Machu Picchu: A Forgotten Story

What makes it fall in the prestigious list of the “Seven Wonders of the World”? In this article we will look into the scenic beauty as well the historical significance of Machu Picchu, an ancient Inca city located in Peru at a whopping 7290feet. One of the most popular tourist centres, Machu Picchu has been included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Site was also voted as one of the seven wonders of the world in the year 2007.


Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu (Image source: Wikipedia)

When it was discovered by Yale University professor, Hiram Bingham III in 1911, it was largely intact and untouched. He found that the buildings were built without mortar which was a signature of the Inca civilization. The extensive use of finely and precisely cut granite in their buildings was also something the Incas were really good at, exactly the condition which he noticed at Machu Picchu. It also housed a lot of vegetation which was grown on terraced plains.


Machu Picchu is an incredible ancient human settlement in the mountains that was built with the minimal available machinery. The quality of construction and dedication sets an example as the city is still intact. While tourists get amazed to see the architectural beauty of the town, archaeologists get astounded by finding perfect usage of every structure and no single waste of manpower in the whole construction.


  • Machu Picchu was estimated to be built in the mid-1400s by the 9th Inca ruler, Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui.
  • Along with the brilliant architecture, the location of the buildings adds to the tranquillity and beauty of Machu Picchu.
  • It is located between the Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu mountains in Peru. It lies 2430 meters above the sea level overlooking the Urubamba River which is hundreds of feet below.
  •  It is like a balcony seat to the beauty that nature has to offer.
  • The site occupies an area of 80,000 acres, also some part dedicated to terraced agriculture to grow crops like maize and potatoes.


Layout of Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu was divided into two sectors, Agricultural and Urban which were separated by a ditch which was a result of a geographic fault line. The entire city was shaped according to what nature intended the land there to be. The Incas shaped the land according to the dips and rises of the land.


The Agricultural Sector consisted of terraced plains to grow crops and prevent soil erosion from the rains. There was a water channel through the central terrace only. The lower terraces also provided a foundation to the structure above them. Rooms made of granite were present near the upper terrace. The Urban Sector consisted of the main squares, royal estates, store houses, temples, workshops, cables, stairways and water fountains. Needless to say, the urban sector was built for a rich residential purpose


The terraced agricultural sector (Image courtesy of Christophe Meneboeuf/Wikipedia)

At the main gateway was a “Control Gate” which rose above the agricultural and urban sectors. There were four main squares at different levels in the city pointing out to the main landmarks. A little to the outskirts of the town, there were the cemeteries, where archaeologists found human remains and stone carvings which were offerings from the people. There were also rocks with indentations which look like they can support a human lying on his back, which may have meant for sacrifice.


Historical Significance
Machu Picchu – The Emperor’s Retreat:

Archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was built as a royal estate for the upper class of the Inca society. The supporting evidence for this was the existence of royal residences in the north east sector of the site. Alongside these royal people, there also existed the farmers and builders to support life at such an altitude keeping them away from all tensions. The emperor, Pachacuti whose rule saw the birth of Machu Picchu, was very much involved in the architectural development of his empire. He spread out his conquests to extend the Inca kingdom from Ecuador to Chile. In fact the emperor himself along with his family had an estate in the south-west sector. Not a permanent residence, but he used it as a get-away from all the politics and fighting. His estate had a private garden, private bath, a private toilet area (the only one in Machu Picchu) and the stair cases from his compound led down to plaza where his family and the royals could gather. Peace existed throughout the lifetime of Machu Picchu as there were no signs of any war or plundering of the place. There weren’t even the military camps anywhere near Machu Picchu.


The other important structures of the Machu Picchu were the temples. The Inca people worshipped the nature and most importantly, the “Sun”. There were many religious centres in Machu Picchu showing that it was rich on a religious aspect also.

The Principal Temple

The “principal temple” was found next to the plaza of the King’s abode. It contained a rigorously carved stone altar which when excavated, revealed a layer of white sand. The temple that Bingham had found was named so because the similar layering of white sand had also been found in the temples belonging to the capital of the Incan Kingdom, “Cuzco”.


The “Intihuatana” Mystery

The biggest mystery of all that was found at Machu Picchu was the “Intihuatana”. It is a huge rock found among other carved stones found. This particular rock was found on top of a raised platform, showing that it had some sort of special significance. Other than the many theories which put forward, there is no definitive proof telling us the exact purpose of that platform. Till recently it was believed that it was a sort of sundial but that was disproved. It is however very likely that “Intihuatana” has been a place for astronomic observations and various religious rituals. Most of the archaeological databases that researched on it term Intihuatana as “Hitching Post of the Sun”.


Intihuatana Solar Clock

The “Intihuatana” rock lying on a raised platform (Image source: Wikipedia)

The Temple of the Sun

The most magnificent part of the Machu Picchu, it was built so precisely so as to align perfectly with the Sun’s path during a Summer Solstice (time of the year when the day is the longest as compared to the night). It was an elliptically shaped structure with a rock inside which served as an altar. The sun’s light shined directly through a window and onto the rock therefore illuminating the rock on the Summer Solstice.


The temple of the sun “Torreon”

The temple of the sun “Torreon” (Image source: Wikipedia)

Why did it die Away?

During the 16th century, the Spanish entered the South American continent. The “Spanish Conquistadors” saw to the fall of the Inca empire. The Inca military did not survive leading to the fall of the Inca capital. The year 1572 saw the fall of the last Inca capital. Machu Picchu never survived the Spanish invasions. There were also proofs of communicable diseases such as small pox that took the Incas by surprise.


The once flourishing site Machu Picchu came to an end when there weren’t any emperors left to visit and develop the site.

  • Gyanesh

    Excellent and informative article.