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 capitol 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 city, its Inca name is not known.
Believed to have been built by Pachacuti, the ninth Sapa Inca (1438 - 1471 AD), 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 invisible from below, the cloud shrouded city contains palaces, baths, temples, storage buildings and around 140 houses, all 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 consists of terraces constructed by the Inca. These enabled crops to be grown but also provided stability to the mountain. The Industrial sector provided the facilities to produce and maintain the implements required by the population. The Urban sector provided the living accommodation for the people and the nobility. The Sacred District contains the religious buildings.
The most famous buildings are the Intihuatana, also known as the "The Hitching Post of the Sun" as it was ceremonially used to tie the Sun to the earth each year. The Temple of the Sun, with its semicircular facade built to tie in with the natural rock which allows the sun to cast a shadow through its windows along a stone altar on the winter and summer solstice. Also in this sector are the Temple of the Three Windows and the Main Temple, which show structural damage from movement.
A variety of other buildings and points of interest provide a beautiful and atmospheric place and one of the most enigmatic ancient 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".
The Temple of the Sun
The Intihuatana, also known as the "The Hitching Post of the Sun"
To see more photographs and take a virtual tour of the site click on the photoshow below.