10 Mysterious Facts About Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu two

Machu Picchu is one of the most intriguing places on the planet. Being one of the last remaining Inca sites as well as an example of excellent craftsmanship, it continues to be a tourist magnet and an archeological puzzle. Hidden away in the Andes Mountains, the village made a lucky escape from many conquistadors and self-righteous explorers. Today, many are astonished at its elaborate construction solutions and overall good shape, despite the passing years. Here are some amazing facts about the nearly last Inca site in existence.

1. Machu Picchu literally means “old peak”

Machu Picchu, oftentimes also spelled as Machu Pikchu is a name given to the site by Incas in the Quechua language. “Machu” is a word typically referring to a very old person, whereas “pikchu” means generally “a sharp, mountain peak”. The name originally described the sharp mountain ridge, where the Inca citadel was built. Only after the construction has been finished, it also started to be used as a name for the citadel area itself. What is interesting, some of the buildings are also shaped trapezoidally to assimilate the mountain ridges. This was done with the intent to make them withstand strong mountain winds.

2. It is situated in the Cusco Region of Peru

The Cusco region is located in the south-east of Peru. Its neighboring regions are Ucayali in the north, Madre de Dios as well as Puno in the east, Arequipa in the south and Apurimac, Ayacucho and Junin in the west. The Cusco region is famous for the plain of Anta, an area with some of the most fertile communal cultivated lands worldwide. The capital of the Cusco region is also called Cusco, and was once the proud capital of the Inca world. This is where nowadays all archeologists go to study the historic sources of Inca culture.

Machu Picchu three

3. It is located very high in the mountains.

If you ever think about paying a visit to the wonderful, 15th century Inca citadel, then prepare yourself to do some trekking. The way to Machu Picchu is by no means an easy one. The village rests on a mountain ridge at about 2 430 meters, or 7 970 feet above sea level. Again, the trip is definitely worth it as you will also get the chance to see the Urubamba River, flowing through the Urubamba province along the way. The Urubamba river was also an important site for the Incas. In Quechua it is translated as “the Sacred River”.

4. Machu Picchu was built as an emperor’s estate.

According to most archeologists nowadays, the site has originally been planned to serve as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, who lived in the years 1438-1472. He bore the title of the ninth Sapa Inca of the Kingdom of Cusco and he was a prominent figure, also responsible for the expansion of the Kingdom into what we now know as the Inca Empire. His famous conquests gained Incas the territory encompassing nearly all of Southern America. He is also credited with introducing irrigating channels, cultivated terraces, roads and hospices to the Inca people.

Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, a statue in Aguas Calientes, Peru

5. Machu Picchu was abandoned a century after it was built.

The construction of the site finished at about 1450, but the Incas did not have the opportunity to relish in their newly built citadel for long. The reason for this was the Spanish Conquest.

The Spanish led by Francisco Pizarro wanted to get their hands on all the natural resources they could get and their intentions were far from peaceful. The Incas had to run for their lives, abandoning Cusco and many other towns amidst the Andean Mountains. However, due to its secluded location, the Spanish never managed to find Machu Picchu. It was only the American historian Hiram Bingham in 1911, who discovered it by accident.

6. Machu Picchu is not the “Lost City of the Incas”

Although Machu Picchu is the most recognizable landmark of Inca culture, there exists another Inca city which is associated with the mythical Inca settlement Espíritu Pampa, full of gold and other goods, a true metropolis of the times of the Empire. This city is Vilcabamba, or Willkapampa in Quechua. Contrary to popular opinion, this and not Machu Picchu, was the Inca people’s last stronghold, before their Empire fell to the Spaniards. It is not very far from the Machu Picchu, in fact only a couple of miles away by the Chontabamba River, which flows directly into the Urubamba river.

Vilcabamba, Peru
Vilcabamba, Peru

7. Machu Picchu uses a building technique called Ashlar

Just as many other civilizations, the Incas also had their distinct way of putting together sturdy buildings, which could withstand even severe earthquakes. The technique used to build Machu Picchu is called Ashlar. Ashlar is a masonry technique, which includes the use of stones cut precisely on the edges to fit tightly with one another, without applying any mortar. The Ashlar technique was not just used by Incas. Examples of fine Ashlar buildings can be also found in Greece, especially on Crete in Knossos and Phaistos.

8. Machu Picchu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The unique marvel of Inca architecture was first voted a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary in 1981, and later became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. In 2007, it also won in the Internet poll to establish the New Seven Wonders of the World. Apart from Machu Picchu, the other buildings which have claimed the prestigious title are: the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, the Great Wall of China, the City of Petra in Jordan, the Roman Colosseum, the Chichen Itza pyramid in Mexico, Taj Mahal palace in India and Christ the Redeemer statue of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Congratulations!

The Temple of the Sun
The Temple of the Sun

9. Human sacrifices were not all that common in Machu Picchu

Incas are often depicted, along with the Mayans as two cruel civilizations of South America. This is not entirely true, though the archeologists confirm that human sacrifices did occur from time to time. However, recent studies have shown that Machu Picchu, along with other Inca citadels were much more often witnesses of animal, liquid and dirt sacrifices to the gods. All these rites took place at the Altar of the Condor. The most important deity for the Inca people was Inti, the sun god son of Viracocha, the god of civilization.

10. There are three primary structures within Machu Picchu.

These are the Inti Watana, the Temple of the Sun and the Room of the Three Windows. These are the few of the structures that are actually original and have not been renovated or reconstructed in any way, contrary to most of the outlying buildings, which have been subject to severe damage, but later rebuilt, mainly for tourist purposes, to give everyone a better glimpse on the original shape of Machu Picchu. The Inti Watana is an astronomical curiosity as well. It is a stone, whose name means “The Hitching Post of the Sun”, and the Incas believed that it did exactly that, controlled the movement of the sun throughout the sky. The stone also points to the direct position of the sun during the Summer and Winter solstice.

Inti Watana
Inti Watana


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