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What is Machu Picchu?

Machu Picchu was constructed by the Inca around the year 1450.
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  • Written By: R. Kayne
  • Edited By: L. S. Wynn
  • Last Modified Date: 29 July 2014
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Machu Picchu is an ancient Inca site high atop the cloud-shrouded Andean mountains of Peru. It is thought to have been built for Pachacuti Inca between 1460-70, and is sometimes called City of the Gods. Machu Picchu, which means "Old Peak" in the Quechua language, was lost for nearly 400 years, but rediscovered in 1911 by Yale archaeologist Hiram Bingham.

At an elevation of 9,060 feet (2,761 m) the 5-mile-square (13 square km) site of Machu Picchu holds the ruins of palaces, temples, baths, and about 150 dwellings. The site includes terraces for agricultural purposes, watered by natural springs. Mortarless stone buildings are an architectural wonder even today, with some blocks weighing up to 50 tons (45 metric tons), yet so precisely fitted that a even the thinnest knife blade cannot be inserted between them.

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The Incas worshipped the sun. One of the most enigmatic features of Machu Picchu is the sundial or Intihuatana stone. Sitting on a large slab of gray rock, this modest monolith functioned as an astrological calendar. Twice each year, the stone revealed the equinoxes of March 21st and September 21st at midday, when the sun would shine directly overhead, casting no shadow. At these moments, Incas believed the sun sat with all its might upon the pillar and became tied to the rock. The stone is called the hitching post of the sun. Many ceremonies took place around this sacred stone, which also aligns with the December solstice. It's said to bestow celestial vision upon any spiritual person who touches their forehead to the stone.

In 1533, Spanish conquistadors destroyed the Inca cities that lay far below Machu Picchu, but they never found the mountaintop city. The Intihuatana stone at the site is highly valued because the Spaniards systematically searched out and destroyed all Intihuatana stones they found. When a sacred stone was broken, it was said to release the gods and power that inhabited it. The stone is whole, and therefore still in possession of all of its original power.

Machu Picchu, believed to have been a spiritual retreat or sanctuary, was abandoned sometime around 1570-1580; about 40 years after the conquistadors ravaged the empire. "Inca" is the surname of the royal family that ruled the Inca Empire, which at one time was the largest in the New World.

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Discuss this Article

anon266850
Post 7

I read a few years ago that climate change has greatly affected the ecosystems of the mountain ridge where Macchu Picchu is located, and that it has affected plants and animals even at that elevation. I think it is sad that for so long, this site was undiscovered, and not it might become unrecognizable thanks to climate change.--Tin

anon195404
Post 5

It's mind-blowing to comprehend the skill and perseverance showed by the Incans to build this magnificent, perfect environment 2000-plus feet up from the ground.

recapitulate
Post 4

The way this article mentions the equinoxes is very similar to the way many other sites, such as Stonehenge in Great Britain, were revered by groups like the druids. I would love to visit Machu Picchu on one of those days, to see it firsthand, but I imagine it would be really difficult to manage.

While I'm not sure I believe myself in the forces they thought were at work on those equinox and solstice days, I do wish we had the same value for natural cycles in our modern religious practices.

aaaCookie
Post 3

I read a few years ago that climate change has greatly affected the ecosystems of the mountain ridge where Macchu Picchu is located, and that it has affected plants and animals even at that elevation. I think it is sad that for so long, this site was undiscovered, and not it might become unrecognizable thanks to climate change.

glinda
Post 1

Incan community in the mountains of Peru.

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