Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Inca, is one of the most important archaeological sites in South America and the most visited tourist attraction in Peru. Constructed in the middle of the 15th century under Sapa Inca Pachacuti. It was never discovered by the Spanish but was deserted by the Inca within 100 years of its foundation due to the Spanish invasion. It contains some beautiful architecture and building work and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Inca, is one of the most important archaeological sites in South America and the most visited tourist attraction in Peru. Despite being located close to the Inca capital of Cusco the site was never discovered by the Spanish during their conquest, consequently, it was not destroyed and remained relatively intact. Machu Picchu (meaning 'Old Peak' in the Quechua language) refers to the mountain that overlooks the site, its Inca name is not known.
Believed to have been built by Pachacuti, the ninth Sapa Inca (1438 - 1471 AD), whose statue is in the village in the valley below the site.
The true purpose of Machu Picchu has never been conclusively determined although it is believed to have been a retreat for the Inca chief and his elite or a secret ceremonial city. Situated two thousand feet above the Urubamba River and not visible from below, the site shrouded in cloud contains palaces, baths, temples, storage buildings and around 140 houses, generally in a good state of preservation.
Spread over approximately 5 square miles, Machu Picchu housed a population of around 750 to 1200 people. It consists of a number of Sectors or Districts, which relate to the activities which were carried out there. These are Agricultural, which consist of terraces constructed by the Inca. These enabled crops to be grown but also provided stability to the mountain. There are also the urban, religious and industrial sectors.
Located overlooking the terraces is the Guardhouse, this also overlooks the gate which is where the Inca Trail ends which is a favourite route for many people to gain access to Machu Picchu. The Gate also provides access to the Urban sector and is close to the Quarry.
All stone for the construction of the buildings in Machu Picchu was obtained locally and was from the Quarry.
Evidence can be found there of work in progress where the rock was in the process of being cut out when the place was abandoned.
The Urban sector provided living accommodation for the people and the nobility. The skill of the craftsmen can be seen in many of the buildings throughout the site and show how the blocks are fitted like a jigsaw in order to tie them together and make the wall more stable, mortar was not used.
The Inca also had an excellent understanding of water management both to prevent flooding and in the provision of water for domestic use. They had a number of fountains and baths interconnected by channels cut into the rock ensuring clean water for the population supplied from a spring 1 km away.
The Sacred Plaza was one of the most important religious places of the site where all the important rituals and ceremonies took place. Flanked by temples and located relatively high in the centre of the site.
It is in this sector that the Temple of the Three Windows and the Principal Temple is found.
The Temple of the Three Windows is located on the eastern side of the Sacred Plaza and contains three large windows.
The wall on the right has a niche carved into two stones indicating that it either did have or was to have a beam across the front. In the front of the temple is an upright pillar and a stepped stone, which may symbolize a mountain. Mountains were revered by the Inca and it is known that children were left on mountains as a sacrifice.
The Sacred Plaza indicates work in progress as can be seen by the stone in front of the Temple of the Three Windows. This is supported by small stone giving an indication of the way that they were moved.
Also, to be found on the Sacred Plaza, next to the Temple of the Three Windows is the Principal Temple. The walls have a number of finely carved niches, most likely for displaying religious items.
The Principal Temple's north wall comprises of several large stones in its lower section. The largest, in the centre, has the appearance of an altar. The unusual aspect of the wall is its settlement, which can be seen quite distinctly. Archaeologists agree that the wall settled during the time of the Inca. The lack of repairs indicates that the Inca abandoned the city shortly after the wall settled.
By the Sacred Plaza is the Intiwatana Pyramid.
It was from the top of the Pyramid the Inca priest conducted religious ceremonies with participants in the plaza below. At the top of the Pyramid is one of the most famous buildings, the Intihuatana, also known as the "The Hitching Post of the Sun" as this was ceremonially used to tie the Sun to the earth each year.
Across the Central Plaza and at the far end of Machu Picchu is the Sacred Rock, an object common to most Inca villages. Before a village could be built, a sacred stone would be dedicated to the site. This rock tends to echo the shape of the mountain behind it.
Moving across the Plaza is the Temple of the Sun, with its semi-circular facade built to tie in with the natural rock - which serves as a foundation. Below the temple is a cavity which is thought to have been an entrance to the underworld.
The positioning of the temple allows the sun to cast a shadow through its windows along a stone altar on the winter and summer solstice.
It is believed that the temple is an astronomical observatory and was used as a religious calendar that marked the winter and summer solstices.
It s believed that this is an astronomical observatory and used as a religious calendar that marked the winter and summer solstices due to the centre of the temple having a carved rock with a straight edge. During the Summer solstice, this edge will precisely align with the light falling through the window of the temple. Observing the sun was very important to the Inca. During the winter solstice, the Inca would hold a festival, which included sacrifice to ensure the return of the sun.
A variety of other buildings and points of interest provide a beautiful and atmospheric place and one of the most enigmatic sites in the world. Machu Picchu was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, describing it as "an absolute masterpiece of architecture and a unique testimony to the Inca civilization".
To see more photographs and take a virtual tour of the site click on the photoshow below.