May 1, 2018 – Aguas Calientes to Cusco, Peru
This morning we made our way to the bus which took us to the top of Machu Picchu. It was a 20 minute drive to the top over a gravel road which made many, many switchbacks as it climbed to the entrance of Machu Picchu. The trail to hike to the top kept crossing and re-crossing the road. There is not enough money in the world for me to have climbed up – even if I was 50 years younger.
I used my trekking poles and was able to make all but one of the steep ascents and descents over stairs of uneven heights thanks to all my fellow travelers and to Cheo. When you walk through the entrance and finally see it up close the only word which comes out of your mouth of WOW!!!! There are 274 structures on the site of which 100 are housing. Each house was home to 8-10 people which means that the city was not large in population. The other 174 structures were granaries, temples and fortress/watch towers. This city was built as the Incas were planning on conquering the rest of South America. They were planning to move into Brazil, and this fort would have given them a launching pad. There are over 30,000 miles of road built by the Incas which connect Cusco, the capitol, Machu Picchu and many other Inca cities. These roads provided the means for trade as well as conquest. Machu Picchu was never finished because of the Spanish invasion and their conquest of the Inca.
The climb to the Sun God temple was just not possible for me. I could have made it up there maybe, but the ascent was so steep that I know I would have frozen when I started down and been unable to move. While the rest of the group did that trek, I sat and watched people. It was interesting to say the least. There was one girl on crutches who was going to try to see the site. Since there were steps everywhere, I’m not sure how far she was going to get. There was another with a sprained ankle which she had packed in ice. Evidently she and a group had hiked up, and she had sprained her ankle on the way. One of the boys was giving her a piggy back ride. I’m not sure how far they got because as I said the ascents were steep and the steps were uneven. Another girl wasn’t watching where she was going and tripped over a dog which was taking a nap. As I’ve mentioned before, I think, dogs here just nap wherever and whenever they please. Pedestrians and cars just go around them. So, the dog was a little annoyed (he opened his eyes and looked sorrowfully at her) when she tripped over him. I don’t think I’ve mentioned that we never saw dogs growling at each other. There were lots of them roaming free, but they all seemed to get along even when they were raiding a trash can.
We caught the bus back to Aguas Calientes and had lunch at the same place we ate at yesterday. From there it was a short walk to the train. Cheo always seems to find a celebration of some kind going on in almost every place we’ve been, but he outdid himself on the train ride back to Urubamba. The train had to stop for a few minutes, and we noticed that there was a crowd sitting around a field and that there were several bulls on tethers along the edge of the field. While we were waiting for the train to start up again, we got to see a bull fight. This bull fight was between 2 bulls. They were led into the field and turned loose to go at each other. One was stronger than the other, and it didn’t take him long to drive the other one away. No animals were hurt in this bull fight. Way to go Cheo! Always finding something to entertain us.
There was a bus waiting for us at Urubamba to bring us back to Cusco. We arrived here about 7:30. Some of the group was going to dinner. I decided that I would pass, have a snack here in the room and make an early night of it.
Machu Picchu is a 15th-century Inca citadel situated on a mountain ridge 7,970’ above sea level. It is located in the Cusco Region, Urubamba Province, Machupicchu District in Peru above the Sacred Valley, which is 50 miles northwest of Cusco.
Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was constructed as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438–1472). Often mistakenly referred to as the "Lost City of the Incas" (a title more accurately applied to Vilcabamba), it is the most familiar icon of Inca civilization. The Incas built the estate around 1450 but abandoned it a century later at the time of the Spanish Conquest. 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.
Machu Picchu was built in the classical Inca style, with polished dry-stone walls. Its three primary structures are the Intihuatana, the Temple of the Sun, and the Room of the Three Windows. Most of the outlying buildings have been reconstructed in order to give tourists a better idea of how they originally appeared. By 1976, thirty percent of Machu Picchu had been restored and restoration continues.
Machu Picchu was declared a Peruvian Historic Sanctuary in 1981 and an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. In 2007, Machu Picchu was voted one of the new Seven Wonders of the World in a worldwide Internet poll.
In the Quechua language, machu means "old" or "old person", while picchu means "peak; mountain or prominence with a broad base that ends in sharp peaks", hence the name of the site means "old peak".
During its use as a royal estate, it is estimated that no more than 750 people lived there at a time. Most people were support staff who lived there permanently. Though the estate belonged to Pachacutec, religious specialists and temporary specialized workers 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 only on maintenance.
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. 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. 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.
Not only people were suspected to have immigrated to Machu Picchu. There were several animal bones found that were not native to the site. Most animal bones found were from llamas and alpacas. These animals naturally live in altitudes of 14,000’ above sea level rather than the mere 8,000’ Machu Picchu rests on. Most likely, these animals were brought in from the Puna Region 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 as it was common throughout the Inca Empire to use them for sacrifices and meat. 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.
