Machu Picchu, Peru
Machu Picchu in Peru, which means ‘Old Peak,” is one of the most enigmatic ancient sites in the world. According to legend, Machu Picchu was long ago considered to be a sacred place. The credit for the creation of the extraordinary city goes to the Inca people who have erected many stone structures and turned the place into a work of art.
Two thousand feet above the Urubamba river, these ruins consist of baths, temples, palaces, and about 150 houses, all very well preserved. These gray granite structures, some of which weigh more than 50 tons, are so perfectly sculpted that they are nothing less than works of architectural genius. They were rediscovered by a Yale archaeologist in 1911. The ethereal beauty, workmanship, and history of the place attracts millions of tourists each year.
Machu Picchu was built around 1450, at the height of the Inca Empire. The construction of Machu Picchu appears to date from the period of the two great Incas, Pachacutec Inca Yupanqui (1438–71) and Tupac Inca Yupanqui (1472–93). It was abandoned just over 100 years later, in 1572, as a belated result of the Spanish Conquest It is possible that most of its inhabitants died from smallpox introduced by travelers before the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the area. The latter had notes of a place called Piccho, although there is no record of the Spanish having visited the remote city. The types of sacred rocks defaced by the conquistadors in other locations are untouched at Machu Picchu.
Although the citadel is located only about 80 kilometers (50 mi) from Cusco, the Inca capital, the Spanish never found it and consequently did not plunder or destroy it, as they did many other sites. Over the centuries, the surrounding jungle grew over the site, and few knew of its existence.
Hiram Bingham was an American historian employed as a lecturer at Yale University; he was not a trained archaeologist. In 1909, on his way back from attending the Pan-American Scientific Congress in Santiago, he traveled through Peru and was invited to explore the Inca ruins at Choqquequirau in the Apurimac Valley, which gave him an interest in Inca ruins, and an introduction to Peruvian President Augusto Leguía. He organized the 1911 Yale Peruvian Expedition with one of its objectives to search for the lost city of Vitcos, the last capital of the Incas. He researched sources and consulted Carlos Romero, a historian in Lima who showed Bingham helpful references and Father Calancha’s Chronicle.