Machu Picchu (Machu Pikchu, "Old Peak"; ) is a pre-Columbian Inca site located 2,400 meters (7,875 ft) above sea level. It is situated on a mountain ridge above the Urubamba Valley in Peru, which is 80 km (50 mi) northwest of Cusco and through which the Urubamba River flows. The river is a partially navigable headwater of the Amazon River. Often referred to as "The Lost City of the Incas", Machu Picchu probably is the most familiar symbol of the Inca Empire. It is also one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
It was built around the year 1460, but abandoned as an official site for the Inca rulers a hundred years later, at the time of the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire. Although known locally, it was said to have been forgotten for centuries when the site was brought to worldwide attention in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, an American historian. Since then, Machu Picchu has become an important tourist attraction. It has recently come to light that the site may have been discovered and plundered several years previously, in 1867 by a German businessman, Augusto Berns.
Machu Picchu was declared a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary in 1981 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. Since it was not plundered by the Spanish when they conquered the Incas, it is especially important as a cultural site and it is considered a sacred place.
Machu Picchu was built in the classical Inca style, with polished dry-stone walls. Its primary buildings are the Intihuatana, the Temple of the Sun, and the Room of the Three Windows. These are located in what is known by archaeologists as the Sacred District of Machu Picchu. In September 2007, Peru and Yale University reached an agreement regarding the return of artifacts which Hiram Bingham had removed from Machu Picchu in the early twentieth century. Currently, there are concerns about the effect of tourism on the site as it reached 400,000 visitors in 2003.
Machu Picchu was constructed around 1460, at the height of the Inca Empire. It was abandoned less than 100 years later. It is likely that most of its inhabitants were wiped out by smallpox before the Spanish conquistadores arrived in the area and there is no record of their having known of the remote city. Hiram Bingham, the credited discoverer of the site, along with several others, originally hypothesized that the citadel was the traditional birthplace of the Inca of the "Virgins of the Suns".
Another theory maintains that Machu Picchu was an Inca "llacta", a settlement built to control the economy of these conquered regions. Yet another asserts that it may have been built as a prison for a select few who had committed heinous crimes against Inca society. Research conducted by scholars, such as John Rowe and Richard Burger, has convinced most archaeologists that rather than a defensive retreat, Machu Picchu was an estate of the Inca emperor, Pachacuti. In addition, Johan Reinhard presented evidence that the site was selected because of its position relative to sacred landscape features—such as its mountains, which are purported to be in alignment with key astronomical events that would have been important to the Incas.
Although the citadel is located only about 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Cusco, the Inca capital, it was never found by the Spanish and consequently, not plundered and destroyed, as was the case with many other Inca sites. Over the centuries, the surrounding jungle grew over much of the site, and few knew of its existence. On July 24, 1911, Machu Picchu was brought to the attention of scholars by Hiram Bingham, an American historian then employed as a lecturer at Yale University. He was led there by local residents of Cusco who frequented the site, which was occupied by a small number of natives of a culture that succeeded that of the Incas. Bingham undertook archaeological studies and completed a survey of the area. Bingham coined the name "The Lost City of the Incas", which was the title of his first book.
Bingham had been searching for the city of Vilcapampa, the last Inca refuge and spot of resistance during the Spanish conquest of Peru. In 1911, after years of previous trips and explorations around the zone, he was led to the citadel by Quechuans. These people were living in Machu Picchu, in the original Inca infrastructure. Although most of the original inhabitants had died within a century of the city's construction, a small number of families survived so by the time the site was 'discovered' in 1911, people still were living on the site and many mummies—mostly of women—were discovered as well. Bingham made several more trips and conducted excavations on the site through 1915, carrying off artifacts. He wrote a number of books and articles about the discovery of Machu Picchu in his lifetime.
Simone Waisbard, a long-time researcher of Cusco, claims that Enrique Palma, Gabino Sánchez, and Agustín Lizárraga left their names engraved on one of the rocks at Machu Picchu on July 14, 1901. This would mean that they 'discovered' it long before Bingham did in 1911. Likewise, in 1904, an engineer named Franklin supposedly spotted the ruins from a distant mountain. He told Thomas Paine, an English Plymouth Brethren Christian missionary living in the region, about the site, Paine's family members claim. They also report that in 1906, Paine and another fellow missionary named Stuart E McNairn (1867–1956) climbed up to the ruins.
