Visiting Machu Picchu
Since its rediscovery in 1911 and the initial exploration by an American team of Yale archaeologists over the next 4 years, the ruins of Machu Picchu have echoed far beyond the simple archaeological state. Reputed as the legendary “lost city of the Incas”, it is full of mystery and folklore. It is classified as the main attraction in Peru, possibly the largest in South America and one of the most impressive places in the world. Countless bright photographs of the stone ruins, which connect the gap between two huge Andean peaks and shrouded in clouds, simply do not do it justice.
Machu Picchu remained inactive for more than 4 centuries, is almost 2,400m above sea level under the dense jungle and was known only by a handful of Amerindian peasants. Apparently it was lost in the collective memory of the Incas and their descendants. However, the discovery of the ruins raised more questions than it answered, and experts still argue about the place that Machu Picchu occupied in the Inca Empire.Was it a citadel? An agricultural site? An astronomical observatory? A ceremonial city or sacred retreat for the Inca emperor? Or some combination of all these? Adding to the mystery, this complex city of architecture and fine masonry was built, inhabited and deliberately abandoned in less than a century: a simple glimpse into the history of 4,000 years of Andean Peru. Machu Picchu, however, is not that lost city (which was discovered deeper in the jungle of Espiritu Pampa). Most historians believe that the ninth Inca emperor, Pachacutec was the one who founded the Inca Empire, established many of the characteristics of his society and built most of the largest and most recognizable Inca monuments, The latest research findings indicate that it was a real retreat for Inca leaders rather than a sacred city. Never plundered by the Spanish, many of its architectural features remain in excellent condition, even if they finally do little to advance our understanding of the exact nature of Machu Picchu.
One thing is certain: Machu Picchu is one of the best examples of landscape art in the world. The Incas venerated nature, worshiping celestial bodies and more terrestrial currents and stones. The spectacular surroundings of Machu Picchu reveal how much they delighted in their surroundings. The steep terraces, the gardens and granite temples, the stairs and the aqueducts seem to be carved directly from the hillside. The shapes echo the shape of the surrounding mountains, and the windows and instruments seem to have been built to track the sun during the June and December solstices. Machu Picchu is 1,000 meters (3,000 feet) lower than Cusco, but you would imagine exactly the opposite, so you will find the ruins between the tops of the mountains and the clouds.
Appreciating Machu Picchu for its aesthetic qualities is not slight to its importance. The Incas, obviously, chose the site because of the immense power of its natural beauty. They, like us, must have admired the snowy peaks of the east; the rugged panorama of the towering wooded mountains and the sacred Putukusi cliff to the west; and the city sitting gracefully like a proud saddle between two huge hills or peaks. It remains one of the most exciting places in the world.
It is not a world of women: for years, it was thought that Machu Picchu had been populated almost completely by the “Virgins of the Sun” chosen by the Inca.
Bingham and his associates originally reported that more than three-quarters of the human remains found on the site were women. However, these findings have been refuted; The sexual composition of the inhabitants of Machu Picchu was not different from that of any other place in society: almost 50/50.
Named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1983 and declared one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World”, the image of Machu Picchu around the world continues to grow, as well as the number of people who wish to visit the ruins. More than 4,000 visitors per day visit Machu Picchu during the high season, from May to October, and more than 1 million people visit Machu Picchu annually.
Perhaps the worst moments to visit are from July 28 to August 10, when for the Peruvian national holidays come to Machu Picchu incalculable groups of schoolchildren and families, or the solstice days (June 21 and December 21), when all descend on the ruins to take a look at the dazzling effects of the sun’s rays. During the rainy season (November to March), it is very likely to rain for brief periods during the day, and Machu Picchu is usually obscured by clouds in the morning.
English speaking guides can be arranged independently on the site; most charge around $ 40 for a private 2-hour visit. Visitors can sometimes connect with a group established for just over $ 7 per person.
After entering, you can head to the left and up the hill, or to the right. The road on the left takes you to the place on the ruins, near the guardian’s house and the funerary rock, which offers a general view of the classic postcard of Machu Picchu.
From this point of view, you can clearly see the complete design of Machu Picchu, which had defined agricultural and urban areas; a long dry pit separates the two sectors.
Down a steep series of stairs is one of the most famous Inca constructions, the Temple of the Sun (also called the Tower). The rounded and sharp tower has an extraordinary masonry, the most refined of Machu Picchu: its large stones fit perfectly. From the ledge above the temple, you can see the window perfectly aligned for the winter solstice of June 21, when the sun’s rays filter at dawn and illuminate the stone in the center of the temple. The temple is cordoned off, and entry is not allowed. Below the temple, in a cave carved into the rock, is a section traditionally called the Royal Tomb, although no human remains have been found there. Inside there is a meticulously carved altar and a series of niches that produce intricate morning shadows. To the north there is a water channel that still works and a series of interconnected sources. The main source (the third) is distinguished by its size and excellent stonework.
Climbing the stairs to the top of the ruins (north of the quarry) is the main ceremonial area. The Temple of the Three Windows, each extraordinarily cut trapezoid allows beautiful views of the Andes. In front of one side of the Sacred Plaza, on the left, if you are facing the Temple of the Three Windows, there is the Main Temple, which has master masonry in its three high walls. Directly opposite is the Priest’s House. behind the main temple is a small cell, called the house of ornaments, famous for its exquisite masonry and where the famous stone of 32 angles is located.
Climbing a short flight of stairs is the Intihuatana, popularly called the “solar clock”. It seems to be a carved ritual rock, its shape resembling that of the sacred Huayna Picchu peak beyond the ruins. The stone probably functioned as an astronomical and agricultural calendar (useful for judging the alignment of constellations and solar events and, therefore, the seasons). It seems to be strongly connected to the mountains in all directions. Near the square is a huge sculpted sacred rock, whose shape imitates that of the Yanantin, the sacred peak that rises eastward through the valley. This area probably served as a common area for meetings and perhaps performances. Many locals (like visitors) believe that the Sacred Rock transmits an energy force.
To the left of the Sacred Rock, by a path, is the entrance to Huayna Picchu, the great outcrop that serves as the dramatic backdrop of Machu Picchu. The steep road leads to most visitors around two hours, Please note that only 400 people per day (admitted in two groups: 7-8am and 10-11am) can go up and there is an additional cost associated. If you are interested in ascending to Huyana Picchu for the views and the exercise, make your reservations as far in advance as possible
The lower section was more prosaic in function, mainly residential and industrial. Eventually, you will arrive at a series of cells and rooms, called the Group of Three Doors and the District of Mortar or Industrial Sector. By far, the most interesting part of this lower section is the Temple of the Condor. It is said to be a giant condor carving, the dark rock above symbolizes the wings of the great bird and the pale rock below clearly represents its head. You can actually crawl through the cave at the base of the rock and emerge from the other side.
In addition to the main complex, west of Machu Picchu, there is the Inca Bridge, built on stacked stones and overlooking a steep drop of almost 700 meters. Critical for the defense of the citadel, you can reach the bridge in an easy half hour from a clearly marked narrow path.
For those who want more from Machu Picchu, it is worth going up to Intipunku (Puerta del Sol). The path just below the caretaker’s hut leads to the final step of the route used by the Inca Trail hikers to enter the ruins. The views from the entrance, with Huayna Picchu in the background, are spectacular.