Ruins of Machu Picchu Ruins of Machu Picchu

Mysterious Ruins of Machu Picchu

The ruins of Machu Picchu are the most visited tourist destination in Peru and one of the most beautiful and enigmatic ancient sites in the world. Considered a masterpiece of engineering and architecture, it is a mandatory destination for anyone who is backpacking in Peru. Machu Picchu, meaning Old Peak in the Quechua language, can’t be compared with any other South American archaeological site when it comes to visitor numbers and broad appeal; coach tourists mingle with backpackers and hardcore hikers at the ruin every day of the year. Only Sacsayhuamán in Cuzco – which is usually part of a Machu Picchu itinerary – is comparable for sheer scale and architectural audacity. Machu Picchu is one of the few major pre-Columbian ruins found almost intact; it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983.
The Machu Picchu archaeological complex is located about 80 km (50 mi) northwest of Cuzco, Peru, in the Cordillera de Vilcabamba of the Andes Mountains. It is perched above the Urubamba River valley in a narrow saddle between two sharp peaks – Machu Picchu (Old Peak) and Huayna Picchu (New Peak) – at a height of 2,350 meters (7,710 feet) above sea level.
The impressive archaeological site was built at the height of the Inca Empire, which dominated western South America in the 15th and 16th centuries. Legends and myths indicate that Machu Picchu was revered as a sacred place from a far earlier time. Many modern-day archaeologists now believe that Machu Picchu served as a royal estate for Inca emperors and nobles. Whatever its origins, the Inca turned the site into a small (5 square miles) city. Invisible from below and completely self-contained, watered by natural springs and surrounded by agricultural terraces sufficient to feed the population, Machu Picchu seems to have been utilized as a secret ceremonial city. Separated into two sectors: the agricultural, urban and religious; there are main squares, storehouses, workshops, stairways, temples, palaces, cables and water fountains which run through both sectors. The architectural design was based on Cusco, the capital of the Inca empire. Machu Picchu was built according to its natural surroundings, with its constructions following the natural curves and dips and rises in the land. The archaeological excavation showed the land was previously given granite foundations with little surrounding soil. The agricultural and urban sectors are split by a dry ditch, the result of a geographic fault line.

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The site was abandoned an estimated 100 years after its construction, probably around the time the Spanish began their conquest of the mighty pre-Columbian civilization in the 1530s. Nevertheless, there is no evidence that the conquistadors ever attacked or even reached the mountaintop citadel. Other sources say that the residents’ desertion occurred because of a smallpox epidemic. Although the site escaped detection by the Spaniards, Machu Picchu’s existence was not widely known in the West until it was discovered in 1911 by the Yale University professor Hiram Bingham. Bingham spread the word about his discovery in a best-selling book - The Lost City of the Incas.
Although, other explorers reached the site during the 19th and early 20th centuries, they simply less vocal about what they uncovered there, that is why Bingham was credited with making Machu Picchu known to the world.
Machu Picchu was further excavated in 1915 by Bingham, in 1934 by the Peruvian archaeologist Luis E. Valcarcel, and in 1940–41 by Paul Fejos, which have shown that Machu Picchu was one of a series of pucaras (fortified sites), tambos (travelers’ barracks, or inns), and signal towers along the extensive Inca foot highway.
Set in humid subtropical forests, Machu Picchu, provides a protected habitat for ferns and palms and several endangered species, notably the spectacled bear. Another rather unique creatures is the alpaca. Alpaca fibres are very soft and warm making their fleece an ideal choice for clothing material. They also have the widest variety of colors in their fleece with over 22. The Incans used their wool to create beautifully woven and colorful clothing. The highlands of Machu Picchu are also host to over 420 species of birds; many of them are also endemic. Some of the most commonly cited birds are the White-Tipped Swift, the Versicoloured Barbet, and the Collared Trogon.
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