Hidden behind rocky mountains and the beautiful scenery of Peru, lays one of the world’s greatest curiosities- Machu Picchu. It sits 7,970 feet above sea level on the eastern slope of the Andes and overlooks the Urubamba River hundreds of feet below. This magical and historical site is filled with precious artifacts and some many man made wonders. On a hot month of July in 1911, a professor at Yale University, Hiram Bingham discovered the beautiful land of Machu Picchu. While with a small group of explorers, Birmingham was determined to find Vilcabamba, the last capital of the Inca before their final defeat at the hands of the Spanish in 1572. This ancient capital was also known as the famous “lost” cities of the Incas The laborious expedition first started when Birmingham and his team were traveling by mule from Cusco to Urubamba Valley. They encountered an elderly farmer who told them a story about an Inca town that used to be high in the mountains. The farmer called the mountain Machu Picchu, which meant “Old Peak” in the native Quechua language. On the next rainy day (on July 24), Birmingham and a group of peasants set off to go to the top of the mountains. This tough climb took over 12 hours and they were led by an 11 year-old boy. This is when he first saw the ancient civilization. He found it covered with vegetation, much of which has now been removed. The buildings were made without mortar (typical of the ancient Inca), their granite stones quarried and precisely cut. Birmingham took photos, drew sketches, and wrote a novel of the mesmerizing scene. He quickly returned to America and spread the news about his unbelievable findings. This attracted thousands of people to come to Peru and visit the lost city of the Incas, Machu Picchu. Even though Machu Picchu was discovered in 1911, there is over thousands of years of history behind the breathtaking site. Since the Incas did not have a written language, the real purpose for the building of Machu Picchu is not clear. It remains a mystery and is open to many theories and speculation. Even though there are over hundreds of theories why the sacred land was built, one of the most popular theories is that it was a royal retreat for the emperors. It was built as a refuge for Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui (the ninth ruler of the Inca, in the mid-1400s). The fortress was located on the eastern slopes of the Vilcanota mountain range, about 80 miles from Cusco, the capital of the empire- its strategic location was chosen with admirable success. Surrounded by steep cliffs and away from the sight of attackers in a tangled forest, the land of Machu Picchu had the quality of having only one narrow entrance, allowing, in case of a surprise attack, to be defended by very few warriors. Another common theory is that it was a sacred religious site. It’s remote, far away from the center of the Inca Empire, off the main axis, and off to the east in the mountains. The reason the emperor, Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui built it there is because it’s special in terms of spiritual connections. The location was also rich in huacas (sacred places and objects) such as rock formations and springs. Priests and architects observed the movement of the sun, moon and stars and noticed how huacas lined together during astronomical events such as solstice sunrises. The emperors, priests, and high society members would ride mules late at night to come pray through the windows of the ancient site. These observations were taken into account when deciding the location of buildings and the direction the doors and windows would face.
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