Machu Picchu is a 15th-century Inca citadel situated on a mountain ridge 2,430 meters (7,970 ft) above sea level. It is located in the Cusco Region, Urubamba Province, Machupicchu District in Peru, above the Sacred Valley, which is 80 kilometres (50 mi) northwest of Cuzco and through which the Urubamba River flows.
Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was built 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 is a real architectural jewel. The beauty and misery of its walled ruins, once palaces of the finest Inca stonework, are augmented even more by the lush, almost virginal landscape of the surroundings.
Green jungle flora suffuses the abrupt topography. Orchids add a strange brilliance. The ruins blend harmoniously amid the narrow and uneven topography.
It is an indisputable fact, however, that Bingham was the first person to visit Machu Picchu prompted by scientific interests.
And none can argue the fact that, in the end, it was Bingham who made Peru’s most precious archaeological monument world famous.
After his important scientific find, Bingham returned to the spot in 1912, 1914 and 1915, accompanied by various scientists, in order to draw up maps and explore in detail the site and its surroundings.
His rather unorthodox excavations of various spots in Machu Picchu allowed him to gather 555 vessels, nearly 200 objects of bronze, copper, and silver as well as objects of stone and other materials.
The group of ceramics shows graceful forms of Inca art.
The same must be said of the metal objects found: the bracelets, decorative pins, earrings, knives, and axes.
Even though he turned up no gold pieces, his findings were sufficient to prove that Machu Picchu dated back to the times of the Inca grandeur, a fact the architectural style had already indicated.
Mystery surrounds Machu Picchu’s precise function because the Incas didn’t reveal its existence during the Spanish conquest.
Various hypotheses, however – many stemming from Bingham himself – attempt to explain these mysteries.
Bingham judged as important the presence of a magnificent building with three broad windows. He believed that these alluded to Tamputoco, the mythic cradle or birthplace of the elite Inca.
Later, Bingham believed that the Machu Picchu was the Inca refuge called Vilcabamba “the old” or Vilcabamba “the great”.
There, the defeated chief Manco Inca and his court fled after the siege of Cusco in 1536, the failed Indian revolt against their Spanish conquerors.
Luis E. Valcarcel developed another theory. He believes Machu Picchu could be Vitcos, the legendary fortress occupied by the Incas during the resistance against the Spanish crown.
Valcarcel based this theory on the similarity between “Picchu” and “Vitcos”.
The strategic position of Machu Picchu has generated another, especially popular, hypothesis.
This theory says the “fortress” served as an outpost, serving the Inca’s pretensions to dominate the region of the Amazonia, near Cusco.
Concerning this theory, it helps to be aware of the scenes that show confrontations between the Inca soldiers and simple combatants called “chunchos” the jungle natives.
These scenes are depicted on lacquered wooden cups made by the Incas.
Bingham also based his theories on the many remains of women discovered.
He believed that the occupants were “Allcas”, or women of the sun, the keepers of the temple rituals and those who fled from Cusco upon the arrival of the Spaniards.
For the evidence to be convincing, it would still be necessary to find a greater number of remains. One thing is certain, however.
The architectural style pottery and metal objects prove that the ruins flourished during the classical Inca period (1438-1531) which ended the tradition of Andean cultures stretching over 3,000 years.
One can also conclude that Machu Picchu was an important centre of worship and ceremonies.
The evidence for this includes the mountain city’s enigmatic altars, its magical fountains and, certainly, its hidden and almost inaccessible character.
Its very nature as a highly sacred spot probably dictated the scenery, which surrounded its existence.
The three sectors of Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is the impressive historic sanctuary that is divided into 3 sectors: the agriculture sector, the urban sector and a third denominated Huayna Picchu.
The most comprehensive and easy to identify sector is the agricultural sector, that somehow embraces the citadel that surrounding it completely.
The citadel is constituted by buildings of various sizes and from different nature as; houses, deposits, temples. All interconnected by streets and trails.
Apparently, the entire population were settled in the city, was not people from nearby localities, conversely, were people from different places and areas and more distantly.
Many archaeologists have matched that the majority of Machu Picchu people were women, who were responsible for the farm work.
Also, they were dedicated to a specialist manufacturer of weaving and the production ceramics.
In Machu Picchu the population lacked warriors because was and is a perfect ceremonial centre, occupied for at least three generations of Incas, the citadel was abandoned in a sudden decision and that still remains a mystery.