THE ROYAL ESTATE OF
Peru is famous throughout the world because of Cuzco, and the latter in turn owes its fame to Machu Picchu. This Inca citadel, due to its incomparable beauty, harmonious setting and the energy it seems to radiate, is one of the privileged few major monuments of humanity, forming part of the World's Cultural Heritage, as defined by UNESCO.
In July 1911 an American scientific expedition led by Hiram Bingham explored the Urubamba river canyon, a hot and wet area, densely overgrown with vegetation and offering an imposing landscape combining the distant snowcapped peaks with gigantic precipices overhanging the foamy river rapids; the explorers were stunned by the beauty of this scenery. However, Bingham was obsessed with the idea of discovering Tamputocco, the mythical city of the first Inkas, mentioned in some of the chronicles.
On July 24 that year, after a difficult ascent of the mountain locally known as Machu Picchu (2,350 meters above sea level), Bingham found hidden in the undergrowth a cluster of ruins of unimaginable beauty. The explorer thought he had found the lost capital of the Inkas, without imagining that instead of solving a mystery, he was creating another that would last throughout the 20th century, extending even to the present day.
If this citadel, whose elegant buildings had nothing to envy the most beautiful constructions of the world's oldest civilizations, was not Tamputocco, What was it then? Why was it not mentioned by chroniclers? this researcher's inability to answer these questions at the time created a mystery fed by the most imaginative theories.
The territory where it is located had been conquered by Pachacutec, a ruler whose merit it was to convert the small kingdom of the Inkas, limited to the area around Cuzco, into an enormous and powerful empire. This noted leader decided to build a testimony to his military feats on the mountain named Machu Picchu. He had previously built other such testimonies in his youth, after conquering Ollantaytambo and Pisac, two places where imposing monuments dating from that time are still to be seen.
Pachacutec remained in his people's memory as the leader who reformed their religion, organizing all the aspects of their religious worship; this is what leads one to believe that Machu Picchu was chosen by its founder as an appropriate spot to pay homage to the gods of the Inca Empire.
Some of the buildings were finely finished, making them suitable as residences for the ruler; a great number of others, however, suggested a religious purpose. The surrounding landscape with its impressive snowcapped peaks and abysses, as well as the careful location at a hairpin bend in a deep canyon combines the essential features one would expect in a religion centered on man's relationship with nature.
Pachacutec is likely to have visited this impressive fortress from time to time, as families of royal lineage lived here together with the priests and priestesses of the Sun God, of the Apus (snowcapped peaks), and of Mother Nature. The inhabitants did not number more than one or two thousand, and consumed the crops grown on the surrounding agricultural terraces, as well as the nearby terrace clusters, such as Wiñay Wayna.
After the Spanish conquest, this sacred place, which could only exist as an adjunct to a state, lost its significance. Not only had the gods worshipped here been substituted by another religion, but the local inhabitants, such as the farmers, servants and general population felt the time had come to return to their places of origin.
It was natural that the conquistadors should not have paid much attention to a place such as Machu Picchu, so distant and impractical for them at that time; however, they failed to realize that these farming complexes of the Incas were a showplace for a prodigy of hydraulic engineering; the only thing that really interested the conquistadors was taking up positions near the richest cities, so as to pillage the greatest possible amount of gold as possible, as well as obtaining as much slave labor as they could. This fact, over time, led to their gradual forgetting about Machu Picchu, letting it disappear amid the undergrowth and, paradoxically, preserving it until the present day.
Machu Picchu is by far Peru's most important tourist attraction. It is three hours by train from the imperial city of Cuzco, but also accessible by helicopter (30'), or on foot along the ancient Inka Trail (4 days); it is considered one of the world's most extraordinary landscaping efforts. This marvel is located at the summit of a mountain overlooking the deep canyon of the Urubamba river, in the midst of the jungle; it consists of two clearly differentiated agricultural and urban areas. The former consists of five clusters of terraces, irrigated by a water system winding its way down through a series of channels and pools. The latter, considered to be a sacred area, is formed by a cluster of temples, plazas and royal mausoleums, in exquisitely finished stonework, such as the Temple of the Three Windows that evokes the mystical origin of the Inkas. The central plaza contains a sacred stone, a prime feature of important Inka complexes. Completing the whole are the priests' houses, hostels and tombs. Stairways, streets, alleys and carved stone irrigation channels are a constant feature in this archaeological site, facing which rises the spectacular Huayna Picchu mountain, accessible along a steep stone walkway.
If you wish to visit this wonderful complex, we would not venture to make any suggestions since there is already such a wide offer of visiting options that any suggestion of ours would seem to be unnecessary. We are sure that, unless you happen to be cut off from the outside world, before reading this article you must have heard about the existence of this monument.