A brief Machu Picchu history and facts
Learn about the great Manko Inka and the discovery of Machu Picchu in 1911. If you are interested in visiting Machu Picchu, don’t hesitate to review our collection of Machu Picchu Tours and Inca Trail hikes.
Machu Picchu Location
Nowadays it is a Historic National Sanctuary, protected by the Peruvian Government by means of Law Nº 001.81.AA of 1981, that tries to conserve the geological formations and archaeological remains inside the Sanctuary, besides protecting its flora, fauna and landscape’s beauty. The whole park has an extension of 32,592 Has.; that is 80,535 acres (325.92 km²; 125.83 mile²). Machu Picchu (the Inkan City) is located on kilometer 112 (70th mile) of the Qosqo-Quillabamba railway; the train station is known as “Puente Ruinas” and lies at an altitude of 2000 mts (6560 ft.). From that station there are buses in order to get to South-America’s most famous archaeological site that is found at an average altitude of 2450 mts (8038 ft.), and at 13°09’23” of South Latitude and 72°32’34” of West Longitude.
The Machu Picchu Historic National Sanctuary is found over a great granite orogenic structure baptized by Dr. Isaiah Bowman as the ” Vilcapampa Batholith” that outcrops over about 400 km² (154 mile²). Its formation belongs in the scale of geological time to the Paleozoic or Inferior Primary and may have an approximate age of 250 million years. The Vilcapampa Batholith’s white-gray granite is an intrusive igneous rock (magma cooled off in great profundities inside the earth); it is mainly compound in average by 60% of feldspar, 30% of quartz, and a 10% of mica. That granite has interlaced equigranular texture and possesses from 6° to 7° of hardness in the MOHS scale with a resistance of 1200 Kg/cm². Likewise, in this region there are some other rocks corresponding to the Inferior Paleozoic; such as schist, quartzite and metamorphic conglomerations that might have an age from 350 to 450 million years.
Machu Picchu Weather
The climate in that sector has also some characteristics that are found all over the region; thus, only two well defined seasons are distinguished: the rainy season between September to April, and the dry season from May to August. Nevertheless, Machu Picchu is found by the commencement of the Cusquenian Amazonian Jungle, so the chance of having rains or showers is latent by any time of the year. In the hottest days it is possible to get even about 26° Celsius (78.8° Fahrenheit), while that in the coldest early mornings in June and July the temperature may drop to -2° C. (28.4° F); the average annual temperature is 16 degrees Celsius. Annually, there is an average of rains from 1571 mm. (61 in.) to 2381 millimeters (93 in.). It is obvious that the monthly relative humidity is in direct relationship to rains, so the humidity average is from 77% during the dry months to 91% in the rainy months.
What Does “Machu Picchu” Mean?
Machu Picchu (like most of the Quechua names of towns and different sites in the region) is a compound word that comes from machu = old or ancient, and picchu = peak or mountain; therefore, Machu Picchu is translated as “Old Mountain”. The famous mountain that is seen in front, and appears in most of the classical views of the site is named Huaynapicchu (Young Mountain). Unfortunately the original names of the mentioned sectors are lost, Machu Picchu, Huaynapicchu and some other proper names used today are contemporary ones; ascribed probably by farmers living in the region before Bingham’s arrival. However, according to studies about some XVI century documents, the original name of the whole area might be “Picchu”.
About Hiram Bingham & Machu Picchu Discovery
It is known that Hiram Bingham, a descendant of missionaries, was the man who found Machu Picchu for the contemporary world and modern science. He was a North-American historian born in Honolulu, Hawaii; who in 1907 taught the South-American History and Geography course in Yale University. Later he was chosen as delegate of his country to the First Pan-American Scientific Congress carried out in Chile in 1908.
By that epoch he began his activities as explorer taking a horseback journey from Caracas to Bogota, following the Simon Bolivar’s way. Then he followed the old colonial trade way from Buenos Aires to Lima, arriving to this Andean zone in 1909; it is in that year when from Abancay he started with his first exploration towards Choquekirau, trying to find the last Inkan Capital. By that time many myths had been created about the possibility of finding the “Inkas’ treasures” that according to tradition had been taken by Manko Inka is his retreat to Willkapanpa (willka = sacred, panpa = plain; its Spanish form is “Vilcabamba”); thus it was so common by that epoch to find treasure hunters willing to get to this last Inkas’ dwelling. That same intention moved Bingham to study chronicles and even to visit Spanish archives, and subsequently in 1911 to come back to Peru with the aim of performing studies of geology and botany, and for sure, also in order to try finding Willkapanpa.
In Qosqo, Albert Giesecke, a compatriot of his and rector of the local University had put him in touch with Braulio Polo y la Borda, owner of Mandor. That local landlord told Bingham that on the hill in front of his property there were ancient constructions covered by vegetation where cattle were frequently lost; and moreover, he introduced Bingham to Eduardo Lizarraga, a farmland renter living in the area since the 70s of the 19th century, who had seen the buildings.
