Machu Picchu – an icon of the Inca civilization
Even the location is magic – placed on a mountain ridge at 2,430 meters (7,970 ft) above sea level in the Eastern Cordillera of southern Peru between the two mountains Huayna Picchu (2720 meters) and Machu Picchu (2430 meters). In the picture you see how Machu Picchu is built on the ridge with Huayna Picchu in the background.
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.
Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was constructed as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438–1472). It is the most familiar icon of Inca civilization. The Incas built the estate around 1450-1460, but abandoned it a century later at the time of the Spanish Conquest. Its construction appears to date to the period of the two great Inca rulers, Pachacutec Inca Yupanqui (1438–71) and Túpac Inca Yupanqui (1472–93). It was only used for approximately 80 years before being abandoned seemingly due to destruction of the Spanish Conquests in other parts of the Inca Empire (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Machu_Picchu).
What makes it so special, is that the ruins are very intact, because the Spanish Conquistadors never found it. Although known locally, it was not known to the Spanish during the colonial period and remained unknown to the outside world until American historian Hiram Bingham brought it to international attention in 1911. When Machu Picchu was discovered, it was covered in jungle vegetation, and a lot of restoration and rebuilding have been done since.
The famous Bingham rock “the sacred rock”, which have the same shape as the mountain behind it
Machu Picchu was built in the classical Inca style, with polished dry-stone walls. The Incas were masters of this technique, called ashlar, in which blocks of stone are cut to fit together tightly without mortar.
During its use as a royal estate, it is estimated that no more than 750 people lived there at a time, most people being support staff, who lived there permanently. During the harsher season, staff dropped down to around a hundred servants and a few religious specialists focused only on maintenance.
The people, who worked at Machu Picchu had heavy physical labor and/or served in the Inca military: The skeletal remains found at Machu Picchu are also unique in their level of natural bone damage from laborious activities. Most people found at the site had lower levels of arthritis and bone fractures found in most sites of the Inca Empire. Inca individuals that have arthritis and bone fractures are typically those who performed heavy physical labor and/or served in the Inca military.
Standing in the middle of the granite quarry
Much of the farming done at Machu Picchu was done on the hundreds of man-made terraces there. 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.
Machu Picchu receives an average of 1829 mm of rain per year, for comparison Denmark receives 792 mm per year. Machu Picchu has wet and dry seasons, with the majority of annual rain falling from October through to April. The big amount of rain means that irrigation was not needed for the terraces. The terraces received so much rain, that they were built specifically to allow for ample drainage of the extra water. Today the grass grown really well in the terraces.
Excavations in the 90’s showed that the terraces were built in layers, with a bottom layer of larger stones covered by loose gravel. On top of the gravel was a layer of mixed sand and gravel packed together, with rich topsoil covering all of that. It was proven that the topsoil was probably moved from the valley floor to the terraces because it was much more rich than the soil higher up the mountain. Corn and potatoes were the most used crops, but it was not enough to support the people living at Machu Picchu. Therefore, when studies were done on the food that the Incas ate at Machu Picchu, it was found that much of what they ate was imported to the area from the surrounding valleys.
The Intihuatana stone is one of many ritual stones in South America, and its four corners are oriented toward the four cardinal points. The Inca were accomplished astronomers, and used the angles of the pillar to predict the solstices. These stones are arranged to point directly at the sun during the winter solstice (the 21st of June).
The Mirror Pools (left picture), the Inca’s built these wide shallow water pools to reflect the night sky, making observations of the stars easier. The Temple of the Condor (right picture), is a breathtaking example of Inca stonemasonry. A natural rock formation began to take shape millions of years ago and the Inca skillfully shaped the rock into the outspread wings of a condor in flight. On the floor of the temple is a rock carved in the shape of the condor’s head and neck feather (Source: http://www.peru-machu-picchu.com/condor-temple.php).
The central plaza – overview and close up
We visited Machu Picchu in the afternoon from 12.00 pm to 17.30 pm with just the normal ticket (if you want to climb mountain Machu Picchu or Huayna Picchu, you have to buy this a ticket several weeks in advance). Even with the normal ticket you have the opportunity to walk to “the Sun Gate”, which also offers great views of Machu Picchu.
You can also walk to the old Inca bridge, which probably have been an escape route for the royals
How many tourist are there? We thought, that it would be way more crowded. 2500 people can enter in the morning and additional 2500 can enter after 12 pm. There are a lot of trails, that spreads out all the visitors, and only a few places where it can get crowded.
Avoid being caught in a big group, and the longer you stay at the site, the less people
Machu Picchu is a “budget-breaker”, read more about how much money we spend in Peru here: “Expenses in Peru (30 days of travel in a van)”. At the same time, this is just a place, that we didn’t wanted to miss! Return ticket for the train from Ollantaytambo to Agua Calientes 270 USD (2 persons), bus from Agua Calientes to Machu Picchu 50 USD (2 persons) and entry ticket 99 USD (2 persons). You can do the math if you want it per person. In total 419 USD for a full day visit to Machu Picchu for 2 persons. We did enjoy every second, and we had a great visit. Since it is expensive make sure, that you have enough time. Machu Picchu closes at 5.30 pm, and our train didn’t depart before 20.50 (you have to be at the train station 30 minutes before departure 20.20 pm), and we enjoyed having time to see Agua Calientes.
On the train towards Agua Calientes
Killing time by exploring Agua Calientes (also called village of Machu Picchu) before taking the train back to Ollantaytambo at 20.50 pm
Traditional dancing by the locals
Art in the streets. The picture to the left represent “Pachamama”, which is the ancient Andean goddess of fertility, harvesting, planting and abundance. She wields the power to sustain life on earth. “Pachamama” means Mother Earth and is the supreme giver of life and sustenance. The Incas sacrificed llamas to her in the hopes of good harvests, to attract wealth and repel evil or harmful forces.
It was time to jump on the train and go back to Ollantaytambo. On our way to the train we passed a Peruvian hairless dog, which origins in the pre-Inca cultures. History really is all around you here in Peru.
See you in the next post, and learn more about overlanding in Peru.