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7,000 feet above sea level and nestled on a small hilltop between the Andean Mountain Range, the majestic city soars above the Urabamba Valley below. The Incan built structure has been deemed the “Lost Cities”, unknown until its relatively recent discovery in 1911. Archaeologists estimate that approximately 1200 people could have lived in the area, though many theorize it was most likely a retreat for Incan rulers. Due to it’s isolation from the rest of Peru, living in the area full time would require traveling great distances just to reach the nearest village.



Separated into three areas - agricultural, urban, and religious - the structures are arranged so that the function of the buildings matches the form of their surroundings. The agricultural terracing and aqueducts take advantage of the natural slopes; the lower areas contain buildings occupied by farmers and teachers, and the most important religious areas are located at the crest of the hill, overlooking the lush Urubamba Valley thousands of feet below.


Machu Picchu is comprised of approximately 200 buildings, most being residences, although there are temples, storage structures and other public buildings. It has polygonal masonry, characteristic of the late Inca period.

The houses had steep thatched roofs and trapezoidal doors; windows were unusual. Some of the houses were two stories tall; the second story was probably reached by ladder, which likely was made of rope since there weren’t many trees at Machu Picchu’s altitude. The houses, in groups of up to ten gathered around a communal courtyard, or aligned on narrow terraces, were connected by narrow alleys. At the center were large open squares; livestock enclosures and terraces for growing maize stretched around the edge of the city.

The Incas planted crops such as potatoes and maize at Machu Picchu. To get the highest yield possible, they used advanced terracing and irrigation methods to reduce erosion and increase the area available for cultivation. However, it probably did not produce a large enough surplus to export agricultural products to Cuzco, the Incan capital.


One of the most important things found at Machu Picchu is the intihuatana, which is a column of stone rising from a block of stone the size of a grand piano. Intihuatana literally means ‘for tying the sun", although it is usually translated as "hitching post of the sun". As the winter solstice approached, when the sun seemed to disappear more each day, a priest would hold a ceremony to tie the sun to the stone to prevent the sun from disappearing altogether. The other intihuatanas were destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors, but because the Spanish never found Machu Picchu, it remained intact. Mummies have also been found there; most of the mummies were women.


Few people outside the Inca’s closest retainers were actually aware of Machu Picchu’s existence. Before the Spanish conquistadors arrived, the smallpox spread ahead of them. Fifty percent of the population had been killed by the disease by 1527. The government began to fail, part of the empire seceded and it fell into civil war. So by the time Pizarro, the Inca’s conquerer, arrived in Cuzco in 1532, Machu Picchu was already forgotten.

Machu Picchu was rediscovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, a professor from Yale. Bingham was searching for Vilcabamba, which was the undiscovered last stronghold of the Incan empire. When he stumbled upon Machu Picchu, he thought he had found it, although now most scholars believe that Machu Picchu is not Vilcabamba. Machu Picchu was never completely forgotten, as a few people still lived in the area, where they were "free from undesirable visitors, officials looking for army ‘volunteers’ or collecting taxes", as they told Bingham.




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