On July 23, 1911 Bingham showed up in Mandor along with a policeman, Sergeant Carrasco, who escorted him by order of Qosqo’s Prefect Juan Jose Nuñez. They found in his hut the peasant Melchor Arteaga who told Bingham about the existence of two Inkan sites named Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu; that same peasant was hired by Bingham to be the guide in order to get to the Inkan City.
The next day, after examining the field they decided to climb up by the sector where nowadays is the zigzagging road. After noon they arrived at another hut where they found Anacleto Alvarez and Toribio Recharte; they were two humble peasants who along with their families lived in the area and cultivated the pre-Hispanic farming terraces. After a short break, they provided a boy as the guide for Bingham in order to have a first look of the Inkan buildings that were completely covered with entangled vegetation. That was how Bingham, at 35 years old, stumbled onto Machu Picchu; a fortuitous happening that made manifest a great “discovery”. Later he continued with his trip arriving even as far as Rosaspata, Ñust’a Hisp’ana, Pampaconas and Espiritu Pampa; places that apparently did not attract the explorer so much.
Almost immediately after his first exploration, he went back to the USA looking for economic support that was granted to him by the Yale University and the National Geographic Society. Subsequently, the Peruvian government in Lima facing Bingham’s request in order to execute works in Machu Picchu, by means of law given on October 31, 1912, authorized him to carry out his projected works.
According to the fourth article of that authorization Bingham could freely take out of the country all the obtained pieces during his explorations, but with commitment of giving them back to Peru’s simple petition. Authorization in the name of “international etiquette” that infringed some legal rules and caused irreparable damage to Peru’s cultural heritage.
According to our history, in 1536 Manko Inka or Manko II began the war against the Spanish invaders, carrying out the famous siege of the city in which Manko was on the point of getting his final victory. But, after 8 months of bloody war he was defeated by the Spaniards and their allied tribes (old enemies of the Inkas).
The retreat was unavoidable and Manko dissolved the gross of his army so that soldiers could take care of their families and devote their time to agriculture. Manko Inka beat a retreat towards Vilcabamba (Willkapanpa) following the Chinchero way and passing through Ollantaytambo where he won a victorious battle over the Spaniards; and finally he went deeply into the jungle, establishing thus his new operations center. The bloody war between Inkas and Spaniards continued.
Manko was murdered in 1545 by some Diego de Almagro (a partner of Pizarro and the conquest) followers that were fugitives to whom the Inka had heathenly welcomed after their defeat and sentence to death for having assassinated Francisco Pizarro in Lima and for having rebelled against the established colonial order. Manko was succeeded by his son Sayri Tupaq who was persuaded by some of his relatives from Qosqo (faithful to the Spanish crown) to agree upon with the vice royal authority. He traveled to Lima and had a meeting with the Viceroy that conceded him some privileges and the Oropesa Marquisate that comprised lands in the present-day districts of Yucay, Urubamba, Maras and Chinchero. Apparently satisfied, he constructed his adobe palace in Yucay but died in 1560, perhaps poisoned by Quechuas opposing the agreement with the invaders.
Titu Kusi Yupanki
After Sayri Tupaq’s death, his brother Titu Kusi Yupanki assumed the power. The new Inka dwelling in Vilcabamba also admitted political and religious committees from Qosqo and Lima in order to get an agreement with the Viceroy. In 1568 he was baptized in the Christian way and named Diego de Castro; by that time he died because of a sickness being then succeeded by his step brother Tupaq Amaru.
Tupaq Amaru (last Inca monarch)
Tupaq Amaru was too young and inexperienced and was advised by a group of veterans that saw in the conquerors their relentless enemy and continued their war. The viceroy ordered the Inka’s capture sending an army of almost 300 soldiers, led by Martin Hurtado de Arbieto and captain Martin Garcia Oñaz de Loyola; they arrived to Vilcabamba giving different battles but the Inka and his family had quit even farther inside the forest. But finally the last Quechua Monarch was captured and taken to Qosqo along with his followers by the same Garcia Oñaz de Loyola (who later married Beatriz Coya, Tupaq Amaru’s niece and heiress of the Oropesa Marquisate). After a quick judgment he was sentenced to death and subsequently decapitated in the great city’s plaza before the cold glance of Viceroy Toledo on September 24, 1572. His remains were kept in the Santo Domingo Church; thus the last man of the Inkan dynasty was murdered, after 36 years of war willing to recover their Quechua nation.
