Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Tucked away in the rocky countryside northwest of Cuzco, Peru, Machu Picchu is believed to have been a royal estate or sacred religious site for Inca leaders, whose civilization was virtually wiped out by Spanish invaders in the 16th century. For hundreds of years, until the American archaeologist Hiram Bingham stumbled upon it in 1911, the abandoned citadel’s existence was a secret known only to peasants living in the region. The site stretches over an impressive 5-mile distance, featuring more than 3,000 stone steps that link its many different levels. Today, hundreds of thousands of people tramp through Machu Picchu every year, braving crowds and landslides to see the sun set over its towering stone monuments and marvel at the mysterious splendor of one of the world’s most famous manmade wonders.

Machu Picchu’s Inca Past

Historians believe Machu Picchu was built at the height of the Inca Empire, which dominated western South America in the 15th and 16th centuries. It was abandoned an estimated 100 years after its construction, probably around the time the Spanish began their conquest of the mighty pre-Columbian civilization in the 1530s. There is no evidence that the conquistadors ever attacked or even reached the mountaintop citadel, however; for this reason, some have suggested that the residents’ desertion occurred because of a smallpox epidemic.

Many modern-day archaeologists now believe that Machu Picchu served as a royal estate for Inca emperors and nobles. Others have theorized that it was a religious site, pointing to its proximity to mountains and other geographical features that the Incas held sacred. Dozens of alternate hypotheses have cropped up in the years since Machu Picchu was first unveiled to the world, with scholars variously interpreting it as a prison, a trade hub, a station for testing new crops, a women’s retreat or a city devoted to the coronation of kings, among many examples.

Machu Picchu’s “Discovery” by Hiram Bingham

In the summer of 1911 the American archaeologist Hiram Bingham arrived in Peru with a small team of explorers hoping to find Vilcabamba, the last Inca stronghold to fall to the Spanish. Traveling on foot and by mule, Bingham and his team made their way from Cuzco into the Urubamba Valley, where a local farmer told them of some ruins located at the top of a nearby mountain. The farmer called the mountain Machu Picchu, which translates to “old peak” in the native Quechua language. On July 24, after a tough climb to the mountain’s ridge in cold and drizzly weather, Bingham met a small group of peasants who showed him the rest of the way. Led by an 11-year-old boy, Bingham got his first glimpse of the intricate network of stone terraces marking the entrance to Machu Picchu.

The excited Bingham spread the word about his discovery in a best-selling book, “The Lost City of the Incas,” sending hordes of eager tourists flocking to Peru to follow in his footsteps up the formerly obscure Inca Trail. He also excavated artifacts from Machu Picchu and took them to Yale University for further inspection, igniting a custody dispute that lasted nearly 100 years. It was not until the Peruvian government filed a lawsuit and lobbied President Barack Obama for the return of the items that Yale agreed to complete their repatriation.

Although he is credited with making Machu Picchu known to the world—indeed, the highway tour buses use to reach it bears his name—it is not certain that Bingham was the first outsider to visit it. There is evidence that missionaries and other explorers reached the site during the 19th and early 20th centuries but were simply less vocal about what they uncovered there.

The Site of Machu Picchu

In the midst of a tropical mountain forest on the eastern slopes of the Peruvian Andes, Machu Picchu’s walls, terraces, stairways and ramps blend seamlessly into its natural setting. The site’s finely crafted stonework, terraced fields and sophisticated irrigation system bear witness to the Inca civilization’s architectural, agricultural and engineering prowess. Its central buildings are prime examples of a masonry technique mastered by the Incas in which stones were cut to fit together without mortar.

Archaeologists have identified several distinct sectors that together comprise the city, including a farming zone, a residential neighborhood, a royal district and a sacred area. Machu Picchu’s most distinct and famous structures include the Temple of the Sun and the Intihuatana stone, a sculpted granite rock that is believed to have functioned as a solar clock or calendar.

Machu Picchu Today

A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983 and designated one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007, Machu Picchu is Peru’s most visited attraction and South America’s most famous ruins, welcoming hundreds of thousands of people a year. Increased tourism, the development of nearby towns and environmental degradation continue to take their toll on the site, which is also home to several endangered species. As a result, the Peruvian government has taken steps to protect the ruins and prevent erosion of the mountainside in recent years.


History 101: Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is a testament to the power and ingenuity of the Inca empire. Built without the use of mortar, metal tools, or the wheel, Machu Picchu stands as an archaeological wonder of the ancient world. But why was it built—and deserted?

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What Was Machu Picchu For? Top Five Theories Explained

Popular ideas include a royal retreat and sacred memorial.

Nestled atop a mountain ridge in Peru, the 15th-century Inca city of Machu Picchu had sat largely forgotten for centuries—until archaeologist Hiram Bingham began excavations of the ruins a hundred years ago this week.

Now one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, Machu Picchu's original purpose is still unknown—though many archaeologists think they are closer to finding an answer. (Take a Machu Picchu quiz.)

Here are some of the top theories about Machu Picchu proposed—and in some cases disproven—in the century since its "rediscovery."

1) Machu Picchu Was the Last Inca City

During his lifetime, Bingham, of Yale University, had two theories regarding the purpose of Machu Picchu. The first—that it was the birthplace of Inca society—came about when he was led to the site by local farmers in 1911.

Bingham later modified that theory and suggested the site was also the legendary "lost city" of Vilcabamba la Vieja, where the last of the independent Inca rulers waged a lengthy battle against Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century.

Bingham was wrong on both counts, however. Archaeologists now know the actual "last refuge" was located in Espíritu Pampa, a jungle site about 80 miles (130 kilometers) west of the Inca capital city of Cusco (see map).

Ironically, Bingham visited Espíritu Pampa in 1911, but he decided the site was too small and not grand enough to be the legendary city.

Later excavations in the 1960s and extensive mapping in the 1980s by Vincent Lee, a Colorado-based architect and Andean explorer, revealed Espíritu Pampa to be far bigger than Bingham thought.

