Machu Picchu: The Lost City of the Incas

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  2. March 3, 2013 3:42 pm

Machu Picchu: The Lost City of the Incas

When it was built, Machu Picchu represented the zenith of one of the world’s great civilizations. However, for five hundred years, this site was largely unknown to the world beyond the South American country in which it was located. By the end of the 20th century, though, Machu Picchu had become one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites.

Towering at almost 8,000 feet above sea level, Machu Picchu was mainly named for its altitude; its name is Quechua for “Old Peak.” It was built in the mid-15th century of the Urubamba Valley in present-day Peru, in the northwestern region of the Cusco kingdom. Many archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was built as the headquarters for Pachacuti, who is known as the ruler that transformed Cusco into what would become known in history as the Inca Empire. There are also theories that it might have also doubled as a ceremonial site. However, such theories are speculative since there are no written records that explain the purpose for building Machu Picchu.

Located within a range of mountains, Machu Picchu is an elaborate and sprawling network of walls, buildings, terraces and ramps that easily blend into the rocky terrain. The buildings of Machu Picchu use classical Inca architectural style, which comprises polished dry-stone walls; they include palaces, plazas, temples and residential homes. Moreover, the terraces served as an irrigation or water-distribution system. The relatively high level of landscaping and architectural skill present at the site is all the more remarkable considering that the Incas constructed it without the knowledge or use of iron, steel or wheels.

A hundred years later, with the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire, the Incas abandoned Machu Picchu, and it slipped into obscurity. Luckily, though, the conquistadors did not know that it existed, and Machu Picchu was spared from any destruction or looting. It still remained intact when in 1911 Yale professor Hiram Bingham, with the help of a Peruvian guide, became the first Westerner to see the site. From then on, Machu Picchu enjoyed immense popularity. It became a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary in 1981 and UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.

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