In 1911, Hiram Bingham believed that he had found Manko Inka’s Vilcabamba in Machu Picchu; that is demonstrated wrong today because the exact location of that city and some other sites stated in chronicles are already known. On the other hand, today it is frequently asked how 150 or 180 Spaniards, the first ones who arrived here, could conquer so easily the Inkan Civilization that had from 12 to 16 million people; what is true, is that it was not a consequence of their physical power neither of their privileged wisdom, but simply because when the invaders arrived here there was a bloody civil war. Qosqo was always Tawantinsuyo’s capital, its legitimate monarch was Thupa Kusi Wallpaq, whom history knows as Waskar Inka who had a step brother named Atawallpa that wanted to usurp power moving himself to Tumipanpa in present day Cuenca, Ecuador, where he crowned himself as the new Inka. Atawallpa was willing to overthrow his step brother, who after some battles was seized in October, 1532; subsequently, the Spaniards arrived to the Peruvian coasts and in November entered into the city of Cajamarca. Spaniards seized Atawallpa who from his imprisonment ordered to murder Waskar and all the Cusquenian “orejones” (“big eared people” = the Inkan nobility). As soon as they were told about the happenings, the Spaniards blamed and sued Atawallpa and imposed the death sentence upon him. After having murdered Atawallpa, they went towards Qosqo, where they were welcomed believing that they were avengers of the Inkan Capital because they had murdered its enemy. Moreover, they were considered as gods because they were so different, had white skin, beard, fire weapons, horses; and even, Quechuas believed that horse and Spaniard were a single being, able to split into two. Besides, it was also believed that they were divinities because there was an old myth that stated that the Inkas’ gods had to arrive by ship, exactly how Spaniards did. Because of all those reasons they were accepted and welcomed in the Quechuas’ Capital. Its inhabitants made them know everything they had, their palaces, temples, towns and cities; but, by that time no one said anything about Machu Picchu because it seems that it was a very special and secret city or otherwise it was already lost and forgotten. The archaeological evidences state a total Spanish absence, there are no influences in pottery or architecture, and the “idolatry extirpators” (Catholic priests) did not destroy its temples as it happened in every spot known by Spaniards; thus it is supposed that Spaniards did not arrive and perhaps did not know anything about Machu Picchu.
Because of its location strategically established for its protection, because of its number of temples and their architectonic quality, because of the small amount of “kanchas” (apartments for extended families), and because of the several characteristics that Machu Picchu presents: originally, it was a regional power center dependent from Qosqo. That is, it was a small religious and political capital. Surely, it served as a dwelling for the Inka or any high ranked dignitary from the Capital, as well as for a selected nobility that had the privilege of having an “Aqllawasi” that was something like a monastery for “Chosen Women” or “Virgins of the Sun” devoted to cult and for service of its privileged population too. Most modern archaeologists and historians state that Machu Picchu was made built and used by Inka Pachakuteq, who was the Tawantinsuyo’s greatest statesman and ruled from 1438 to 1471, as his “Royal Farmstead”. Scholars use for this assertion the chronological dating given by the carbon 14 or radiocarbon, its doubtless “Imperial Inka” architectonic style, the predominant ceramic pieces, and some other scientifically valid facts. Even more, the archaeological evidences discard totally any possibility of pre-Inkan settlements in this region.
According to the buildings that are found in the Inkan City, the population during its apogee is calculated to have been about 1000 people. According to the mummies found by the Bingham expedition about 80% of the Machu Picchu population were women; that is the strong support to assert that over here existed an important “Aqllawasi” (House of Chosen Women), chosen among the prettiest and most virtuous, they were considered as the Sun’s wives. Many modern scholars suggest that a large part of them were the Inka’s wives too, considering that he was the son of the Sun; therefore, a living god. Thus the Inka lived in his property, along with his wives. It was normal for the Inka to have hundreds of concubines, and for example, our history states that Huayna Qhapaq who was father of Waskar and Atawallpa had more than 400 children. Nevertheless, his main wife must have been a sister of his; only that way they could keep the “solar blood” that they supposedly had. The throne heir had to be a son of the Inka and his sister.
Today, the reasons that led to depopulation of the Inkan City are unknown; although, some hypothetical reasons that are in a logical frame are outlined. It is believed that once there was a very bad epidemic that led to the abandonment of the city built in a humid zone with an abundance of different insects. Even until the first decades of this century different epidemics were reported frequently in this area, especially malaria; today several chemical products are being used in order to fumigate the environment, so the sanitation conditions were modified. Another possibility suggests that it had to be abandoned and closed after the death of the sovereign who built and used the city. Another hypothetical reason indicates that once the Antis (name of the “Andes” mountains comes from “Antis” = jungle tribes living in the Amazonian Forest), the worst enemies of the Inkas, arrived to this spot where they carried out a huge slaughter; the city was abandoned afterwards. What is evident is that the Inkan City was closed, abandoned and forgotten even until the first years of the XXth century.
Machu Picchu Sanctuary Layout
Today, in a simple way Machu Picchu is divided in two main sectors: farming and urban.
