Machu Picchu


            The next day we drove back to Ollantaytambo, from Urubamba, to take the train to Machu Picchu...a two hour ride through the incredible valley of the Andean mountains.   We dropped about 2,000 feet in altitude as the train traveled from Ollantaytambo (8,500 feet altitude) to the town of Aguas Caliente in the valley below Machu Picchu.   We then had to take a bus up a narrow dirt road through a series of sixteen switchbacks gaining 2.000 feet in altitude until we finally reached Machu Picchu.  


            Leaving our duffle bags at the only hotel located directly at Machu Picchu, we walked into the ancient Inca ruins.  It was and is a most incredible site to behold…. an ancient city that defies imagination and the laws of gravity, physics and architecture for its awe inspiring size and complexity and is amazing not only for its time, but even for today.   It was lost to history after the Incas abandoned the city in the 1500s and was resurrected by Hiram Bingham in the early 1900’s.  


The Ancient City of Machu Picchu

Inca's Abandoned City of Machu Picchu

Hiram Bingham, a professor at Yale University, searched for the site of this ancient Inca city and only came upon its presence through persistent contact with local farmers in the region.   When found it was completely covered with overgrown vegetation leaving its incredible beauty and prominence hidden.   The uncovered ruins were opened for the world to see and to try and understand its place in history.


Machu Picchu appears to be perched high in the clouds surrounded by the huge peaks of the Andean mountains.   Since the Incas did not have a written language to document the history of Machu Picchu, as I indicated earlier, we could only speculate about the origin of this ancient city.  It is believed that maybe 800 to 1,000 people actually lived here, but others claim that it was not a city, but a religious retreat or even a way of defending the valley below as Machu Picchu looks down on the Urubamba River. 



Machu Picchu, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is comprised of approximately two hundred buildings, most being residences, although there are temples, storage structures and other public buildings all on five square miles of terraced surfaces. The massive stonework is a polygonal masonry, characteristic of the late Inca period.


The structures are built of granite blocks cut with bronze or stone tools, and smoothed with sand. The blocks fit together perfectly without mortar, although none of the blocks are the same size and each have many faces. The joints are so tight that even the thinnest of knife blades can't be forced between the stones. Another unique thing about Machu Picchu is the integration of the architecture into the landscape. Existing stone formations were used in the construction of structures.  Sculptures are carved into the rock; water flows through cisterns and stone channels and temples hang on steep precipices.


Granite Block Structures Terraces of Machu Picchu

The houses had steep thatched roofs and the trapezoidal doors and windows were of unusual design. Some of the houses were two stories tall with the second story probably reached by a ladder.   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. 


Because the Spanish never found Machu Picchu, it remained intact. Mummies have been found there with most of the mummies being the remains of women.  Few people outside the Inca’s closest followers were ever actually aware of Machu Picchu’s existence. Before the Spanish conquistadors arrived in Peru, the smallpox epidemic spread ahead of them.  By 1527, a majority of the population had been killed by the disease and the government began to fail.  Part of the empire seceded and it fell into civil war. So by the time Francisco Pizarro, the Inca’s conqueror, arrived in Cuzco in 1532, Machu Picchu was never acknowledged by the Spaniards.


Incredible Views of Machu Picchu