"It turns out there were 400 to 500 buildings at the site . but Bingham had only seen about 20," Lee said.

The indigenous peoples Bingham encountered at Espíritu Pampa had an alternative name for the site: Vilcabamba Grande.

This should have been a clue to Bingham that the site was much bigger and more important than what he was seeing, Lee suggested.

Bingham "had found the Inca's last refuge he was looking for, but it just wasn't as fancy as he expected it to be."

2) Machu Picchu Was a Holy Nunnery

Bingham also speculated that Machu Picchu might have been a temple devoted to the Virgins of the Sun, a holy order of chosen women dedicated to the Inca sun god, Inti.

This theory was largely based on dozens of skeletons Bingham's team found buried at the site. U.S. osteologist George Eaton said in the early 20th century that the remains were nearly all females.

"I think Bingham's idea of Vilcabamba [the last Inca city] came first, because that's what he was actively looking for," said John Verano, an anthropologist at Tulane University in New Orleans.

"The Virgins idea probably came later, when he saw Eaton's results."

This theory was also debunked in 2000, when Verano, then at Yale, examined the remains and found that the skeletons were about half males and half females. Verano's analysis was based on skeletal differences between the genders that were not known during Eaton's time.

Verano thinks Eaton may have been misled by the relatively diminutive size of the Andean people, who are typically shorter and less robust than the European and African skeletons with which Eaton would have been more familiar.

"He probably saw the small bones and assumed they must be female," he said.

Interestingly, Eaton correctly noted that some of the Machu Picchu skeletons belonged to infants and children. But rather than viewing them as evidence contradicting Bingham's theory, he attributed the child remains to "indiscretions" by some of the holy virgins, Verano said.

Archaeologists now generally agree that the skeletons at Machu Picchu were not those of Inca priestesses, but rather helpers who were brought in from all over the Inca Empire to serve at the site.

"If you thought of Machu Picchu as a royal hotel or a time-share condo for the Inca emperor and his guests, then these were the staff who cooked the food, grew the crops, and cleaned the place," Verano said.

3) Machu Picchu Was a Royal Retreat

Verano's interpretation of the Machu Picchu skeletons is consistent with one of the most popular theories about the site: that it was the royal retreat of the 15th-century Inca Emperor Pachacuti.

According to this idea, Machu Picchu was a place for Pachacuti and his royal court, or panaca, to relax, hunt, and entertain guests.

"The members of Pachacuti's panaca may have lived there during the year for a few days, weeks, or months," said Guillermo Cock, a Lima-based archaeologist who has also received funding from the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration. (The Society owns National Geographic News.)

The "royal estate" theory, first proposed in the 1980s, is largely based on a 16th-century Spanish document that referred to a royal estate called Picchu, which was built in the same general area as Machu Picchu.

4) Machu Picchu Was a Re-creation of the Inca Creation Myth

Other scholars have speculated that the Inca had a more spiritual purpose in mind when they built Machu Picchu.

A 2009 study by Giulio Magli, an astrophysicist at the Polytechnic Institute in Milan, Italy, postulated that the site was a scaled-down version of a mythic landscape from the Inca religion.

According to Magli, Machu Picchu was a pilgrimage site where worshipers could symbolically relive a harrowing journey purportedly taken by their ancestors. That trek began in Bolivia's Lake Titicaca and continued beneath the earth before emerging at a place close to Cusco.

5) Machu Picchu Was Built to Honor a Sacred Landscape

According to another theory, proposed by archaeologist and anthropologist Johan Reinhard in his 1991 book Machu Picchu: Exploring an Ancient Sacred Center, Machu Picchu occupied a special place in the "sacred landscape" of the Inca.

For example, Machu Picchu is built atop a mountain that is almost completely encircled by the Urubamba River, which the Inca named the Vilcamayo, or Sacred River.

Reinhard also pointed out that the rising and setting of the sun, when viewed from specific locations within Machu Picchu, aligns neatly with religiously significant mountains during the solstices and equinoxes. The Inca believed the sun to be their divine ancestor.

"It's an example of cosmology intertwining with sacred landscape that is virtually unique in the Andes . [and] that takes on a degree of sacrality because it combines the Earth and the sky, which are also combined in Incan thought," said Reinhard, who is also a National Geographic explorer-in-residence.

While most theories about Machu Picchu emphasize either a utilitarian or spiritual aspect for the site, Reinhard and other scholars say the two ideas need not be mutually exclusive. (See Machu Picchu pictures submitted by National Geographic fans.)

"It probably was a royal [retreat] . but to say it's a retreat . doesn't tell me why it is where it is, and why so much effort went into building it," Reinhard said.

Peruvian archaeologist Cock noted that unlike many cultures today, the Inca did not distinguish between church and state, so the notion that a site could serve dual purposes would not have been unusual.

"For the Incas, the two ideas were integrated," he said. "Anywhere the emperor lived was sacred, because he was sacred."


What single archaeological site has garnered colossal historic and symbolic importance, not just for a nation but for the whole world? The answer: Machu Picchu. A sacred place that was inaccessible to outsiders for centuries, but totally accessible to local natives who for many years lived around this ruin and who may or may not have known about its universal significance and transcendence.

Among the many people who have been named as Machu Picchu discoverers, one stands out from the rest due to his connections to his Alma Mater, Yale University. This person is Hiram Bingham. Many things have been said about the teacher with a conqueror’s soul, however there’s an untold story behind the discovery of Machu Picchu.

1909 is the year that Bingham first came to Perú. He arrived at Choquequirao, also known as the sister of Machu Picchu. He arrived like an intuitive explorer, following his instincts and reading the chroniclers for clues, and started to scour the entire settlement.

1910 is another important year, the year that Alberto Giesecke PhD assumed the responsibility of leading San Antonio Abad del Cusco University. Like Bingham, Giesecke was North American. In his 14 years as Rector, he advanced many archaeological projects and excavations.