The Farming Sector is located just after entering from the tourist hotel; over here there are very broad artificial farming terraces; they are only some of all the ones existing in the region, as most of them are covered by thick vegetation. By the eastern end of the terraces there are five buildings that maybe served to house the farmers who cultivated this sector; those buildings are known as the ” Farmers’ Group” though Bingham called them “Outer Barracks”. On the upper end of those terraces there is a small room having just 3 walls known as the ” Watchman Post” constructed in a strategic place; from this point there is a broad view of the Urubamba canyon in two different directions. It is here, from where the Machu Picchu classical pictures are taken. In the vicinity is the named “Funerary Rock” ; it is a loose boulder placed knowingly in that spot, carved as an altar with some steps and a ring. It is supposed to have served in order to carry out all the embalming process as well as for drying the mummies up. Nevertheless, it seems that this rock had also a certain relationship with solar observations. In the winter solstice, the sunlight is projected exactly towards this rock from “Intipunku” (Sun Gate) which is compounded by the buildings towards the east, on the pass, by the end of the Inka trail that is seen surrounding the Machu Picchu Mountain. Further south from the “Funerary Rock” is the largest building in Machu Picchu; it is a “Kallanka” that has 8 access openings on its front wall and 2 on the side ones. Because of its location near the trails, its dimensions and morphology, that building must have been a sort of ” Tambo” and served as lodge for a large number of persons. Some authors name this building as “Headquarters” and some others as “Workshops”.
Passing from the farming sector to the urban one there is a great ” Dry Moat” that served to protect it. Machu Picchu was a very exclusive city and its population selected among the nobility, therefore, it had a very effective security and protective system. Crossing the Dry Moat is the Urban Sector; even farther is the “Fountains Street” containing 16 Liturgical Fountains. In the Inkan Society the water was always considered as a special deity, therefore, there were normally fountains and reservoirs for its cult. The main fountain is located in front of a building having just three walls that in the Inkan Architecture is named “Wayrana” that is supposed to be a ceremonial center from where the “Willaq Uma” (High Priest) had to carry out diverse ceremonies in order to worship the water. Today, water does not flow through the channels any more simply because the tourist hotel is using it; originally the water was harnessed from a spring located behind the Machu Picchu mountain; the channel came aside and along the Inka trail going towards Intipunku.
Nearby, is the “Sun Temple” that was a complex originally very well protected. In Inkan times only the priests and the Inka could use those temples; thus, they remained closed and protected. Common people had popular ceremonies in open areas or plazas like the one in Machu Picchu or Qosqo. The entrance into the Sun Temple is through a magnificent double jamb doorway, that on its interior surface shows its security system with a stone ring over the lintel where the wooden door must have been hung, and the two stakes inside small carved boxes in the interior jambs where the door’s crossing bar was tied. The temple itself was built over a huge “in-situ” boulder. It has a semicircular floor plan; its rear wall is straight and the whole temple is built with the “Imperial Inkan” architectonic type, that is, with rectangular faced stones with perfect joints. The semicircular wall has two windows; one of them faces towards the east and the other towards the north. According to modern scientists those two windows constitute the most important solar observatory in Machu Picchu; in the window facing east it is possible to fix accurately the winter solstice measuring the shade projections on the central rock. Both windows have projecting carved fake beams surrounding their outside face; they surely served in order to support elements that made solar observations easier. In the center of the temple there is an “in-situ” carved rock altar that served to carry out diverse ceremonies honoring the Sun; it is over here where animal sacrifices were executed, so that analyzing their hearts, lungs and viscera, the priests could foretell the future. It is also here where the Inka had to symbolically drink “chicha” (maize beer) along with his father the Sun. The straight rear wall has a window with small carved holes on its threshold that tradition knows as the “Snake Window” (name given by Bingham). The holes are very similar to those found in the Temple of the Stars in Qosqo’s Qorikancha that according to Garcilaso kept ornaments of precious metals and stones; possibly also over here those holes had the same duty. The straight walls of the temple have trapezoidal niches in their interior faces; they were used to keep different idols and offerings. Some authors indicate that originally this temple had a thatched conical roof, and they name it as “Suntur Wasi”, “Military Tower”, etc.
Under the “Sun Temple” there is an interesting small cave known as the ” Royal Tomb”; it was named that by Bingham believing that it could shelter the mummy of a Cusquenian nobleman or possibly that of an Inka; but he wrote that nothing was found inside it. The relationship would be logical: the Inka buried under his father’s temple. Without any doubt that small cave must have been related to the Ukju Pacha (underground world) and the cult of dead people. Inside the small cave, on the right side wall there are two large trapezoidal niches with projecting fake stone beams by the height of their lintels, and two smaller niches on the deeper wall. On the floor, there is a carving with a “stepping symbol” representing the three levels of the Andean Religious World. In the Inkan Society all the corpses were mummified in a fetal position with the only difference being that mummies of noblemen were kept in temples while those of common people were buried or placed in cemeteries. Inside the Sun Temple complex, there is also a two story construction known by some authors as the ” Ñusta’s Inclosure” (ñusta = princess) and as the Priest’s by some others. Because of its location in the complex it must had a close relationship with the Temple and possibly it was the dwelling for the Willaq Uma (High Priest).
