Machu Picchu - Ruins of an Inca fortress high in the Andes (31 May)
Interesting Facts about Machu Picchu
THE AWESOME RUIN of Machu Picchu, nicknamed the “lost city of the Inca,” is perched high in the Andes Mountains between the peaks Huayna Picchu and Cerro Machu Picchu. On a mountain plateau some 8,000 feet (2,438 m) above sea level, the 20-acre (8 ha) complex includes the remains of ancient houses, temples, pathways, and dizzying stone staircases that wind through agricultural terraces. The Urubamba River roars through the valley below the ruins.
Machu Picchu means “old mountain” in Quechua, and historians still speculate as to its purpose. It may have been built as a summer retreat for Inca emperor Pachacuti in the mid-15th century, during a golden age of expansion for the Inca Empire.
When the Spanish conquistadores plundered and destroyed other Inca cities in the 16th century, they overlooked this one, and the mountain citadel is now among the most intact Inca sites remaining. Despite the fact that the Spanish never seem to have reached it, the Inca abandoned Machu Picchu sometime in the 16th century, only about 100 years after they built it. It was left to crumble, and the dense, surrounding cloud forest promptly overtook much of it.
Monumental as the ruin is, Machu Picchu was virtually unknown to outsiders until 1911 when a local guide led American explorer and Yale University professor Hiram Bingham III to it. Bingham made subsequent archaeological visits with funding from the National Geographic Society to catalog the ruins and clear them of overgrowth.
The site contains marvels like the intihuatana stone, an altarlike structure with a stone slab that served as a sundial and calendar. Overlooking the rock-cut niches of the Royal Mausoleum, where mummies have been stored, is the majestic Temple of the Sun, dedicated to sun god Inti. The semicircular temple is built over a natural rock outcropping that may have served as an altar—its surface is lined with rivulets, where water or sacred liquids could have flowed, and a trapezoidal window is built into the wall at the edge of the rock. Much of the temple has been rebuilt in the past several decades, to give an impression of its appearance during the Inca Empire. Mortar-less stones, mostly granite with some limestone, are so accurately cut and stacked that not even a credit card or knife slips through their jointures.
In 1983, Machu Picchu was protected as a UNESCO site, but huge numbers of tourists still threaten to degrade the ancient ruin. It is at its most breathtaking at sunrise and sunset, when crowds of day-trippers from Cusco—47 miles (75 km) to the southeast and the main gateway to the site—are at their thinnest.