The site received significant publicity after the National Geographic Society devoted their entire April 1913 issue to Machu Picchu.
An area of 325.92 square kilometers surrounding Machu Picchu was declared a "Historical Sanctuary" of Peru in 1981. In addition to the ruins, this sanctuary area includes a large portion of adjoining region, rich with flora and fauna.
Machu Picchu was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1983 when it was described as "an absolute masterpiece of architecture and a unique testimony to the Inca civilization".
On July 7, 2007, Machu Picchu was voted as one of New Open World Corporation's New Seven Wonders of the World. The World Monuments Fund placed Machu Picchu on its 2008 Watch List of the 100 Most Endangered Sites in the world because of environmental degradation resulting from the impact of tourism, uncontrolled development in the nearby town of Aguas Calientes that included a poorly sited tram to ease visitor access, and the construction of a bridge across the Vilcanota River that is likely to bring even more tourists to the site in defiance of a court order and government protests against it.
Machu Picchu is 80 kilometers northwest of Cusco, on the crest of the mountain Machu Picchu, located about 2,350 meters (7,710 feet) above sea level. It is one of the most important archaeological sites in South America and the most visited tourist attraction in Peru.
It is above Urubamba Valley. From atop the cliff of Machu Picchu, there is a vertical rock face of 600 meters rising from the Urubamba River at the foot of the cliff. The location of the city was a military secret and its deep precipices and mountains provide excellent natural defenses. The Inca Bridge, an Inca rope bridge, across the Urubamba River in the Pongo de Mainique, provided a secret entrance for the Inca army. Another Inca bridge to the west of Machu Picchu, the tree-trunk bridge, at a location where a gap occurs in the cliff that measures , could be bridged by two tree trunks. If the trees were removed, it would leave a fall to the base of the cliffs, also discouraging invaders.
The city sits in a saddle between two mountains, with a commanding view down two valleys and a nearly impassable mountain at its back. It has a water supply from springs that cannot be blocked easily, and enough land to grow food for about four times as many people as ever lived there. The hillsides leading to it have been terraced, not only to provide more farmland to grow crops, but to steepen the slopes which invaders would have to ascend. There are two high-altitude routes from Machu Picchu across the mountains back to Cuzco, one through the sun gate, and the other across the Inca bridge. Both easily could be blocked if invaders should approach along them. Regardless of its original purpose, it is strategically located and readily defended.
Most of the construction in Machu Picchu uses the classical Inca architectural style of polished dry-stone walls of regular shape. The Incas were masters of this technique, called ashlar, in which blocks of stone are cut to fit together tightly without mortar. The Incas were among the best stone masons the world has seen, and many junctions in the central city are so perfect that it is said not even a knife blade fits between the stones.
Some Inca buildings were constructed using mortar, but by Inca standards that was quick, shoddy construction, that was not used in the building of important structures. Peru is a highly seismic land, and mortar-free construction was more earthquake-resistant than using mortar. The stones of the dry-stone walls built by the Incas can move slightly and resettle without the walls collapsing. Inca walls show numerous subtle design details that also help protect them from collapsing in an earthquake. Doors and windows are trapezoidal and tilt inward from bottom to top, corners usually are rounded, inside corners often incline slightly into the rooms, and "L"-shaped blocks often were used to tie outside corners of the structure together. These walls do not rise straight from bottom to top, but are offset slightly from row to row. As a result, over the centuries, Machu Picchu is a city that has stood up well to the earthquakes that occur frequently in the region.
The Incas never used the wheel in any practical manner. Its use in toys demonstrates that the principle was well-known to them, although it was not applied in their engineering. The lack of strong draft animals as well as terrain and dense vegetation issues may have rendered it impractical. How they moved and placed enormous blocks of stones remains a mystery, although the general belief is that they used hundreds of men to push the stones up inclined planes. A few of the stones still have knobs on them that could have been used to lever them into position. It is believed that after the stones were placed, the Incas would have sanded the knobs away, but a few were overlooked.
The space is composed of 140 structures or features including temples, sanctuaries, parks, and residences that include houses with thatched roofs. There are more than one hundred flights of stone steps–often completely carved from a single block of granite–and a great number of water fountains that are interconnected by channels and water-drains perforated in the rock that were designed for the original irrigation system. Evidence has been found to suggest that the irrigation system was used to carry water from a holy spring to each of the houses in turn.
