles found in Cusco archives. Moreover, the archaeological and architectural evidence totally rules out any possibility of pre-Inca settlements in this Inca citadel.
According to the buildings found in this Inca town, the population during its heyday is normally estimated at about 1000 people. Osteologist John W. Verano, after a recent study of the mummies found by Bingham’s expeditions, affirms that there was a relative balance between the male and female population in Machu Picchu, thus discarding the theory based on George Eaton’s study that erroneously affirmed that 80% of the population were women.
That theory said that Machu Picchu was an important “Aqllawasi” or House of Chosen Women, chosen from among the most beautiful and virtuous, who were considered the wives of the Sun. Many modern scholars suggest that a large percentage of them were also wives of the Inca, considering that he was the son of the Sun; therefore, a living god.
So it was normal for the Inca to have hundreds of concubines, and for example, history says that Wayna Qhapaq who was the father of Waskar and Atawallpa had more than 400 children. However, his main wife must have been a sister of his; this being the only way that the Inca descendants could conserve their “solar blood” that they supposedly had. The heir to the throne had to be a son of the Inca and his sister.
Machu Picchu Attractions
Machu Picchu is divided into two main areas: agricultural and urban. This classification is based on the possible uses that the Incas gave to these sectors.
The Agricultural Area is located just after entering from the tourist hotel Belmond Sanctuary Lodge; here there are very wide cultivation terraces that are only some of those existing in the region, since most of them are covered with thick vegetation. At the eastern end of the terraces, there are five buildings that may have been used to house the farmers who cultivated this area known as the “Farmers Group”, although Bingham called them “The Outer Barracks”.
At the upper end of these terraces, there is a small three-walled room known as the “Casa del guardian” built in a strategic location from which there is a wide view of the Urubamba canyon in two different directions. It is here, from where the classic photographs of Machupicchu are taken. In the surroundings is located the so-called “Peña Funeraria”; which is a loose stone placed in that place, carved as an altar with some steps and a ring. It is supposed to have been used to carry out the whole process of embalming the mummies, as well as to dry them.
However, it seems that this rock also had some relation to solar observations. At the winter solstice, the sunlight is projected exactly on this rock from “Intipunku” (Sun Gate) which is formed by the buildings to the east, at the top of the pass at the end of the Inca trail that is seen surrounding Machu Picchu.
Further south of the “Funerary Rock” is located the largest building in Machu Picchu which is a “Kallanka” that has 8 entrance openings on its front wall and 2 on the sides. Because of its location near the trails, its size and morphology, it is thought that this building must have been a kind of “Tambo” and that is why it was used as a shelter for a large number of people. Some authors call this building “La Sede” and others “Los Talleres”. Passing from the agricultural area to the urban area there is a large “Dry Moat” that served as a barrier between the two areas.
Machu Picchu was a very exclusive town and its population was selected among the nobility, therefore it had a very effective security and protection system.
Crossing the dry moat we locate the urban area and then we find the street of the fountains that contains 16 liturgical fountains, in the Inca Society, water was always considered as a special deity, so there were usually fountains and reservoirs for their worship. The main fountain is located in front of a three-walled building that in Inca architecture is called “Wayrana”, which is supposed to be a ceremonial center from where the “Willaq Uma” or High Priest had to perform various ceremonies to worship the water.
At present, the water no longer flows through these canals only because the tourist hotel is using it. Originally, the water came from a spring located behind the Machu Picchu mountain. That channel was pushed aside and along the Inka trail to Intipunku. Nearby is the “Temple of the Sun” which was originally a very well protected facility. At the time of the Incas, only priests and Incas could use these temples; thus they remain closed and protected. The common people had their popular ceremonies in open areas or plazas like those of Machu Picchu or Cusco.
The entrance to the Temple of the Sun is through a magnificent double jamb portal, which on its inner surface shows its security system with a stone ring over the lintel where the wooden door must have been hung, and the two nails inside small boxes carved in two inner jambs where the gate was tied.
The temple was built on a rock “in situ”. It has a semicircular floor; whose back wall is straight and the whole temple is of “Imperial Inca” architectural type, which is of rectangular stonework with perfect joints.
The semicircular wall has two windows; one of them to the east and the other to the north. According to modern scientists, these two windows are the most important solar observatory of Machu Picchu. In the east-facing window, it is possible to precisely configure the winter solstice by measuring the shadow projections on the central rock. Both windows show false beams carved in projection that surround their outer surface.
These windows were probably used to support components that facilitated solar observations. In the center of the temple is an altar of rock carved “in situ”, which was used to perform various ceremonies in honor of the sun. It is here, where animal sacrifices were performed, so that by analyzing their hearts, lungs and viscera, the priests could predict the future. It is also here that the Inca had to symbolically drink “chicha” (corn beer) with his father the Sun.
The straight back wall has a window with small holes carved in its sill, which tradition knows as the “Serpent Window” (name given by Bingham). The holes are very similar to those found in the Temple of the Stars in the city of Qoricancha Cusco that according to Garcilaso kept ornaments of precious metals and stones. Possibly also in this place, those holes mentioned had the same use.
The straight walls of the temple have trapezoidal niches on their inner faces that were used to store various idols and offerings. Some authors affirm that originally this temple had a conical thatched roof, and they name it as “El Suntur Wasi”, “La Torre Militar”, etc. Under the “Temple of the Sun” there is an interesting small cave known as the Royal Tomb.
“So called by Bingham who believed that it could house the mummy of an Inca or a monarch of Machu Picchu; clarifying that nothing was found inside. Then, the relationship would be logical: the Inka buried under the temple of his father sun.
Undoubtedly, that small cave must have been related to the Ukju Pacha or subway world and the cult of the dead. Inside the small cave, on the right side wall, there are two large trapezoidal niches with false stone beams protruding from the height of their lintels, and two smaller niches in the deeper wall.
On the floor, there is a carving with a symbol of passage, called chacana that represents the three levels of the Andean Religious World. In the Inca Society, all the corpses were embalmed and mummified in a fetal positi with the only difference that the mummies of the nobles were kept in the temples, while those of the common people were buried or placed in cemeteries.
Inside the Temple of the Sun there is also a two-story high building known by some authors as the “Cerramiento de Ñusta” (ñusta, meaning princess) and as the “Cerramiento del Sacerdote” by some others that because of its location in that installation must have had a close relationship with the Temple and possibly was the Willaq Uma, or place of residence of the High Priest.