The following year, 1911, Braulio Polo y la Borda, owner of the Echarati estate in the Convencion Valley, had as his guest Dr. Giesecke, and told him that the place was littered with archaeological sites, among them Machu Picchu.

On his way back from the Convencion, Giesecke wrote to Bingham about the details of his conversation with Polo y la Borda, and that is the reason why Bingham came to the archaeological site.

Bingham had also read many chroniclers and traveler diaries, including one written by Charles Wiener, who was the first to talk about Machu Picchu in his description of Perú and the indigenous populations. Weiner’s diary is dated 1880.

Wiener was in the zone around the year 1876, compiling the information that the locals gave to him including the names of Machu and Huayna Picchu. He made around 20 maps and wrote 30 letters.

With enough information to track down the archaeological sites, Bingham obtained a scientific commission, sponsored by Yale University.

On July 1911, Bingham trekked into the Vilcabamba valley, lead by Melchor Arteaga, who took Bingham through San Miguel to Machu Picchu, arriving in a thick and wooded jungle with some buildings that couldn’t be seen. With a machete in his hand, Bingham walked through the entire place and concluded that this was where Manco Inca lived and fought against the Spanish conquers.

Now, we have to go back to the year 1902. July 14th of 1902 to be exact, which is when the real discoverer of Machu Picchu, Agustín Lizárraga, formed an expedition with his cousin, Enrique Palma Ruíz, who at the time was administrator of the Collpani Estate as well as Gabino Sánchez and his agricultural laborer Toribio Recharte. The expedition was in search of new land for agriculture.

When Lizárraga arrived, he observed the whole Machu Picchu Sanctuary and was aware that he found an amazing and breathtaking site. On a wall in the Temple of the Three Windows, he carved an an inscription that said: Agustín Lizárraga, July 14th 1902. Years later, Bingham found the inscription and recorded it in his field notes.

In 1903, Lizárraga started planting corn and other vegetables on the site’s terraces. He left the laborer, Toribio Recharte, to tend the plantation with his family, and 4 years later, in 1907, another laborer came to the place: Anacleto Álvarez, also with his family.

1904 was the year that Lizárraga began to travel with another family, the Ochoas, from the Collpani Estate, along with his estate workers.

Why is it that Hiram Bingham became the so called discoverer of Machu Picchu and gained notoriety in all newspapers and scientific reviews? The French explorer Simone Waisbard, in her book called “Machu Picchu Mysteries” said that Lizárraga was a well-versed connoisseur of the zone. It was he who spread all the information about Machu Picchu.

Alfred Bingham, Bingham´s son, in his book called “Portrait of an Explorer,” mentioned that his father omitted all references to Lizárraga. Many photographs taken by Bingham during the initial investigation of the site showed that many of the constructions were not covered in thick vegetation and these were also not included in his annotations and final conclusions.

One of the things that caught the attention of many people who studied the site, even Bingham’s son, is a line in one of Hiram Bingham’s notebooks which reads “Agustín Lizárraga was the real discoverer of Machu Picchu he lives on the San Miguel Bridge.”

In subsequent years, the mass media played an important role in elevating Bingham as the only discoverer of Machu Picchu, especially National Geographic which published articles by and about Bingham. In the eyes of the world, he remains as the only and real discoverer. It is true that Bingham was well-positioned and systematically studied Machu Picchu. It is because of him that Machu Picchu is known by the entire world. But it is equally true that he wasn’t the real discoverer of Machu Picchu.

These 2 people, Agustín Lizárraga and Hiram Bingham, who had nothing in common the first, a simple farmer with an incipient knowledge of History and Archaeology and the second, a well-respected teacher who had everything to be able to organize an expedition and surround himself with the best professionals their paths converged in this amazing discovery that changed their lives and changed the course of everything that we know about one of the most and important civilizations of all time: the Incas and the Tahuantinsuyo Empire.


While Machu Picchu’s existence was indeed ignored or rather neglected from official accounts of Peruvian history, local people did keep a memory of the site, its location, and its importance. These locals called the attention of nineteenth-century expeditionaries like Antonio Raimond i and Augusto Berns . In fact, some accounts claim that Berns did manage to find the ruins and would therefore be the actual “discoverer” of Machu Picchu. Yet no physical evidence or report of the presence of these travelers on the site exists.

By the early twentieth century, a local landowner named Agustín Lizárraga reportedly found Machu Picchu and engraved his name on the wall of the Temple of the Three Windows. While the engraving was apparently removed afterwards, another traveler of American origin – Yale history Professor Hiram Bingham III – took Lizárraga’s stories seriously and traveled to the Urubamba valley. It was 1911, and Bingham was already in the Cusco area looking for the ruins of Vitcos, which according to the scholar would have been the last Inca capital in Vilcabamba. Aided by Melchor Arriaga, a local sharecropper, and a local police officer commissioned by the Peruvian state, Bingham made his way from a plantation close to Machu Picchu called Mandorpampa – after six days of traveling through the valley – and found the first traces of what seemed to be, in his own words, “the largest and most important ruin discovered in South America since the days of the Spanish conquest.” It was noon of July 23, 1911 , and Machu Picchu had been (re)discovered and unveiled to the world.

Bingham informed Yale University about the potential of his discovery. Likewise, he requested aid from the National Geographic Society and permission from the Peruvian government to start the necessary archeological work. This work started barely three weeks after the discovery, when Bingham requested the help of H.L. Tucker and Paul Baxter Lanius, both engineers of the 1911 expedition, to draw the first map of the site. The result confirmed what Bingham had initially thought, the site was of pivotal importance: in fact, the constant presence of windows in most buildings led him to believe Machu Picchu was in reality Tampu Tocco, the mythical site where the Incas had originally emerged according to one of their foundational stories. Archeological work in Machu Picchu took place between 1912 and 1915, time in which the entire site was cleaned from brushwood and scrub that covered most of the structures, most areas were excavated and artifacts were registered and classified, and all the evidence was sent to Yale University for conservation. In 1913, National Geographic published a major report about the discovery and the unveiling of Machu Picchu was official.

