Machu Picchu overview
C-Arial Machu Pichu by, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Machu Picchu is an Incan city lying on a mountain ridge at an altitude of about 2.430 metres above sea level. It is located in the Cusco Region in Peru. It was voted one of the new seven wonders of the world in 2007.

Short History

Machu Picchu was built at around 1450, probably as an estate for the Incan emperor Pachacuti. The city was only in use for about 100 years. In 1572 Machu Picchu was abandoned because of the Spanish invasion.

The Spanish never found the city, so it wasn’t plundered like many other Incan cities. Machu Picchu was only known to the local population, so it was left in peace for almost 350 years.

In 1911, American explorer Hiram Bingham rediscovered Machu Picchu, with the help of a local farmer. The site was overgrown with trees, vines and was covered in moss. Bingham spent the following years clearing the site and excavating it. During this time, he took thousands of objects to the US for examination. Most of these objects remained at the Yale university until 2012, when they returned to Peru after some years of dispute between Yale and Peru.

Machu Picchu hillside
Hillside at Machu Picchu by David Stanley, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Layout and Architecture

The city has 2 main areas: an agricultural area and an urban area. The agricultural area do not have open fields as this is impossible alongside a mountain ridge. The fields have a terrace structure, running alongside the mountain.

Machu Picchu masonry
P1010436 by cudinski, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

The urban area has a residential area and a religious area, where various ceremonies in honor of their gods were be held. The buildings in these areas are made using large gray granite blocks. The Incas did not use mortar or cement. Their stonemasons flattened the edges and rounded the corners in such a way that one block interlocked perfectly with the one next to it. The craftsmanship is amazing, even to this day.

This area also holds the Intihuatana stone. This is a ritual stone, dedicated to their sun God named Inti. The cool thing is that at midday on 11 November and 30 January, the sun stands directly above the stone, casting no shadow at all. The longest shadow is cast on 21 June on the southern side, a shorter shadow is cast on 21 December, this time on the northern side of the stone.

Human Sacrifice

Was human sacrifice practiced at Machu Picchu? Probably, yes. But it is believed this was only done in times of despair, as a deed to please the gods. They also had the unfortunate habit of sacrificing young children because they were considered “pure”. Mostly, the cildren also came from respected families. It’s thought they felt little pain as the children were probably heavily drugged with coca leaves.