Machu Picchu is one of the ancient wonders of the world and provides a fascinating glimpse into the history of the Inca civilization. Nestled in the mountains of Peru, Machu Picchu was almost a secret and not known to the western world until the beginning of the 20th century.
So, who discovered this architectural wonder and when? Find out that and more about it in this MomJunction post on 31 interesting facts about Machu Picchu.
Location and Foundation
- Machu Picchu lies on a mountainous location, within a section of the Andes mountain range that lies in the Cusco region of Peru’s Urubamba province. The site of Machu Picchu is located 2,430m (7,970ft) above sea level.
- The name Machu Picchu comes from the Quechua language spoken by the indigenous Quechua people of Peru. ‘Machu’ means ‘old’ and ‘Picchu’ means ‘mountain.’ Hence the name of Machu Picchu translates to ‘Old Mountain’ or ‘Old Peak.’
- The Inca civilization built Machu Picchu in the year 1450. It was the Inca emperor Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui who ordered the construction of this structural marvel.
- The precise purpose (Royal estate or observatory or both?) of Machu Picchu is unknown. Most historians state that emperor Pachacuti wanted the place as a royal estate for himself. Some scholars believe that along with being a royal estate, the place was also a ceremonial center and an astronomical observatory.
- The presence of Inca temples around Machu Picchu has researchers speculating that the place could have religious significance. Machu Picchu may have marked the end of a pilgrimage that the Incas started from the city of Cusco.
- Historians believe that a successful military campaign is likely to have prompted emperor Pachacuti to order the construction of Machu Picchu.
- Inca engineers carved out Machu Picchu’s flat land that we see today, from a notch that lied between two mountain peaks.
- Machu Picchu was constructed entirely out of stones without the use of mortar. Each block of stone is precisely cut to fit into one another. This technique of masonry is called ashlar, where blocks of stone are cut such that they can lock with one another without the use of a binding agent (like mortar).
- Stones on Machu Picchu are so closely fit together that you cannot even stick a credit card between them.
- Peru lies close to a tectonic plate fault line, which makes Machu Picchu vulnerable to earthquakes. Surprisingly, the Inca engineers seemed to have been aware of it. For this reason, they laid a stone foundation, filled the empty spaces with crushed rock, and then covered it up with soil. 60% of Machu Picchu’s construction is underground. No wonder Machu Picchu has survived so long!
- The stones in the walls of Machu Picchu dance and vibrate during earthquakes but never fall from their place. It is a testimony to brilliant construction techniques.
- The Incas constructed Machu Picchu without the use of wheels, iron tools or animals to pull the heavy rocks. There are two theories of how Incas managed with the big stones. The laborers either carried the stones to the hill or they mined rocks out of the mountain to use it on-site.
Buildings and Landscapes
- There are temples, houses, farms, and even a cemetery in Machu Picchu. It is said that no more than 800 people lived at Machu Picchu and most of them served the ruler since the place was the king’s estate.
- Farmers practiced step farming where the surface of the mountain was cut into steps and crops grown on the flat land of each step. Corn (maize) was a prominent crop. A lot of food for people at Machu Picchu was imported from other parts of the Inca kingdom.
- Machu Picchu receives a lot of rain and may have witnessed many landslides during its construction. Step farming helped bring down the risk of landslides although they were still a threat during heavy rains.
Discovery and Restoration
- The Incas lived for less than 100 years at Machu Picchu and left during the Spanish invasion, which began in 1530.
- The Spanish destroyed several Inca sites during their conquests. However, they never found Machu Picchu. The Spanish conquistadors (conquerors) knew of an Inca establishment up in the hills. But Machu Picchu was so perfectly hidden that they could never reach it.
- The German businessman Augusto Berns, who traded in Peru’s woods, is said to be the first westerner to discover the place in 1867. He systematically raided the place, taking substantial relics and artifacts back to Europe where he sold it to museums and private antique collectors. It was only in 2008 that Peru’s historians found out about Augusto Berns’ discovery.
- In 1911, the American explorer Hiram Bingham III discovered Machu Picchu during his search for another Inca city called Vilcabamba. A local innkeeper shared the information about some Inca ruins on a mountain, and that is how Bingham learned about Machu Picchu. Bingham was not the first to find Machu Picchu but is widely regarded as the first to bring attention to Machu Picchu.
- Machu Picchu was not entirely abandoned. When Bingham reached the mountain, he found three resident farmer families. It is said that one of the farmer’s son led Bingham to the ruins of Machu Picchu.
- Bingham was a professor at the Yale University and took back several relics from Machu Picchu to the university. Bingham had claimed to have taken the relics with the permission of the Peruvian government. However, later the government and local historians accused Bingham of stealing. Yale University eventually returned all the artifacts to Peru in the year 2012. The artifacts are now on display at Museo Machu Picchu (Machu Picchu Museum) near Cusco in Peru.
- Hiram Bingham III always believed Machu Picchu to be Vilcabamba, the city that the Incas fled to after the Spanish conquest. It was only after Bingham’s death that archaeologists discovered the real Vilcabamba – the lost Inca city.
- Machu Picchu was cleared of the thick vegetation that had overgrown over its structures. A lot of remains, including the skeletal ones, were shifted to the museum. It was subsequently opened to the public. Archaeological studies continue to happen even today, and researchers visit the place each year to study and understand the place better.
- UNESCO declared Machu Picchu a World Heritage Site in 1983. In 2007, it was announced as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
- The Peruvian government made Machu Picchu a ‘no flying zone’ and banned flying of planes and helicopters over the area in 2006. It helps maintain serenity and prevents untoward damage in the case of an accident.
- To reach the ruins of Machu Picchu, you will have to reach Cusco, which is the closest major city. From Cusco, you can either take a train, minivan or even trek to the ruins. There are paid trekking packages that include the cost of entry ticket and food.
Several trails lead to Machu Picchu, including a breathtaking one that follows the same route taken by Bingham in 1911. You can also ride on horseback and use porter service for your luggage. Some trails allow you to pass through several Peruvian villages and camp en route to Machu Picchu.
- Professional adventurers and polished explorers continue to find new trails covered by the lush forest fauna. Many of the trails have led to Inca relics that were never found before. However, tourists should avoid trails less taken since you never know what you may encounter in the forest.
- Llamas belong to the Camel family and are a common sight at Machu Picchu. Llamas are native to Peru and were used by the Incas for fur and meat. You can see llamas grazing at Machu Picchu, and it is your best chance of getting a photo of this animal in its natural setting.
- There are no signs or labels for tourist information at Machu Picchu. To address your curiosity, visit the Museo de Sitio Manuel Chavez Ballon – a museum that lies a few miles away from Machu Picchu. The museum provides all the information about the various buildings of Machu Picchu and also contains artifacts as well.
- Did you know that you can climb the Huayna Picchu, the pointy mountain that lies in the background of every picture of the ruins? The summit on top of the mountain provides a picturesque view of Machu Picchu. Do not miss out on climbing because only 400 people are allowed daily on top of the Huayna Picchu.
- Get your passport stamped with a special Machu Picchu insignia at the entrance office of the site. It makes an excellent memory and also a souvenir to boast to your friends.
Machu Picchu has stood the test of time and nature for more than 500 years. It is a historical monument that provides great insight into the Inca civilization. But these are also beautiful places that make great memories. Walking down the Inca trail towards Machu Picchu is probably the best memory for the backpackers and the wanderlusts!
Have been to Machu Picchu already? Tell us about it in the comment section below.