A present-day view of Machu Picchu.
Photo by Boris G./Flickr

Throughout the twentieth century, Machu Picchu progressively acquired a preeminent place in national and international tourism. By the mid-twentieth century, there were many debates about the preservation and conservation of the ruins framed within a larger discussion about the situation of contemporary indigenous peoples in Peru. These debates eventually found room at the international level, and UNESCO included Machu Picchu in the list of the World Heritage Sites in 1983. Since 2007, Machu Picchu has become one of the New Seven Wonders of the World . The site has been a main source of pride for Peruvians, and its figure is a symbol – portrayed in bank notes, coins, and different logos – of the greatness of Peru’s history.


PeruRail's routes are divided into two sections.

The line between Cusco and Machu Picchu - Ferrocarril Santa Ana - is a 3 ft ( 914 mm ) narrow gauge line, which boasts a series of five switchbacks called locally 'El Zig-Zag', which enable the train to climb up the steep incline out of Cusco, before it can begin its descent to the Sacred Valley of the Incas and then continue down to Machu Picchu. However, this section of the route (between Cusco San Pedro station and Poroy) - which had been suspended - resumed by Inca Rail from May 2019. Other trains to Machu Picchu leave from Poroy, just outside Cusco, instead.

From Poroy, the narrow-gauge line goes northwest to Ollantaytambo, where the branch from Urubamba joins, then on to Machu Picchu station in Aguas Calientes. Tracks formerly continued into the jungle, but they were destroyed by recent flooding.

At its highest point, La Raya Pass ( 14°28′59″S 70°59′20″W  /  14.48306°S 70.98889°W  / -14.48306 -70.98889  ( La Raya ) ), the altitude is 4,313 m (14,150 ft). The train makes a stop in La Raya pass where there is an exquisite view over all the plains to the snowcapped mountains, and a beautiful old chapel, standing all alone in the middle of the Andean plateau.

There's no more passenger traffic between Arequipa and Matarani, and it was also suspended on the Juliaca - Arequipa line for several years until May 2017 when the Belmond Andean Explorer was inaugurated.

Route table Edit

    - port - junction - junction - break of gauge, start of 3 ft ( 914 mm ) - break of gauge, start of 3 ft ( 914 mm )
    - junction, via Arequipa - second city - railhead on Lake Titicaca - break of gauge, end of
  • 4 ft 8 + 1 ⁄ 2 in ( 1,435 mm ) standard gauge - railhead for Machu Picchu - railhead, partly via the line to Aguas Calientes

Tourist trains Edit

Cusco - Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu) Edit

On the route from Cusco to Machu Picchu, PeruRail transports the vast majority of visitors and provides several different services. [3]

The Belmond Hiram Bingham Pullman, named after Machu Picchu's American discoverer, Hiram Bingham, is the most expensive service. It departs from Poroy at 9 a.m., later than other departures. Meals, guides, bus service and entrance to the ruins are included. PeruRail's own lower category Pullman service with dining and observation/bar car resembling to Titicaca Train (see below) was introduced 2017 with the name Sacred Valley.

Other services include the observation car, provided by refurbished 1965-vintage German Ferrostaal railcars, with at-seat refreshments and large side and overhead windows allowing views of the mountainous terrain, and Expedition trains, which offer basic service in upholstered seats at a lower price. Snacks are sold and space is provided for backpacks, particularly for Inca Trail hikers.

Puno (Lake Titicaca) - Juliaca - Cusco - Arequipa Edit

The luxury sleeper train, Belmond Andean Explorer is operated from Cusco for a one-night journey to Puno, and a two-night three-day journey to Arequipa. Its carriages were formerly used on the Great South Pacific Express in Australia between 1999 and 2003, and brought to Peru in February 2016. [4]

Until the inauguration of this service in May 2017, the name was featured by a first-class service day train, which was renamed to Titicaca Train. It has Pullman-style dining cars and an open-air observation bar car similar to Hiram Bingham. This service provides a 10-hour trip from Cusco to Puno. The interiors of its vehicles were designed by James Park & Associates, the same company who designed the elegant first-class cabins for Singapore Airlines. The actual work, however, was done in Cusco by Cusquenian workers. After the refurbishment was completed, a traditional Andean ceremony, 'Pago a la Tierra' (payment to Mother Earth), was organised to 'bless' the train. A local shaman presided over the ceremony, which involved many traditional rites.

Local trains Edit

Although not advertised, PeruRail also offers local trains equipped with wooden seats and that are available only to Peruvian nationals for a fraction of the price charged to tourists.

PeruRail runs daily freight services between the port of Matarani, the city of Arequipa, and the Andean cities of Juliaca, Puno, and Cuzco. Under PeruRail's administration the tonnage transported increased from 460,000 tons [ which? ] during 1999, 573,000 tons in 2000 to 639,000 tons during 2001.

The main products transported by PeruRail are copper concentrates, fuel, wheat (for Peruvian and Bolivian consumption), coal, cement, soya flour from Bolivia, coffee, beer and non-alcoholic beverages.

Peru Rail transports copper concentrates for the most important mines in Peru, Las Bambas, Cerro Verde and other important mining clients.

The Lake Titicaca car float Manco Capac operates across Lake Titicaca between PeruRail's railhead at Puno and the port of Guaqui in Bolivia. PeruRail also owns the former ferry SS Ollanta, which was launched on Lake Titicaca in 1931. Ollanta is now refurbished for tourist cruises and PeruRail has leased her out for charter work.

What is the Machu Picchu altitude?

What many travelers don’t initially know is that Machu Picchu is significantly lower in altitude than Cusco, even though only about 50 miles (80 kilometers) separates them.

