Machu Picchu


Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu (sometimes called “the Lost City of the Inca”) is a well preserved Pre-Columbian town located on a high mountain ridge (at an elevation of about 6,750 feet) above the Urubamba valley in modern-day Peru. The name Machu Picchu literally means “old peak”. It is thought the city was built by the Inca Pachacuti starting in about 1440 and was inhabited until the Spanish conquest of Peru in 1532. Archeological evidence (together with recent work on early colonial documents) shows that it was not a conventional city; rather it was a sort of country retreat town for the Inca and other nobility. The site has a large palace and temples around a courtyard, with other dwellings for the support staff. It is estimated that a maximum of only about 750 people resided in Machu Picchu at any one time, and probably only a small fraction of that number during the rainy season and when no nobles were visiting.

It is thought that the site was chosen for its unique location and geological features. It is said that the silhouette of the mountain range behind Machu Picchu represents the face of the Inca looking upward towards the sky, with the largest peak, Waynapicchu, representing his nose. The Inca believed that the solid rock of the Earth should not be cut and so built this city from rock quarried from loose boulders found in the area. Some of the stone architecture uses no mortar, but rather relied on extremely precise cutting of blocks that results in walls with cracks between stones through which a credit card will not pass.

The city became re-introduced to larger society by Yale historian, Hiram Bingham, who first visited it on July 24, 1911. Bingham was exploring old Inca roads in the area. Bingham was led to Macchu Picchu by Quechuans or Incans who were living in Macchu Picchu in the original Incan infrastructure. Bingham made several more trips and conducted excavations on the site through 1915. He wrote a number of books and articles about Machu Picchu; his popular account Lost City of the Incas became a best-seller.

In 1913 the site received a significant amount of publicity after the National Geographic Society devoted their entire April 1913 issue to Machu Picchu.

The site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a popular tourist attraction. In 2003, some 400,000 people visited Machu Picchu, and UNESCO has expressed concern about the damage this volume of tourism is causing to the site. Peruvian authorities insist that there is no problem, and that the remoteness of the site will impose natural limits on tourism. 

One of the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s best-known works is “The Heights of Macchu Picchu”, inspired by the city.


Inti Raymi


Inti Raymi

Sacsayhuamán (aka Saqsaywaman) are walls near the old city of Cuzco. Some believe the walls were a form of fortification. While others believe it was only used to form the head of the Puma that Sacsayhuamán along with Cuzco form when seen from above. Like all Inca stonework there is still mystery surrounding how they were constructed.

Today, the annual Inca festival celebrating the winter solstice and new year, Inti Raymi, is held near Sacsyhuamán on June 24th.

Today, it’s the second largest festival in South America. Hundreds of thousands of people converge on Cuzco from other parts of the nation, South America and the world for a week long celebration marking the beginning of a new year, the Inti Raymi, the Festival of the Sun.

The centerpiece of the festival are the all-day celebrations on June 24, the actual day of Inti Raymi. On this day, the ceremonial events begin with an invocation by the Sapa Inca in the Qorikancha square in front of the Santo Domingo church, built over the ancient Temple of the Sun. Here, the Sapa Inca calls on the blessings from the sun. Following the oration, Sapa Inca is carried on a golden throne, a replica of the original which weighed about 60 kilos, in a procession to the ancient fortress of Sacsayhuamán, in the hills above Cuzco. With the Sapa Inca come the high priests, garbed in ceremonial robes, then officials of the court, nobles and others, all elaborately costumed according to their rank, with silver and gold ornaments.

A white llama is sacrificed (now in a very realistic stage act) and the high priest holds aloft the bloody heart in honor of Pachamama. This is done to ensure the fertility of the earth which in combination with light and warmth from the sun provides a bountiful crop. The priests read the blood stains to see the future for the Inca.




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 Chauchilla an old cemetery from the Nasca Culture, located 30 kilometres (19 mi) south of the city of Nazca in Peru. The graves are actually adobe tombs and some are open for us to see. The mummies are in the fetal position. This represented leaving earth in the same way that they had entered it. They were in “sacks” which were tied at the neck, exposing their heads and they faced east, looking for the sunrise each day. Around them were pots of food and drink for the afterlife. Some of them are believed to be priests or shamans as they had never cut their hair. Their bleached white skulls had 2 to 3 meters hair attached. The tombs would be reopened when a family member died and there was a separate tomb for each generation,

The bodies are so remarkably preserved due mainly to the dry climate in the Peruvian Desert but the funeral rites were also a contributing factor. The bodies were clothed in embroidered cotton and then painted with a resin and kept in purpose-built tombs made from mud bricks. The resin is thought to have kept out insects and slowed bacteria trying to feed on the bodies.

The nearby site of Estaquería may provide clues to the remarkable preservation of the numerous bodies in these cemeteries. At that site, archeologists found wooden pillars initially thought to have been used for astronomical sightings. However, it is now believed that the posts were used to dry bodies in a mummification process. This may account for the high degree of preservation seen in thousand-year-old bodies which still have hair and the remains of soft tissue, such as skin.


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