Crossing the street, in front of the Sun Temple is the ” Royal Group”. It is a classical “kancha” (an apartment for an extended family); it is the only one that is found in the area and the only one that is very solid and built with carved stones. There is no doubt that it was the Inka’s dwelling. The group has two big rooms and two small “wayranas” around a central patio. The eastern room is known as the bedroom and inside it, its southern portion is divided with carved stones forming the “bed”, the Inka might have slept on that corner over some blankets woven in vicuna wool. On the northern end of the room there is a very small compartment that people have baptized as the “bathroom”, which is unusual because bathrooms are not normally found inside the apartments.
The room that stands in front is known as the ruler’s “studio”; and the two small “wayranas” on two opposing sides were probably used as kitchen and workshop. Almost by the middle of the central patio there is a carved stone that served as a mortar in order to grind grains or some other goods. Leaving the group through its only entrance (today there is another way out behind the “studio” that was opened to help tourists walk around), in the small and narrow passage, towards the right side and about two meters high is a protruding carved stone as a fake beam that has a hole in the middle. It must have served to hold ceremonial elements and perhaps an “aryballus” (classic Inkan jar having a sharp-pointed base) of “chicha” (maize beer).
Quarry or Granitic Sector
Going up the stone stairs is the “Quarry” or ” Granitic Chaos” sector, where there are amorphous granite boulders; it is suggested that they were being exploited slowly. All the mountains around the Inkan City have the same quality of rocks; that is, white-gray granite of the Vilcabamba Batholith. Therefore, the rocks were in the place and were not transported from the valley’s bottom as some authors pretended to state. In this sector there is a partially broken rock frequently pointed out by local guides; that is not a genuine Inkan work but simply a sample of the technique used by that age in order to split stones, it was made in 1953. When magma was cooled off in order to form granites, there was also a crystallizing process by which those rocks show always natural nerves (faults or lines) on their surfaces; they were located by the Quechua stonemasons who made holes along them. Those holes were filled up with wooden wedges that were then soaked; thus, using expansion or swelling of soaked wood they could split the rocks. By the start of this book there is a chapter about the techniques and tools used in Inkan stonemasonry.
Superior Group Sector
From the quarry, it is possible to go up by the stone stairway towards the southeast in order to get the sector named as ” Superior Group” (some historians name this sector as that of the “Main City Gate”, or of the “Yachaywasi” -school-). In this sector there are many constructions with “pirka” type walls that apparently served as public buildings, among which there are some “Qollqas” (storehouses). In this sector is the Machu Picchu Main City Gate that was the only entrance by the southeastern part of the city. The main gate of Machu Picchu was very well protected in order to allow the entrance of just its exclusive population; in the interior face of that doorway it is also possible to see its locking system with the stone ring over the lintel and the two stakes inside the small carved boxes in the jambs.
Towards the quarry’s west is the “Sacred Plaza” (Holy Group), where in its western end is the ” Main Temple” (Chief Temple); it is a “Wayrana” type Temple, that is, it has just three walls made with stones that have rectangular faces and perfect snug joints, with the “Imperial Inkan” wall type. The Main Temple shows seven trapezoidal niches on its central wall and five on each of the lateral ones. In front of it, about 8 meters ahead and close to the “Three Window Temple” is a huge boulder partially carved that must have been its central pillar for supporting the roof beams; today some guides call that rock “sacrificial altar”. Nowadays the Main Temple has its central wall broken moving towards the northeast; archaeological works demonstrated that it is a displacement due to rain filtering. Although, some geologists suggest that it is due to a geological fault passing across this spot; they indicate even more, that there is another fault across the Sun Temple.
The deity worshipped in this Main Temple is unknown, though, historians argue that it could be Wiraqocha, the Andean invisible superior god. In front of this Temple’s south side-wall there is a small outcrop of carved stone that according to some authors it is a representation of the Southern Cross, which is not categorically proved. On the northern end of the “Sacred Plaza” is the ” Temple of Three Windows”, it only has three walls and when in use it had a two-slope roof; its stones are polygonal, and comparatively it must have been earlier or less important than the “Main Temple”. The evidences indicate that this temple was originally projected for having five windows; it seems that the two end windows were walled up once the Temple was finished. In the central part of what would be the front wall is a single stone pillar that served to support the thatched roof, and on its western side is a carved stone with steps representing the three levels of the Andean World: the “Hanan-Pacha” (heaven), the “Kay-Pacha” (earth surface) and the “Ukju-Pacha” (underground).