Altitude Machu Picchu: 2,430 metres (7,970 ft) above the sea level

Here, at a lower altitude in a more tropical region where the highlands meet the Amazon, the weather is more temperate than in Cusco.

Weather Machu Picchu: Generally warm and humid during the day and cool during the night. Temperatures range between 52 and 81 degrees Fahrenheit (11 and 27 degrees Celsius). This zone is normally rainy (1955 mm), especially between November and March.

Who Discovered Machu Picchu?

Harry Bingham's father's crowning achievement was his exploration of Machu Picchu almost 100 years ago. Yet Hiram Bingham III's status as the "discoverer" of the ruins is in dispute, and the Peruvian government has demanded that Yale University, where Bingham taught, return all the artifacts he took home from Inca lands.

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Bingham's persistent search for the fabled Incan capital culminated on July 24, 1911. Weary from hiking for hours, directed by a friendly pair of local farmers, he marched into the mountains accompanied by a local guide and a Peruvian policeman until "suddenly we found ourselves in the midst of a jungle-covered maze of small and large walls," he wrote in an account published in Harper's Monthly in April 1913.

"Surprise followed surprise until there came the realization that we were in the midst of as wonderful ruins as any ever found in Peru," he wrote. He had come upon Machu Picchu ("old peak" in Quechua). While there was evidence of graffiti left by a local mule driver, he added, "It is possible that not even the conquistadors ever saw this wonderful place."

Bingham's chronicle brought him acclaim ("The greatest archaeological discovery of the age," the New York Times called it), but now archaeologists in Peru contend that he was not the first outsider to come upon the 15th-century Incan city's ruins, as well he should have known.

"The presence of several German, British and American explorers is recognized, and that they had drawn up maps," says Jorge Flores Ochoa, a Peruvian anthropologist. Bingham "had more academic knowledge. But he was not describing a place that was unknown."

The contention is not new. For example, in a September 8, 1916, letter to the Times, German mining engineer Carl Haenel said he had accompanied the explorer J.M. von Hassel to the area in 1910, though he offered no documentation of such a journey. But even Bingham admitted that "it seemed almost incredible that this city, only five days' journey from Cuzco, should have remained so long undescribed and comparatively unknown."

Richard L. Burger, a professor of anthropology at Yale, where Bingham taught Latin American history from 1907 to 1915, says he's skeptical of the Peruvian assertions. If others did visit, he says, they either came to pillage or didn't recognize the site's importance. Besides, he adds, Bingham "never claimed to have been the first modern person to have set foot in Machu Picchu." In Peru, some people have called Bingham the "scientific discoverer of Machu Picchu," Burger says. "I think that is fairly accurate."

Yale, for its part, is embroiled in a dispute with the government of Peru over the artifacts and bones that Bingham brought home. In 2007, the university agreed to return most of them in exchange for keeping some for further research. In a lawsuit filed last December in federal court, however, the government of Peru said Yale must return the entire collection.

Thomas Conroy, a Yale spokesman, said the university respects Peru's interests. "We still have the same goal, to seek an ongoing collaboration which reflects Peru's interest in the material and the rest of the world's interest," Conroy says. "And Yale does think such an agreement could serve as a model or an example of how [similar] disputes could be settled."

Machu Picchu history

Inca times

Before Machu Picchu was built, this area was inhabited by nearby towns such as Vilcabamba and the Sacred Valley, which sought to expand. But after the expansion of Inca power, they became part of the growing Tahuantinsuyo Empire.

The studies agree that Machu Picchu history starty in the middle of the 15th century, it was built under the government of Emperor Pachacútec, the main responsible for the Inca expansion and its transformation from a simple manor to the magnificent empire that we now know it was.

According to Machu Picchu history, during the mandate of Wiracocha, the lordship of the Incas, was constantly threatened, by its western neighbors, the Chancas faced with the possibility of an invasion, Wiracocha, along with his heir Inca Urco, fled the city abandoning his village at the mercy of the invaders, Cusi Yupanqui, also son Wiracocha, decided to fight against the Chancas, making alliances with the local ethnic groups, in this way I could defeat them, thus saving the Inca Empire. The victory against the Chancas made the Inca Wiracocha recognize him as successor to the throne. This is how Cusi Yupanqui took the reins of what would soon become an empire of approximately 2 million m2. He went on to change his name to Pachacútec Yupanqui Cápac Intichuri, which translated into Spanish means Son of the Sun, which changes the course of the earth. With Pachacútec in command, the Inca domain ceased to be a manor to expand rapidly and become the great empire of which we have record. This time of prosperity, allowed the construction of magnificent works, being the most important the Machu Picchu Incas citadel.

Why did Pachacútec build Machu Picchu in this place?

We can conclude that the interest of Pachacútec to build a city like this, in a place like this, responds to what was admired by the place, a lush environment surrounded by natural beauty and apus (sacred mountains), which could serve as a checkpoint and colonization of an Empire that grew incredibly fast, acting as an entrance to the Antisuyo, from the heart of the empire In addition, the area gave access to important products that could only be obtained in the jungle like coca.

Perhaps the most important reason was that Pachacútec fell in love with the place, and this continues to happen with millions of people who visit Inca Machu Picchucitadel.

Reason for its construction

At first it was believed that Machu Picchu was built in order to serve as military fortress or even as a rest home for Pachacútec both hypotheses that were taken as true, lost weight with the passage of time. Comprehensive studies, carried out by some of the best specialists, have revealed that Machu Picchu was used as a place of worship, a religious sanctuary. Other speculations suggest that it served as a monastery, where the girls who would serve the Inca and the High Priest were prepared, since of the 135 bodies found, 109 turned out to belong to women. Although its use as a palace is not ruled out.