Studies have shown that 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. However, the terraces were not perfect, as studies of the land show that there were landslides that happened during the construction of Machu Picchu. It can still be seen where the terraces were shifted by landslides and then stabilized by the Inca as they continued to build around the area.
It is estimated that the area around the site has received more than 72 inches of rain per year since 1450 AD which was more than needed to support crop growth. 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 specifically to allow for ample drainage of the extra water. Excavation and soil analyses done by Kenneth Wright in the 1990'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 richer than the soil higher up the mountain.
However, it has been found that the terrace farming area makes up only about 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. 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 and farther afield.
Although it was located only about 50 miles from the Inca capital in Cusco, the Spanish never found Machu Picchu and so did not plunder or destroy it as they did many other sites. The conquistadors had notes of a place called Piccho although no record of a Spanish visit exists. The types of sacred rocks defaced by the conquistadors in other locations are untouched at Machu Picchu.
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. Some evidence indicates that German engineer J. M. von Hassel arrived earlier. Maps show references to Machu Picchu as early as 1874.
In 1911 American historian and explorer Hiram Bingham travelled the region looking for the old Inca capital and was led to Machu Picchu by a local farmer. Bingham brought Machu Picchu to international attention and organized another expedition in 1912 to undertake major clearing and excavation. He returned in 1914 and 1915 to continue with excavation.
In 1981, Peru declared an area of 125.84 square miles 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 “ecoregions”. 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".
Bingham was a lecturer at Yale University although not a trained archaeologist. In 1909, returning from the Pan-American Scientific Congress in Santiago, he traveled 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, a historian in Lima who showed him helpful references and Father Calancha’s Chronicle.
Armed with this information the expedition went down the Urubamba River. En route Bingham asked local people to show them Inca ruins. By the time they camped at Mandor Pampa, with Huayna Picchu 2000 feet above them on the opposite bank, they had already examined several ruins, but none fit the descriptions of Vitcos.
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. The next day, 24 July, Arteaga led Bingham and Sergeant Carrasco across the river on a log bridge and up Huayna Picchu. At the top of the mountain they came across a small hut occupied by a couple of Quechua who were farming some of the original Machu Picchu agricultural terraces that they had cleared four years earlier. The 11-year-old son of the Quechua led Bingham along the ridge to the main ruins.
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.
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 into the Pampaconas Valley where he found more ruins heavily buried in the jungle undergrowth at Espiritu Pampa which he named "Eromboni Pampa". 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.
On the return of the expedition up the Urubamba River, Bingham sent two men to clear and map the site he referred to as Machu Picchu. When Bingham failed to identify the ruins at Espiritu Pampa as Vilcabamba Viejo, he erroneously theorized that Machu Picchu was Vilcabamba Viejo. Machu Picchu features spectacular workmanship and a dramatic site, while Vilcabamba was built while the short-lived remnant Neo-Inca State was being vanquished by the Spanish. It was built quickly and features crude workmanship.
Bingham returned to Machu Picchu in 1912 under the sponsorship of Yale University and National Geographic and with 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.
Although local institutions initially welcomed the exploration, they soon accused Bingham of legal and cultural malpractice. 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). Local press perpetuated the accusations, claiming that the excavation harmed the site and deprived local archaeologists of knowledge about their own history. Landowners began to demand rent from the excavators. 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. (In 1912, 1914 and 1915, Bingham removed thousands of artifacts from Machu Picchu—ceramic vessels, silver statues, jewelry and human bones—and took them to Yale University for further study, supposedly for 18 months. Yale instead kept the artifacts until 2012, arguing that Peru lacked the infrastructure and systems to care for them.)
There is little information describing human sacrifices at Machu Picchu. Many sacrifices were never given a proper burial, and their skeletal remains succumbed to the elements. However, there is evidence that retainers were sacrificed to accompany a deceased noble in the afterlife. Animal, liquid and dirt sacrifices to the gods were much more common. These were made at the Altar of the Condor. The tradition is upheld by members of the New Age Andean religion.
Machu Picchu lies in the southern hemisphere, 13.164 degrees south of the equator. It is located about 7,970’ above sea level. It is over 3,300’ lower than Cusco which has an elevation of 11,800’. As such, it has a milder climate than the Inca capital. It is one of the most important archaeological sites in South America. It is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Latin America and the most visited in Peru.
Machu Picchu has wet and dry seasons with the majority of annual rain falling from October through April.
Machu Picchu is situated above a bow of the Urubamba River, which surrounds the site on three sides, where cliffs drop vertically for 1,480’ to the river at their base. The area is subject to morning mists rising from the river. 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 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 20’. It could be bridged by two tree trunks, but with the trees removed, there was a 1,870’ fall to the base of the cliffs.
The city sits in a saddle between the two mountains Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu 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. 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.
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.
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.
