The mighty Inca Empire — the last of the great Andean civilizations — rose from the Peruvian highlands in the early 13th century. Controlling a population of 10 million, they were the last fully developed indigenous civilization before Columbus arrived in the Americas. There is nothing more symbolic of their culture than the great archaeological site of Machu Picchu. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is not only Peru’s most visited monument, but has also been named one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. Built in 1450 and abandoned a century later, the complex gives us an incredible insight into Inca daily life, religion and technical prowess. Here are 7 impressive facts about Machu Picchu.
Despite being only 70 kilometers from Cusco, Machu Picchu seems to be far away. Every year, over 1.5 million tourists come here for the arduous walk, or the scenic train ride. Many dream to see this gem of the Inca Empire. If you’re still unsure if this architectural and cultural marvel is worth a visit, check out some incredible facts about Machu Picchu. And once you’re ready to make the trip, be sure to choose a worthy excursion to help make the process easy and memorable.
1. This is a complex of buildings
Machu Picchu is not a single architectural structure, but a complex of more than 150 buildings. These include baths and residences, as well as sanctuaries and temples. However, much of Machu Picchu is organized around three main structures — the Intihuatana, the Temple of the Sun, and the Room of the Three Windows. Many of the secondary buildings are actually replicas that have been erected to give visitors a better idea of what Machu Picchu originally looked like.
2. Machu Picchu is located at a high altitude
Let’s start with a well-known fact — Machu Picchu is located at an altitude of 2429 meters above sea level on a cliff overlooking the Urubamba River. This trip is not for the faint of heart. Visitors should prepare not only for a physically demanding hike on the trail, but also for possible altitude sickness. Visitors are advised to spend a few days in Cusco, which is at a higher altitude, to get used to the conditions. Locals recommend chewing coca leaves to relieve symptoms.
3. Incredible engineering feat
While the site is located on the side of a cliff, the Incas did their best to keep Machu Picchu alive for centuries. The complex includes the construction of more than 600 terraces to provide stability so that the structures do not slide down the mountain.
In order to ensure proper water supply, a 776 meter long canal was designed to supply water to the city center and supply the fountains. This water was also used for complex irrigation systems that irrigated farmland and fed the population. These systems were so well designed that they are still in operation today with only minor repairs.
4. Perfect fit of stones
With such good engineering skills, it is clear that construction was the Inca’s forte. Incredibly heavy granite stones for the construction of the structure were delivered up the side of the mountain without the use of vehicles. Each stone has been carved to perfection using a technique called ashlar. Each stone converges perfectly tightly without the use of any mortar.
5. The name has a deep meaning
Quechua was the language of the Inca empire and is still spoken today in parts of the Peruvian highlands. Machu means «old», while picchu means «pyramid or cone». Many interpret the name as «Old Mountain».
6. Emperor’s Rest House
It is believed that Machu Picchu was a royal estate commissioned by the ninth Inca ruler Pachacuti Yupanqui after a military victory. Responsible for expanding the Inca empire throughout South America, Pachacuti used Machu Picchu as a desirable vacation spot for himself and his family. Most of the other inhabitants of Machu Picchu were caretakers and support staff, with many only coming when the emperor lived there.
Located next to the Temple of the Sun, the emperor’s dwelling includes a private garden, a separate bathhouse and the only private toilet in the complex.
See also — Top 6 interesting facts about the Great Wall of China on LifeGlobe.
7. The complex was not discovered by the Spaniards
When the Spanish conquistadors put an end to the Inca Empire, they destroyed most of the cities. Luckily they didn’t find Machu Picchu. In fact, there is only one mention of «Picchu» in Spanish documents, implying that it belonged to the Inca emperor.
It is not really clear why the Incas abandoned Machu Picchu, although there are theories that a smallpox outbreak killed most of its inhabitants before the arrival of the Spaniards. The hidden location allowed the city to remain intact until 1911, when Professor Hiram Bingham III of Yale University discovered the densely vegetated complex.
Below is a list of short facts about Machu Picchu that will also interest you:
- The Peruvian government has petitioned the US government for the return of more than 40,000 artifacts collected by Hiram Bingham and delivered to Yale University. They consist of mummies, bones, ceramics and precious metals.
- The ruins of Machu Picchu were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 and are on the list of the New 7 Wonders of the World.
- Machu Picchu is located at an altitude of 2400 meters above sea level.
- The settlement was strategically located on a mountain range through which the Urubamba River flows.
- The «Lost City of the Incas», as it is commonly known in Peru, is the most important archaeological site in South America and is regularly visited by tourists from all over the world.
- Machu Picchu is famous for its three significant buildings, namely the Intihuatana, the Temple of the Sun and the Room of the Three Windows.
- Most of the Inca cities were destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors. However, the fact that this city was tucked away in the mountains away from the eye of observation makes Machu Picchu one of the best preserved places in South America.
- Tourists wishing to visit the ruins can stay in the village of Aguas Calientes, which is located at the foot of the mountains.
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