It is believed that Machu Picchu city had between 300 to 1000 inhabitants, during its time of splendor. The study of the Inca society, indicates that the manpower for the culture in the city, would have been formed by the people dominated (called mitimaes), coming from different parts of the empire


Although this is attributed to the American Hiram Bingham, other sources indicate that Agustín Lizárraga, tenant of Cuzco origin, would have arrived in the city nine years before his official discoverer. It is said that, Lizárraga left an inscription on one of the walls of the Temple of the Three Windows. Said inscription would have been documented by Bingham himself, and later erased.

The history of Lizárraga and his visits to the ancient Inca ruins, caught the attention of Hiram Bingham, who was investigating the last Inca strongholds in the area. Upon hearing these rumors, Bingham would begin the search, in the company of the Cuzco tenant Melchor Arriaga, and a sergeant of the Peruvian Civil Guard arriving in Machu Picchu, in July 1911. In the place there would be two families, the Recharte y los Álvarez, established south of the ruins. Finally a child of the Recharte would be the one who guided Bingham to the city of stone, covered by a thick vegetation.

We assume that Bingham immediately understood the enormous historical value of his find, so I requested support and auspices from Yale University, the National Geographic Society and the Peruvian government, thus the studies of the archaeological site began. Carried out since 1912 for three years. Period in which it was possible to clear the undergrowth that infested the Inca city.

In 1913, National Geographic published in one of the editions of its magazine, an extensive article of Machu Picchu, and the works that were carried out there, thus making known the lost city to the whole world. Over the years, the City of Machu Picchu would grow, acquiring tourism importance nationally and then internationally, which earned it the title of Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, in the year 1983. And On July 7, 2007, after a vote on the Internet, by millions of people around the world, Machu Picchu was declared one of the seven wonders of the modern world.


In the Quechua language, machu means "old" or "old person", while pikchu means either "portion of coca being chewed" or "pyramid, pointed multi-sided solid cone". [14] Thus the name of the site is sometimes interpreted as "old mountain". [15]

Machu Picchu is believed (by Richard L. Burger) to have been built in the 1450s. [17] Construction appears to date from two great Inca rulers, Pachacutec Inca Yupanqui (1438–1471) and Túpac Inca Yupanqui (1472–1493). [18] [19] : xxxvi There is a consensus among archeologists that Pachacutec ordered the construction of the royal estate for himself, most likely after a successful military campaign. Though Machu Picchu is considered to be a "royal" estate, surprisingly, it would not have been passed down in the line of succession. Rather it was used for 80 years before being abandoned, seemingly because of the Spanish Conquests in other parts of the Inca Empire. [17] It is possible that most of its inhabitants died from smallpox introduced by travelers before the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the area. [20]

Daily life in Machu Picchu Edit

During its use as a royal estate, it is estimated that about 750 people lived there, with most serving as support staff (yanaconas, yana) [17] [ page needed ] [21] who lived there permanently. Though the estate belonged to Pachacutec, religious specialists and temporary specialized workers (mayocs) lived there as well, most likely for the ruler's well-being and enjoyment. During the harsher season, staff dropped down to around a hundred servants and a few religious specialists focused on maintenance alone. [17] [ page needed ]

Studies show that according to their skeletal remains, most people who lived there were immigrants from diverse backgrounds. They lacked the chemical markers and osteological markers they would have if they had been living there their whole lives. Instead, there was bone damage from various species of water parasites indigenous to different areas of Peru. There were also varying osteological stressors and varying chemical densities suggesting varying long-term diets characteristic of specific regions that were spaced apart. [22] These diets are composed of varying levels of maize, potatoes, grains, legumes, and fish, but the overall most recent short-term diet for these people was composed of less fish and more corn. This suggests that several of the immigrants were from more coastal areas and moved to Machu Picchu where corn was a larger portion of food intake. [21] Most skeletal remains found at the site had lower levels of arthritis and bone fractures than those found in most sites of the Inca Empire. Inca individuals who had arthritis and bone fractures were typically those who performed heavy physical labor (such as the Mit'a) or served in the Inca military. [17] [ page needed ]

Animals are also suspected to have migrated to Machu Picchu as there were several bones found that were not native to the area. Most animal bones found were from llamas and alpacas. These animals naturally live at altitudes of 4,000 meters (13,000 ft) rather than the 2,400 meters (7,900 ft) elevation of Machu Picchu. Most likely, these animals were brought in from the Puna region [23] for meat consumption and for their pelts. Guinea pigs were also found at the site in special burial caves, suggesting that they were at least used for funerary rituals, [17] [ page needed ] as it was common throughout the Inca Empire to use them for sacrifices and meat. [24] Six dogs were also recovered from the site. Due to their placements among the human remains, it is believed that they served as companions of the dead. [17] [ page needed ]

Agriculture Edit

Much of the farming done at Machu Picchu was done on its hundreds of man-made terraces. These terraces were a work of considerable engineering, built to ensure good drainage and soil fertility while also protecting the mountain itself from erosion and landslides. However, the terraces were not perfect, as studies of the land show that there were landslides that happened during the construction of Machu Picchu. Still visible are places where the terraces were shifted by landslides and then stabilized by the Inca as they continued to build around the area. [25]

It is estimated that the area around the site has received more than 1,800 mm (71 in) of rain per year since AD 1450, which was more than needed to support crop growth there. Because of the large amount of rainfall at Machu Picchu, it was found that irrigation was not needed for the terraces. The terraces received so much rain that they were built by Incan engineers specifically to allow for ample drainage of the extra water. Excavation and soil analyses done by Kenneth Wright [26] [27] [28] in the 1990s showed that the terraces were built in layers, with a bottom layer of larger stones covered by loose gravel. [25] On top of the gravel was a layer of mixed sand and gravel packed together, with rich topsoil covering all of that. It was shown that the topsoil was probably moved from the valley floor to the terraces because it was much better than the soil higher up the mountain. [17] [ page needed ]