The existence of this Temple made Bingham believe that he had found the mythical “Tampu T’oqo” so this was where the Inkan Civilization was originated; all that is demonstrated wrong today. In front of the “Main Temple” there is a room having two doorways and “pirka” type rough walls that today is named as the ” Priest’s House”; which is probable because of the architectonic contrast with the surrounding buildings, as the quality of walls is in direct relationship to the importance of every building. Behind the “Main Temple” is a small room of excellent quality that is known as ” Ornaments Chamber”; because of its location it must have kept a close complementary relationship to the Temple. Inside it, in the lower part of the rear wall there is an unusual low platform like a stone seat or couch; more over, there are two very impressive polygonal boulders in both sides of the entrance that have more that 30 angles each. Some people with very westernized or Catholic influence call this room the ” Sacristy” of the Main Temple.
From the “Holy Plaza”, towards the northwest is a stairway that rises conducting directly to the ” Intiwatana” group, which seen from far away has the shape of an irregular interrupted pyramid that Bingham named “Sacred Hill”. It is impressive how the whole sector was adapted to the shape of the natural hill. Surrounding the hill, there are many narrow terraces that are not necessarily farming ones but served in order to stop erosion and protect the “Intiwatana”. Almost always those narrow terraces were also used as gardens, that is, with an ornamental purpose; they have no irrigation systems as in the farming ones (excepting the farming terraces in Machu Picchu that are in a very humid area making aqueducts unnecessary). Thus, according to their duty, it is possible to identify three terrace types: farming, protective, and ornamental. Before arriving to the top of the hill, on the right side of the stairway there is a ring carved on a rock that is encrusted in the wall; it possibly served in order to support an insignia or flag kept by a spear; old accounts suggest that it was something common in platforms like this.
The eastern top of the natural formation was flattened artificially in order to be used as an “Usnu”, that is, a special platform from which the Machu Picchu chiefs could talk to their people who were standing up on the Main Plaza located in the lower part towards the northeast. The communication was facilitated by the high location of the platform from which there is no interference, and by the sonority reached by human voice that is apparently reflected and amplified when colliding with the opposing terraces. In the central part of that “Sacred Hill” there are vestiges of finely finished buildings with their classical trapezoidal openings; around here, there is an apparently non carved natural rock that is suggested to be a vestige of a Machu Picchu model; curiously, the shape of that rock has many coincidences with the local geography.
By the top of the hill is the famous carved rock named as “Intiwatana”, its shape is irregular (polygonal) finishing with an almost cubic polyhedron on which the top has signs of having been hit. Originally, all the faces of this boulder must have been finely polished; possibly the same way as the Main Temple in Ollantaytambo, that is, it had a smooth surface almost as glass. Moreover, it must have had other auxiliary elements for its use.
The word “Intiwatana” labeling carved stones like this was first used by George Squier in 1877; that name is not found in any ancient chronicle. The correct names would be “saywa” or “sukhanka” that were used by chroniclers. “Intiwatana” is translated as the “place where the sun is tied up” or simply “sun fastener”. The day of the winter solstice (June 21st) the Quechuas had to perform the “Inti Raymi” (Sun Festivity) that was the biggest celebration of the Inkan Society. In this date, the sun is located in the farthest point from the earth or vice versa, thus the Quechuas believed that their “Tayta Inti” (Father Sun) was abandoning them. They had to perform different rituals in order to ask the sun not to move away any more and symbolically they had to tie it up to the “Intiwatana”. However, “Intiwatana” could also have another sense, since “Inti” is “sun” and “Wata” is “year”, it could be translated as the “place where the solar year is measured”. It is unquestionable that it served as an efficient solar observatory through measurement of the projected shadows, enabling thus fixing solstices and equinoxes; therefore, calculating the different seasons and the 365 day year. Referring to this stone as a “solar clock” or “sun dial”, or other similar names, is wrong and results from bad speculation. The Inkas did not need to measure the day in hours or minutes, therefore, they did not know how to do it.
Many scholars suggest that the “Intiwatanas” also served as directional pegs in which protrusions or determined angles the magnetic north and south may be found; all that is true in Q’enqo, near Qosqo, and over here in Machu Picchu where one angle of the carved rock and the polyhedron base indicate the magnetic north. The astronomers White, Dearborn and Mannheim, state that from this complex it is possible to have observations of the pleiades, very important for Andean farming, and constellations like the Southern Cross, Spica – Alpha and Beta Centaurs, Vega, Deneb and Altair. Local scholars indicate that Machu Picchu’s Intiwatana is closely related to a regional “ceque” system (an imaginary alignment of observatories and temples) that includes surrounding mountains and valleys. According to Cusquenian archaeologists Valencia and Gibaja, “All these elements affirm the idea that the Machu Picchu Intiwatana sculpted rock, is a cosmic and ritual axle of great religious and tonic meaning, clearly associated with some other points, that determine important ceremonial axles in Inkan times”.
