Machu Picchu is one of the most iconic archeological sites in the world. Found in Peru, South America, it is nestled in the mountains at 2,430 meters above sea level. The citadel is surrounded by lush vegetation and steep escarpments. Home to many mysterious structures, the site never ceases to amaze visitors from the day of its discovery until today. Consequently, only a visit will let you understand the mystery behind Machu Picchu… maybe. But one thing is sure, you will be amazed as well.
Machu Picchu is much more than just a site. In fact, it is an ancient city built and inhabited by the Inca people, the ancestors of today’s Peruvians and other South American people. The Incas built it to escape and protect themselves from the Spanish settlers who were conquering the continent at that time. It was never found by the settlers and, was in a way, forgotten until it was discovered by Hiram Bingham, a professor explorer, in 1911. Since then, it has and is still captivating numerous archaeologists who are trying to decode the messages hidden behind the structures, their number, and even their layout throughout it. In 1983, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage and has become the most economically important attraction in the country.
The site is divided into 2 large sections, agricultural & urban. The agricultural section is an extensive network of terraces, and the urban section, as you would imagine, is a set of structures, including the famous Sun Temple. In a sense, the city was self-sufficient because it was religiously, culturally, and politically independent.
The agricultural terraces
When visitors walk along the terraces, they can see the techniques that the Incas used to make the mountainous terrain of the Andes suitable for agriculture. The terraces are a great and quiet spot for tourists who want to be a bit far from the main site which is more crowded.
The terraces were built in 2 levels to considerably reduce the risks of erosion of the land. The upper level had 40 terraces that were more extensive and wider and were used only for growing agriculture and crop; like maize and potatoes. As for the lower level, it had 80 terraces and was used to control soil erosion caused by rain. The way the agricultural terraces were designed proves that the Incas were expert aqueduct engineers.
The urban section
With its multiple structures, this section is a real open-air «architectural» museum. Some of these structures are religious and are located on the Northwest part of the site, thus bordering the plaza. The Incas built them without mortar because the granite stones were quarried and precisely cut.
One of them is called the «Principal Temple», and contains a carved stone altar. Another building adjacent to it is named the «Temple of the Three Windows», and is said to have a lot of broken pottery; shattered apparently during rituals.
Another mysterious structure, a gigantic rock that Bingham named «Intihuatana». This colossal stone is standing on a raised platform that dominates the plaza. Some people thought it was a sundial, but research has proven that it is not; however, its purpose is still a mystery to archeologists. Other researchers are suggesting that it may have been used for astronomical observations.
Another structure that also remains a mystery, the «Funerary Stone», a strangely carved rock that lies outside of the guard’s cabin. Its purpose is still unknown, but some historians think that maybe it was a sacrificial alter. Once you’ll face this stone, you will probably be puzzled as well by its mysterious aspect, and even if you’re not an archeologist you can try to guess what its purpose was.
Temple of the Sun
The most iconic structure of Machu Picchu is believed to be Temple of the Sun, the headquarters of the religious ceremonies. Historians believe it was also an important scientific center. The temple has the shape of a semi-circular building, and is located in the lower part of a hill. Initially, the temple was an extremely protected enclosure, which let suppose that it may have been sacred also. The entrance had a double wooden door that was secured with a safety mechanism. Besides the Inca priests, no one else had access to it; however, the rites were held at the public square, where the rest of the population could enter.
Also called Palace of the Princess, the Royal Tomb is sitting close to the Temple of the Sun. The outer wall of the building, as described by Bingham, is «the finest wall in all of the Americas». Royal Tomb has tall slots for offerings, and at the base, a structure that looks like a cave, which is why Bingham used the word «cave», even if no corpses were found in it.
This building is considered the most beautiful one by many archeologists. The building is believe to be a room hat was used to store ornaments because of the many niches dotted around it. There are 2 large rocks at the entrance; each of them has 30 angles carved into it. The Sacristy is now the grassy area that separates the functional buildings from the residential ones. There, visitors can often see 1 or 2 llama grazing.
Despite everything that is said above, it seems like not even a book with hundreds of pages would be enough to describe Machu Picchu. However, even though your presence in person on the site will not let you know everything, you will learn much more than what any book could ever say about the site.