However, it has been found that the terrace farming area makes up only about 4.9 ha (12 acres) of land, and a study of the soil around the terraces showed that what was grown there was mostly corn and potatoes, which was not enough to support the 750+ people living at Machu Picchu. This explains why when studies were done on the food that the Inca ate at Machu Picchu, it was found that most of what they ate was imported from the surrounding valleys and farther afield. [22]

Encounters Edit

Even though Machu Picchu was located only about 80 kilometers (50 mi) from the Inca capital in Cusco, the Spanish never found it and so did not plunder or destroy it, as they did many other sites. [29] [19] : xxx The conquistadors had notes of a place called Piccho, although no record of a Spanish visit exists. Unlike other locations, sacred rocks often defaced by the conquistadors remain untouched at Machu Picchu. [30]

Over the centuries, the surrounding jungle overgrew the site, and few outside the immediate area knew of its existence. The site may have been discovered and plundered in 1867 by a German businessman, Augusto Berns. [31] Some evidence indicates that the German engineer J. M. von Hassel arrived earlier. Maps show references to Machu Picchu as early as 1874. [32]

In 1911 American historian and explorer Hiram Bingham traveled the region looking for the old Inca capital and was led to Machu Picchu by a villager, Melchor Arteaga. Bingham found the name Agustín Lizárraga and the date 1902 written in charcoal on one of the walls. Though Bingham was not the first to visit the ruins, he was considered the scientific discoverer who brought Machu Picchu to international attention. Bingham organized another expedition in 1912 to undertake major clearing and excavation. [19] : xxx–xxxi [ non-primary source needed ]

In 1981, Peru declared an area of 325.92 square kilometers (125.84 sq mi) surrounding Machu Picchu a "historic sanctuary". In addition to the ruins, the sanctuary includes a large portion of the adjoining region, rich with the flora and fauna of the Peruvian Yungas and Central Andean wet puna ecoregions. [33]

In 1983, UNESCO designated Machu Picchu a World Heritage site, describing it as "an absolute masterpiece of architecture and a unique testimony to the Inca civilization". [34]

First American expedition Edit

Bingham was a lecturer at Yale University, although not a trained archeologist. In 1909, returning from the Pan-American Scientific Congress in Santiago, he travelled through Peru and was invited to explore the Inca ruins at Choqquequirau in the Apurímac Valley. He organized the 1911 Yale Peruvian Expedition in part to search for the Inca capital, which was thought to be the city of Vitcos. He consulted Carlos Romero, one of the chief historians in Lima who showed him helpful references and Father Antonio de la Calancha’s Chronicle of the Augustinians. In particular, Ramos thought Vitcos was "near a great white rock over a spring of fresh water." Back in Cusco again, Bingham asked planters about the places mentioned by Calancha, particularly along the Urubamba River. According to Bingham, "one old prospector said there were interesting ruins at Machu Picchu," though his statements "were given no importance by the leading citizens." Only later did Bingham learn that Charles Wiener also heard of the ruins at Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu, but was unable to reach them. [19] [ non-primary source needed ]

Armed with this information the expedition went down the Urubamba River. En route, Bingham asked local people to show them Inca ruins, especially any place described as having a white rock over a spring. [19] : 137 [ non-primary source needed ]

At Mandor Pampa, Bingham asked farmer and innkeeper Melchor Arteaga if he knew of any nearby ruins. Arteaga said he knew of excellent ruins on the top of Huayna Picchu. [35] The next day, 24 July, Arteaga led Bingham and Sergeant Carrasco across the river on a log bridge and up the Machu Picchu site. At the top of the mountain, they came across a small hut occupied by a couple of Quechua, Richard and Alvarez, who were farming some of the original Machu Picchu agricultural terraces that they had cleared four years earlier. Alvarez's 11-year-old son, Pablito, led Bingham along the ridge to the main ruins. [30]

The ruins were mostly covered with vegetation except for the cleared agricultural terraces and clearings used by the farmers as vegetable gardens. Because of the vegetation, Bingham was not able to observe the full extent of the site. He took preliminary notes, measurements, and photographs, noting the fine quality of Inca stonework of several principal buildings. Bingham was unclear about the original purpose of the ruins, but decided that there was no indication that it matched the description of Vitcos. [19] : 141, 186–187 [ non-primary source needed ]

The expedition continued down the Urubamba and up the Vilcabamba Rivers examining all the ruins they could find. Guided by locals, Bingham rediscovered and correctly identified the site of the old Inca capital, Vitcos (then called Rosaspata), and the nearby temple of Chuquipalta. He then crossed a pass and into the Pampaconas Valley where he found more ruins heavily buried in the jungle undergrowth at Espíritu Pampa, which he named "Trombone Pampa". [36] As was the case with Machu Picchu, the site was so heavily overgrown that Bingham could only note a few of the buildings. In 1964, Gene Savoy further explored the ruins at Espiritu Pampa and revealed the full extent of the site, identifying it as Vilcabamba Viejo, where the Incas fled after the Spanish drove them from Vitcos. [37] [19] : xxxv [ non-primary source needed ]

Bingham returned to Machu Picchu in 1912 under the sponsorship of Yale University and National Geographic again and with the full support of Peruvian President Leguia. The expedition undertook a four-month clearing of the site with local labor, which was expedited with the support of the Prefect of Cuzco. Excavation started in 1912 with further excavation undertaken in 1914 and 1915. Bingham focused on Machu Picchu because of its fine Inca stonework and well-preserved nature, which had lain undisturbed since the site was abandoned. None of Bingham's several hypotheses explaining the site held up. During his studies, he carried various artifacts back to Yale. One prominent artifact was a set of 15th-century, ceremonial Incan knives made from bismuth bronze they are the earliest known artifact containing this alloy. [38] [39]