Going down by the stairway towards the Intiwatana’s northwest is the north end of Machu Picchu, where the ” Sacred Rock” is found. It is a small complex where there are two very similar “wayranas”, one in front of the other and with “pirka” type walls. They served as temples or altars for worshipping the “Sacred Rock” that stands towards the northeast, by the middle of them. The “Sacred Rock” is a natural projection of the mountain and stands surrounded by a stone pedestal, its surface is relatively smooth and was possibly also finely polished like the Ollantaytambo boulders, but erosion of 4 or more centuries of abandonment changed the surface polish and even its whole shape. In the Inkan Religion it is believed that the mountains constitute or have “apus” (superior spirits) considered as peoples’ protectors (today mountains are still worshipped in the Andean Religion).
Many scholars believe that the “Sacred Rock” is simply the representation of the Yanantin Mountain, standing behind it. In ancient times the silhouettes of the rock and mountain were identic, but today they are almost similar due to the natural erosion over the rock. However, some authors argue that the rock must had another shape, possibly that of a “Lying Puma” or a “Guinea Pig”. Behind this rock, in 1911 Bingham found the writing “A. Lizarraga 1901″. Towards the north of this complex is the trail leading to the Huaynapicchu Mountain and towards the Southeast is the city’s Main Plaza.
The ” Main Plaza” is the biggest open and flat space existing in Machu Picchu, it is towards the northeast and by the feet of the “Intiwatana”. It was the place where the population’s popular ceremonies were carried out; perhaps also the “Inti Raymi” or Sun Festivity like as in Qosqo’s Main Square. Nearby this plaza there are terraces that did not have a farming duty but served simply to flatten the terrain; in the totally irregular Machu Picchu topography, that was the only way to achieve flat spaces.
In Machu Picchu’s eastern area, toward the northeast of the Main Plaza there are many other buildings with “pirka” type walls (with rough mud-bonded stones); the buildings layout in this area is somewhat complex, and includes sectors that are differently named, such as ” Higher Group”, ” Three Doorway Unit”, etc. Those are basically buildings that served as apartments, storehouses, and some other utilitarian duties. Towards the east of this complex are interesting buildings with different altars, semi-underground buildings, sculpted stones with diverse shapes, etc., about which there are not deep interpretative studies yet. By this zone there is also an interesting cave containing a partially carved window named Intimachay that was studied by Dearborn who argues that from inside the cave it is possible to see just 2° of horizon through the window that is aligned with the sunrise in the summer solstice (December 21st). The 2° margin enabled the solstice observation during 10 days before and after the event, a lapse that was necessary in the case of a cloudy and rainy zone like Machu Picchu.
Even farther to the southeast of the previous sector is the named ” Mortars Group”, to which some authors name the ” Industrial Sector”. The architectonic quality of its walls indicate that it had a serious importance in the city; Bingham named it as “Ingenuity Group”. This was apparently a very exclusive group because it has a double jamb doorway and inside, it still has the door locking system with two small carved boxes and their stone stakes. From the floor to about two meters high, the walls were made with sculpted stones, but the superior part was made with rougher ones; that difference suggests perhaps a construction in two different stages. Inside that group there is a room having two circular “mortars”, both having almost the same diameter and carved on a granite outcrop in the floor.
Some historians suggest that those were mortars used in order to grind diverse elements for making weavings or pottery in the sector that was “industrial”; though, the mortars do not appear to have had much use. Others indicate that those were seats for “aryballus” (pointed base jars) containing “chicha” (maize beer). Likewise it is suggested that they were filled up with water in order to serve as “mirrors” for astral observations during clear nights, alleging that this enclosure was not roofed; but according to many modern astronomers that is a weak possibility because it is more practical to observe the sky directly and not using mirrors. Towards the south of the previous room there is a very interesting building compound of two identical “wayranas” or rooms having just three walls that share one central dividing wall; instead of their front wall they present a column that supported the roof beams. In this complex there are also some other rooms having the same quality, sculpted rocks looking like altars, etc.
Temple of the Condor
One of the most fascinating and enigmatic sectors in Machu Picchu is that of the “Condor” located toward the southeast of the “mortars”. The “Temple of the Condor” form something like a labyrinth where in its lower and central portion there is a sculpture on a granite outcrop with the shape of an Andean Condor having a beak, the classic white collar around its neck and its whole body. Behind, there are two huge rocks surrounding it; they represent its wings, giving the impression of being a landing condor. It is obvious that this was a sacred spot built on purpose in order to worship the “Apu Kuntur” (Condor God) that was one of the three sacred animals of the Inkan Society along with the Puma (cougar or mountain lion) and the Snake; therefore its duty was strictly religious.
The Andean Condor was and still is a special divinity on the Andes highlands, but the ceremonies carried out to worship it in ancient times are unknown. However, today the Andean people of some concealed villages in the highlands of Peru annually carry out their festivity called “Yawar Fiesta” or “Blood Festivity” (see chapter of Andean Condor) in which a living Condor is worshipped in a very special way. On the other hand, some other authors suggest that over here was Machu Picchu’s “Jail”. It is argued that in this place there were pumas and perhaps also snakes, so those who were punished were left inside and had to die inexorably; after those persons died, over here landed Condors and some other birds of prey to devour the remains of the punished fellows.
