1. 15th Century Incas
Located approximately 50 miles from Cusco, Machu Picchu is nestled snuggly in the Sacred Valley next to the Urubamba River. MP means ‘Old Peak’ in Quechua*. The mountain located behind the historic ruins is referred to as Huayna Picchu, or ‘Young Peak.’ MP was constructed around 1450 at the height of the Incan Empire under two leaders and was only inhabited for 100 years. The ruins are an impressive testament to Incan stonework and ingenuity. The Incas did not use wheels to move the massive stones from quarries. The leading theory is a levy-track system where the stones were tediously moved one foot at a time.
Most likely, MP was a home or retreat for Incan royalty and includes massive agricultural terraces, toilets, bedrooms, altars, a central sun dial, and stone windows that align with the Summer and Winter solstices.
2. Spanish Conquest and Abandonment
Obviously, the Spanish Conquistadors were bastards and the Incas seemed to agree. Francisco Pizarro led the colonization of the Incas starting in 1532. The Spanish conquest eventually led to the collapse of the Incan Empire. Around the 1570s, the Incas abandoned and burned. Machu Picchu to evade the Spaniards. However, the Spanish never found the city and throughout the centuries, the jungle grew over and covered most of the site.
3. The Real Indiana Jones Discovers “The Lost City of the Incas”
In 1911, American historian, Hiram Bingham, organized a Yale Peruvian Expedition to search for the last Incan capital. Many Andean farmers in the Sacred Valley were aware of the existence of MP but not of its significance. Bingham and his crew were led by to the ruins by Pablito, an 11-year-old son of a native farmer.
In 1912, Bingham was sponsored by National Geographic and Yale University to return to MP. The expedition led to a four-month cleaning and multiple year excavation process. The discovery became a publicity circus and Nat Geo devoted their April 1913 issue to the site.
In 1983, UNESCO designated MP as a World Heritage site.
4. Tourism Today
Over 1 million tourists visit Machu Picchu every year.
MP is the final destination for hikers trekking the four-day Inca trail. The two-way bus ticket up the mountain is 57 soles or $19 USD. Entrance into the main site is approximately $50.
* My Quechua pronunciation induces laughter. Apparently the same is true for my Spanish.
Trying to find out how to get to Machu Picchu? Check out my last blog post.