Although local institutions initially welcomed the exploration, they soon accused Bingham of legal and cultural malpractice. [40] Rumors arose that the team was stealing artifacts and smuggling them out of Peru through Bolivia. (In fact, Bingham removed many artifacts, but openly and legally they were deposited in the Yale University Museum. Bingham was abiding by the 1852 Civil Code of Peru the code stated that "archaeological finds generally belonged to the discoverer, except when they had been discovered on private land." (Batievsky 100) [41] ) Local press perpetuated the accusations, claiming that the excavation harmed the site and deprived local archeologists of knowledge about their own history. [40] Landowners began to demand rent from the excavators. [40] By the time Bingham and his team left Machu Picchu, locals had formed coalitions to defend their ownership of Machu Picchu and its cultural remains, while Bingham claimed the artifacts ought to be studied by experts in American institutions. [40]

Human sacrifice and mysticism Edit

Little information describes human sacrifices at Machu Picchu, though many sacrifices were never given a proper burial, and their skeletal remains succumbed to the elements. [42] However, there is evidence that retainers were sacrificed to accompany a deceased noble in the afterlife. [42] : 107, 119 Animal, liquid and dirt sacrifices to the gods were more common, made at the Altar of the Condor. The tradition is upheld by members of the New Age Andean religion. [43] : 263

Machu Picchu lies in the southern hemisphere, 13.164 degrees south of the equator. [44] It is 80 kilometers (50 miles) northwest of Cusco, on the crest of the mountain Machu Picchu, located about 2,430 meters (7,970 feet) above mean sea level, over 1,000 meters (3,300 ft) lower than Cusco, which has an elevation of 3,400 meters (11,200 ft). [44] As such, it had a milder climate than the Inca capital. It is one of the most important archeological sites in South America, one of the most visited tourist attractions in Latin America [45] and the most visited in Peru.

Machu Picchu features wet humid summers and dry frosty winters, with the majority of the annual rain falling from October through to March. [44]

Machu Picchu is situated above a bow of the Urubamba River, which surrounds the site on three sides, where cliffs drop vertically for 450 meters (1,480 ft) to the river at their base. The area is subject to morning mists rising from the river. [29] The location of the city was a military secret, and its deep precipices and steep mountains provided natural defenses. The Inca Bridge, an Inca grass rope bridge, across the Urubamba River in the Pongo de Mainique, provided a secret entrance for the Inca army. Another Inca bridge was built to the west of Machu Picchu, the tree-trunk bridge, at a location where a gap occurs in the cliff that measures 6 meters (20 ft).

The city sits in a saddle between the two mountains Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu, [29] with a commanding view down two valleys and a nearly impassable mountain at its back. It has a water supply from springs that cannot be blocked easily. The hillsides leading to it were terraced, to provide more farmland to grow crops and to steepen the slopes that invaders would have to ascend. The terraces reduced soil erosion and protected against landslides. [46] Two high-altitude routes from Machu Picchu cross the mountains back to Cusco, one through the Sun Gate, and the other across the Inca bridge. Both could be blocked easily, should invaders approach along them.

Machu Picchu and other sites in the area are built over earthquake faults. This may not be a coincidence, according to 2019 research: "One simple answer, researchers now suggest, is that that’s where building materials for the site — large amounts of already fractured rock — were readily available." [47]

Layout Edit

The site is roughly divided into an urban sector and an agricultural sector, and into an upper town and a lower town. The temples are in the upper town, the warehouses in the lower. [48]

The architecture is adapted to the mountains. Approximately 200 buildings are arranged on wide parallel terraces around an east–west central square. The various compounds, called kanchas, are long and narrow in order to exploit the terrain. Sophisticated channeling systems provided irrigation for the fields. Stone stairways set in the walls allowed access to the different levels across the site. The eastern section of the city was probably residential. The western, separated by the square, was for religious and ceremonial purposes. This section contains the Torreón, the massive tower which may have been used as an observatory. [49]

Located in the first zone are the primary archeological treasures: the Intihuatana, the Temple of the Sun and the Room of the Three Windows. These were dedicated to Inti, their sun god and greatest deity.

The Popular District, or Residential District, is the place where the lower-class people lived. It includes storage buildings and simple houses.

The royalty area a sector for the nobility, is a group of houses located in rows over a slope the residence of the amautas (wise people) was characterized by its reddish walls, and the zone of the ñustas (princesses) had trapezoid-shaped rooms. The Monumental Mausoleum is a carved statue with a vaulted interior and carved drawings. It was used for rites or sacrifices.

The Guardhouse is a three-sided building, with one of its long sides opening onto the Terrace of the Ceremonial Rock. The three-sided style of Inca architecture is known as the wayrona style. [50]

In 2005 and 2009, the University of Arkansas made detailed laser scans of the entire site and of the ruins at the top of the adjacent Huayna Picchu mountain. The scan data is available online for research purposes. [51]

Temple of the Sun or Torreon Edit

This semicircular temple is built on the same rock overlying Bingham's "Royal Mausoleum", and is similar to the Temple of the Sun found in Cusco and the Temple of the Sun found in Pisac, in having what Bingham described as a "parabolic enclosure wall". The stonework is of ashlar quality. Within the temple is a 1.2 m by 2.7 m rock platform, smooth on top except for a small platform on its southwest quadrant. A "Serpent's Door" faces 340°, or just west of north, opening onto a series of 16 pools, and affording a view of Huayna Picchu. The temple also has two trapezoidal windows, one facing 65°, called the "Solstice Window", and the other facing 132°, called the "Qullqa Window". The northwest edge of the rock platform points out the Solstice Window to within 2’ of the 15th century June solstice rising Sun. For comparison, the angular diameter of the Sun is 32'. The Inca constellation Qullca, storehouse, can be viewed out the Qullqa Window at sunset during the 15th-century June Solstice, hence the window's name. At the same time, the Pleaides are at the opposite end of the sky. Also seen through this window on this night are the constellations Llamacnawin, Llama, Unallamacha, Machacuay, and the star Pachapacariq Chaska (Canopus). [52] [53]