Located in the first zone are the primary archaeological 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 persons) was characterized by its reddish walls, and the zone of the nustas (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.
The Intihuatana stone is one of many ritual stones in South America. These stones are arranged to point directly at the sun during the winter solstice. The name of the stone (perhaps coined by Bingham) derives from the Quechua language: inti means "sun", and wata-, "to tie, hitch (up)". The suffix -na derives nouns for tools or places. Hence Intihuatana is literally an instrument or place to "tie up the sun" which is often expressed in English as "The Hitching Post of the Sun". The Inca believed the stone held the sun in its place along its annual path in the sky. The stone is situated at 13°9'48" S. At midday on 11 November and 30 January, the sun stands almost exactly above the pillar, casting no shadow. On 21 June, the stone casts the longest shadow on its southern side, and on 21 December a much shorter shadow on its northern side.
Inti Mach'ay is a special cave used to observe the Royal Feast of the Sun. This festival was celebrated during the Incan month of Qhapaq Raymi. It began earlier in the month and concluded on the December solstice. On this day, noble boys were initiated into manhood by an ear-piercing ritual as they stood inside the cave and watched the sun rise.
Architecturally, Inti Mach'ay is the most significant structure at Machu Picchu. Its entrances, walls, steps and windows are some of the finest masonry in the Incan Empire. The cave also includes a tunnel-like window unique among Incan structures, which was constructed to only allow sunlight into the cave during several days around the December solstice. For this reason, the cave was inaccessible for much of the year. Inti Mach'ay is located on the eastern side of Machu Picchu, just north of the "Condor Stone." Many of the caves surrounding this area were prehistorically used as tombs, yet there is no evidence that Mach'ay was a burial ground.
The central buildings use the classical Inca architectural style of polished dry-stone walls of regular shape. The Incas were masters of this technique, called ashlar, in which blocks of stone are cut to fit together tightly without mortar.
The section of the mountain where Machu Picchu was built provided various challenges that the Incas solved with local materials. One issue was the seismic activity due to two fault lines. It made mortar and similar building methods nearly useless. Instead, the Inca mined stones from the quarry at the site, lined them up and shaped them to fit together perfectly, stabilizing the structures. Inca walls have many stabilizing features: doors and windows are trapezoidal, narrowing from bottom to top; corners usually are rounded; inside corners often incline slightly into the rooms; and outside corners were often tied together by "L"-shaped blocks; walls are offset slightly from row to row rather than rising straight from bottom to top.
Heavy rainfall required terraces and stone chips to drain rain water and prevent mud slides, landslides, erosion and flooding. Terraces were layered with stone chips, sand, dirt and top soil, to absorb water and prevent it from running down the mountain. Similar layering protected the large city center from flooding. Multiple canals and reserves provide water throughout the city that could be supplied to the terraces for irrigation and to prevent erosion and flooding.
The Incas never used wheels in a practical way, although their use in toys shows that they knew the principle. The use of wheels in engineering may have been limited due to the lack of strong draft animals, steep terrain and dense vegetation. The approach to moving and placing the enormous stones remains uncertain, probably involving hundreds of men to push the stones up inclines. A few stones have knobs that could have been used to lever them into position; the knobs were generally sanded away, with a few overlooked.
The Inca road system included a route to the Machu Picchu region. The people of Machu Picchu were connected to long-distance trade as shown by non-local artifacts found at the site. For example, Bingham found unmodified bosidian nodules at the entrance gateway. In the 1970s, Burger and Asaro determined that these obsidian samples were from the Titicaca or Chivay obsidian source and that the samples from Machu Picchu showed long-distance transport of this obsidian type in pre-Hispanic Peru.
Machu Picchu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, both cultural and natural. Since its discovery in 1911, growing numbers of tourists visit the site yearly, reaching 400,000 in 2000. As Peru's most visited tourist attraction and major revenue generator, it is continually exposed to economic and commercial forces. In the late 1990s, the Peruvian government granted concessions to allow the construction of a cable car and a luxury hotel, including a tourist complex with boutiques and restaurants and a bridge to the site. Many people protested the plans, including Peruvians and foreign scientists, saying that more visitors would pose a physical burden on the ruins. A no-fly zone exists above the area. UNESCO is considering putting Machu Picchu on its List of World Heritage in Danger.
During the 1980s a large rock from Machu Picchu's central plaza was moved to a different location to create a helicopter landing zone. In the 1990s, the government prohibited helicopter landings. In 2006, a Cusco-based company, Helicusco, sought approval for tourist flights over Machu Picchu. The resulting license was soon rescinded.
Nude tourism is a recent trend, to the dismay of Peruvian officials. In several incidents, tourists were detained for posing for nude pictures or streaking across the site. Peru's Ministry of Culture denounced these acts for threatening Peru's cultural heritage. Cusco's Regional Director of Culture increased surveillance to end the practice.