Machu Picchu: the Cradle of Inca Civilization

Peru is a country located at the Western area on the continent of South America. It has a total land area of approximately 1,285,216 square kilometers. It is bounded to the north by Ecuador and Columbia, to its east is Brazil, to its southeast is Bolivia, to its south is Chile, and to its west is the Pacific Ocean. The country’s capital is located at Lima. It is divided into 25 different regions plus the province of Lima.

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The country has different topographies and habitats. The west side are coastal regions and plains, on the east side is the high peaks of the Andes Mountains, on the southeast is the Amazon Basin tropical rainforest, and on the east is the Amazon River.

During the 16th century, Spanish conquistadors occupied the land. But because of this diverse topography there are certain areas they did not occupy. One particular area is Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu

machu_picchu02 Machu Picchu or Machu Pikchu is an important historical site and the cradle of Inca Civilization.

During the 15th century, the Incas built the estate. Different theories exit on why the estate was built. Some historians believe that the estate is a sacred religious site. Others believed that it is the birthplace of the Incan or Virgins of the Suns, and the site was later converted to a temple. And some say it was a royal home to the Inca Emperor Pachicuti. The exact purpose of the estate still remains a mystery to historians. But nonetheless, tourists have continued to flock to the area.

Its unique beauty and importance had gained popularity, recognition and became worthy for preservation.

It was during 1911 when the world saw its unique beauty and grandeur. Since then buildings were reconstructed and preserved. Until present reconstruction and preservation of the site was done. In the year 1981, Machu Picchu was declared a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary. And in 1983, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was described as “an absolute masterpiece of architecture and a unique testimony to the Inca civilization.” In 2007, it became part of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

At present Machu Picchu is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Latin America, and it is the most visited tourist attraction in Peru.

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Machu Picchu covered with clouds

Location

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Machu Picchu could be found in Peru at approximately 80 kilometers northwest of Cusco Region. The Urumbamba River flows directly into Machu Picchu. It lies at the crest of the mountain ridge at about 2,430 meters above sea level. It lies in between two mountains: Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu.

machu_picchu05Panoramic view of Machu Picchu looking towards Huayna Picchu

It is located on a high altitude providing a perfect view of the two valleys below. Situated behind it is a massive mountain that is nearly impassable. The river crossing Machu Picchu provides an excellent source of water. To further increase land for cultivation of crops, the hillsides have been terraced. The terraced hillside has helped steepen the slopes making the ascend harder.

Transportation

To reach the historical Machu Picchu site, tourists gather in Cusco at Kilometer 82 or Kilometer 104 near the town of Ollantaytambo. The only mode of transportation is by foot. Tourist would have to walk through the magnificent Andes Mountains. The whole journey would last two to five days.

There are two bridges that serve as gateways to the estate. These two bridges were built by the Incas. One is the Inca Rope Bridge located at Pongo de Mainique that transverses the Urumbamba River. Another bridge is located to the west of Machu Picchu. This is a tree-trunk bridge measuring 6 meters long and it is approximately 570 meters high.

machu_picchu06Inca Rope Bridge

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Inca trail

What to see at Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is the perfect place to see Incan architecture.

Incans were famous for their technique called ashlar. Stones used for the construction of the buildings and houses were obtained from their natural quarry. These stones were polished dry and cut into regular shapes. These stones are then placed close to one another. This technique provided a sturdy material that could stand earthquakes. The chippings from cutting the stones were used in construction of the terraces. Each terrace is composed of top soil, followed by dirt, and the stone chips. This arrangement allowed water to be absorbed by the soil and into the mountain, thus, preventing floods, mud and landslides.

One should also take note of the walls which were designed to protect the people and architecture in case of an earthquake. The walls are tilted inwards. The doors and windows are trapezoidal and inclined inward. The corners are rounded.

machu_picchu08Trapezoidal doors and windows inclined inward

As mentioned, the slopes of the hillsides were converted into terraces. This provided additional agricultural land and irrigation. Furthermore, to maximize the land area, there are roughly 200 buildings that are built along the terraces. There are also long and narrow kanchas or compounds. To reach these different levels of terraces, stone stairways were built.

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Terraces used for agriculture

The eastern section is also known as the Popular District or Residential District. Residential houses for the lower-class people were built here. Furthermore, storage buildings and warehouses are also constructed.

machu_picchu11Residential section

machu_picchu12Panoramic view of the residential section

There is also a section dedicated for nobility and royalty. Each house of royalty had a distinguishing feature. The amautas or wise persons had reddish walls. The ñustas or princesses had trapezoid-shaped rooms.
On the western section was an area devoted to religious and ceremonial activities.

As a sign of devotion to their sun god and greatest diety, Inti, three important structures were built: Inti Watana, the Temple of the Sun, and the Room of the Three Windows.

The name Inti Watana was derived from the Quechua language and literally means an instrument “to tie up the sun.” Tourists often call the place “The Hitching Post of the Sun.” It is a group of stones positioned to directly point to the sun during the winter solstice. The best time to visit the place is from November 11 to January 30 when the sun is located directly above the pillar. Some historians believed that this also served as a clock or calendar.

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The Temple of the Sun or Torreon is one structure that could not be missed. This was an observational tower.

machu_picchu15Temple of the Sun or Torreon

machu_picchu16Sculptures seen at the bottom of the Temple of the Sun. It is interpreted as “Water mirrors for observing the Sky.”

machu_picchu17Room of the Three Windows

The Monumental Mausoleum is a place for religious rites and sacrifices. On the exterior, it is carved statue with a vaulted interior and carved drawings.

Another important artifact to visit is the Inti Mach’ay. It is located on the eastern side just north of the “Condor Stone.” It is surrounded by other caves that were used as tombs.

This place was the venue of the Royal Feast of the Sun during the Incan month of Qhapag Raymi. Only nobles and royalties could participate in this celebration. The celebration would begin during the start of the month and end on the solstice. One tradition observed was ear-piercing of male nobles to symbolize their manhood.

Aside from being a feast place, it is also a point of architectural interest and significance. It is built with the finest and best masonry of the Incan Empire. There is also a unique tunnel-like window that would only allow sunlight into the cave during a specific period, and that is during the feast.

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Remnants of Inti Mach’ay

There is three-sided building called the Guardhouse. Inca architecture is very famous for its three-sided style. It is commonly called wayrona style. The longest side faces to the Terrace of the Ceremonial Rock.
machu_picchu19Guardhouse

machu_picchu20Terrace of the Ceremonial Rock

Kristine Capanzana

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