According to archaeologists, the urban sector of Machu Picchu was divided into three great districts: the Sacred District, the Popular District to the south, and the District of the Priests and the Nobility.
Located in the first zone are the primary archaeological treasures: the Intihuatana, the Temple of the Sun and the Room of the Three Windows. These were dedicated to Inti, their sun god and greatest deity.
The Popular District, or Residential District, is the place where the lower class people lived. It includes storage buildings and simple houses.
In the royalty area, a sector that existed for the nobility, includes a group of houses located in rows over a slope, the residence of the Amautas (wise persons) was characterized by its reddish walls, and the zone of the Ñustas (princesses) had trapezoid-shaped rooms. The Monumental Mausoleum is a carved statue with a vaulted interior and carved drawings. It was used for rites or sacrifices.
As part of their road system, the Inca built a road to the Machu Picchu region. Today, tens of thousands of tourists walk the Inca Trail to visit Machu Picchu each year, acclimatising at Cusco before starting on a two- to four-day journey on foot from the Urubamba valley up through the Andes mountain range to the isolated city.
The Intihuatana stone is one of many ritual stones in South America. The Spanish did not find Machu Picchu so the Intihuatana Stone was not destroyed as many other ritual stones in Peru were. These stones are arranged to point directly at the sun during the winter solstice. Intihuatana also is called "The Hitching Point of the Sun" because it was believed to hold the sun in its place along its annual path in the sky. At midday on March 21 and September 21, the equinoxes, the sun stands almost above the pillar—casting no shadow at all. This is similar to the site in Ancient Egypt near the Tropic of Cancer that was recognized for the same effect as seen in Peru, which is located between the equator and the Tropic of Capricorn.
Local shamanic legends say that if one is a sensitive person, rubbing the forehead against the stone will provide a vision of the spirit world, but researchers believe that it was built as an astronomic clock or calendar.
The Intihuatana Stone was damaged in September 2000 when a 450 kg (1,000-pound) crane fell onto it, breaking off a piece of stone the size of a ballpoint pen. The crane was being used by a crew hired by J. Walter Thompson advertising agency to film an advertisement for a beer brand. "Machu Picchu is the heart of our archaeological heritage and the Intihuatana is the heart of Machu Picchu. They've struck at our most sacred inheritance," said Federico Kaufmann Doig, a Peruvian archaeologist.
Machu Picchu is a UNESCO World Heritage site. As Peru's most visited tourist attraction and major revenue generator, it is continually threatened by economic and commercial forces. In the late 1990s, the Peruvian government granted concessions to allow the construction of a cable car to the ruins and development of a luxury hotel, including a tourist complex with boutiques and restaurants. These plans were met with protests from scientists, academics, and the Peruvian public—all worried that the greater numbers of visitors would pose tremendous physical burdens on the ruins.
A growing number of people visit Machu Picchu (400,000 in 2003). For this reason, there were protests against a plan to build a bridge to the site as well. A no-fly zone exists above the area. UNESCO is considering putting Machu Picchu on its list of endangered World Heritage Sites.
During the 1980s a large rock from Machu Picchu's central plaza was moved out of its alignment to a different location in order to create a helicopter landing zone. Helicopter landings were forbidden in the 1990s. In 2006 a Cusco-based company, Helicusco, sought to have tourist flights over Machu Picchu, but the decision was quickly overturned.
On March 14, 2006, a controversy was ignited in part by a report in the Hartford Courant stating that Eliane Karp, an anthropologist who is the wife of the former Peruvian president, Alejandro Toledo, accused Yale of profiting from Peru's cultural heritage by claiming title to more than 250 pieces removed from Machu Picchu by Bingham in 1912, which had been on display at Yale's Peabody Museum ever since. Some of the artifacts Bingham removed were returned to Peru, but Yale kept the rest saying its position was supported by federal case law involving Peruvian antiquities.
On September 19, 2007, the Courant reported that Peru and Yale had reached an agreement regarding the requested return of the artifacts. The agreement includes sponsorship of a joint traveling exhibition and construction of a new museum and research center in Cusco about which Yale will advise Peruvian officials. Yale acknowledges Peru's title to all the excavated objects from Machu Picchu, but Yale will share rights with Peru in the research collection, part of which will remain at Yale as an object of continuing study.