It is argued that over here existed two types of punishment and that the niches with small holes on their jambs that are found over the Condor’s left wing served for tying the hands of those punished (those niches were originally covered with a roof). Moreover, it is argued that the other higher niches in the rear wall that have a small back opening served for another different punishment: the “walling in” of punished fellows, who were inserted and walled up inside the niches with their faces towards the upper openings that served them in order to breath and consume food. In Inkan times this sector was complementary to the “Temple of the Condor”; and because of its location and its multiple characteristics this complex must have carried out a highly ritual duty and not that of a “jail”.
Hiram Bingham and his teams worked intensively in Machu Picchu and the whole archaeological park during 5 years, digging practically every square meter. In its surroundings they found ancient tombs, mummies and remains of 173 persons always enclosed along with their daily life belongings; including clothing, pottery, food, ornaments, etc. After all his works Bingham informed that no artifact of precious metal was found in Machu Picchu; that which today is refuted by the Agustin Lizarraga’s widow and descendants who assert that the intrepid young peasant established in the area before Bingham’s arrival, discovered Machu Picchu during his explorations looking for farming lands by the year 1900. They say that Lizarraga arrived to this lost city using the trail that leads from the San Miguel zone to the “Holy Plaza” and that in his successive visits found in some niches objects of ceramic, stone, gold and silver. Objects that he sold to a well known rich merchant in Qosqo. That could be true because of the “crude charcoal autographs” found by Bingham on the beautiful granite walls including the writing “A. Lizarraga 1901″ behind the “Sacred Rock”; and as the same North-American explorer when describing a grave wrote: “We know that Lizarraga had been treasure hunting on these forest-clad slopes at least ten years before our visit…”. Once that Lizarraga died “in very strange circumstances” in 1912, he left for his widow some treasures that she donated to the Santa Clara convent in Qosqo, after being in Catholic confession persuaded by the priest so that with her donation she could get “peace and salvation for her soul”. It is possible that no peasant other than Lizarraga could have had profaned the site because in the traditional Andean Society there is always a profound ancestral respect and reverence towards ancient “Wakas”. There is much more respect for the ancestors’ tombs that can not be profaned believing that they are protected and profaning them brings misfortune, diseases, death and some other maledictions.
Yale University’s Peabody Museum
Bingham wrote that every object he got when working in Machu Picchu was deposited in Yale University’s Peabody Museum of Natural History located in New Haven, Connecticut (Click here to go to the museum website). The exhibit consists of 10 pieces of Inka pottery, 10 of metallurgy, 10 of stonework, 3 wooden cups, very few textiles, and one of the nicest Inkan “qhipu” existing in the world. Besides, there are small niches displaying mainly pottery of pre-Inca Civilizations. Peruvians hope that someday, the artifacts listed by Bingham in his various publications will be returned to Machu Picchu where they belong.
The Huaynapicchu Mountain is that found towards the north of the city and which appears in the background of Machu Picchu’s classical pictures. By its summit there are some retaining terraces that were made for avoiding erosion as well as for serving as gardens. It is possible to get to the summit using the path that is located by the left flank of the mountain. The way up was basically a long stairway; in various sectors its steps were simply carved on the mountain rock. Climbing up slowly takes one hour approximately, and it is not dangerous; however, the person that tries it must keep his eyes open since the path is by the edge of precipices and some carelessness or a wrong step could be fatal, and whoever attempts it must not suffer from vertigo. From the summit, there is a spectacular panoramic view of the Inkan City, of the Urubamba canyon and the mountains around; it seems that over here existed a very important Quechua sanctuary.
From Machu Picchu it is also possible to take some other short walks. One of them is towards the ” Inkan Bridge” for which, it is necessary to reach the small “Watchman Post” located on the upper area of the farming sector; from that spot there is a trail towards the southwest. After about 20 minutes of walking one gets to the present-day end of the path, from where there is a view of the trail carved on the mountain-face as well as of the bases of a draw bridge. It is supposed that the draw bridge structure was of light wood that was removed or saved in order to avoid trespassing of non authorized persons; thus they enabled the protection of Machu Picchu.
Somewhat lower than the same “Watchman Post” is the Inka Trail that originally joined Machu Picchu with Qosqo; that trail is a good sample of the Quechua engineering and construction technology, it still keeps its original pavement of flagstones and it is very wide. When following it, after about 1.5 miles is the pass named Intipunku (Sun Gate), and even farther, about 7 Kms. (4.4 miles) away from Machu Picchu is the small Inkan town of Wiñaywayna. Around there, in a higher level is the farming complex of Intipata.
Content provided by Vicente Goyzueta