Machu Picchu, Peru
Without doubt one of the most iconic places associated with South America is Machu Picchu. Located in the Cuzco region of southern Peru, this 15th century Inca citadel sits in a spectacular location 2430m (7970ft) above sea level. Often referred to as “the Lost City of the Incas” it is probably the most famous of all Inca monuments that we have today. Many of the outer lying buildings have been reconstructed to give tourists a better idea of how they originally appeared with a little more than 40% of the site having been restored. Today, Machu Picchu is a UNESCO World heritage site and receives almost 1.5 million visitors each year.
Whats in a name
In the Quechuga language, ‘machu’ translates to being ‘old’ or ‘old person’ whilst “pikchu’, can be translated to ‘pyramid, pointed multi sided and solid – or a ‘cone’. As a result, the site is sometimes interpreted as the ‘old mountain’.
It is thought that Machu Picchu was constructed as an estate for the Inca ruler Pachacutec Inca Yupanqui who ruled between 1438 -1472 and then later continued by Túpac Inca Yupanqui. The estate was begun around 1450 with many believing Pachautec built it as a royal estate to celebrate a successful military campaign. The estate was used for almost 80 years before being abandoned as the Incas were forced to deal with the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors in other parts of the their Empire. Because of its remote location, Machu Picchu was not known to the Spanish throughout the entire colonial period. It was not until 1911, when the American historian Hiram Bingham with the help of some local farmers, discovered the site and brought international attention to it.
Machu Picchu was built in a classical Inca style which included polished dry-stone walls. The Incas were masters of this technique, called ashlar, in which blocks of stone are cut to fit together tightly without mortar. The site contains three structures; Intihuatana, the Temple of the Sun and the Inti Mach’ay, which were dedicated to Initi, the Inca Sun God and their greatest deity.
The Initihuatana stone is one of many ritual stones found through out South America. They are stones that are aligned to point directly at the sun during the winter solstice. The Incas believed the stone held the sun in its place along it path in the sky.
Temple of the Sun
Also known as ‘Torreon’, is a semi-circular temple built in the section of the site that is dedicated for the nobility. It gets its name from similar building which are found in Cusco and Pisac. The temple was used for ceremonies to pay tribute and give offering to the sun. Only sacred priests were allowed to enter. Some believe that the building may also have served as a royal tomb.
Inti Mach’ay is a special cave used to observe the The Royal Feast of the Sun. The festival was celebrated in the Incan month of Qhapaq Raymi and celebrated the day that young noble boys were initiated into manhood. The initiation included and ear piercing ritual as the boys stood in the cave to watch the sunrise. For many Inti Mach’ay is the most important structure at Machu Picchu with its entrance walls, steps and windows being some of the finest masonry in the Inca Empire.