While there is no harm in showing up to Machu
Picchu without knowledge of Machu Picchu history,
it is more rewarding if you have an idea of how the city
once was and how it is likely to have functioned. Situated
at around 8,000 feet above sea level in the Andes
Mountains, the first thing you might notice about this
ancient city is how protected and secluded it is. The
obscurity of Machu Picchu was enough to keep it hidden
from the Spanish invaders, who were waging a relatively
long series of wars with the Inca throughout the region.
After the fall of ancient Machu Picchu, for reasons which
are still wholly unknown, it would “disappear”,
surviving only in the minds of a small percentage of natives
who knew about it. In the year 1911, Yale archaeologist
and academic, Hiram Bingham, discovered the ruins of Machu
Picchu on a small expedition that had been sponsored by
both Yale University and the National Geographic Society.
Upon his discovery, Bingham was under the impression that
he had found the city of Vilcabamba, which was the Inca
Empire’s last stronghold. That notion was soon put
to rest, and one year later Bingham returned with an expedition
to clear away hundreds of years of vegetation. That job
took no less than 3 years, and Bingham exported a good
amount of Inca artifacts back to the United States in
the process. After decades of dispute, Yale University
and Peru have agreed to eventually return the artifacts
to Peru to be housed in a museum in Cusco.
Even if you take the time to research Machu Picchu history, you can still end up in the dark as to what the exact purpose of the city was. Scholars claim that when it comes to facts Machu Picchu must have been built some time around the year 1450 AD. Upon the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors in the 1500"s, civil war was already threatening to put an end to a cohesive Inca Empire, and since many of the Spanish had made allies out of a good number of Inca citizens, it seems that at some point the Spanish would have learned about Machu Picchu’s existence. Since it appears that the Spanish knew nothing about ancient Machu Picchu, it is thought by some that the Inca people of the time knew nothing about it either. Thus, it is surmised that Machu Picchu fell on its own, without the aid of Spanish invaders. The style of building found at Machu Picchu in Peru hints at it being constructed in the “late imperial Inca” period, during the reign of Inca Pachacutec. Since academics argue that Machu Picchu was built during this time, it only leaves a span of about 100 years for ancient Machu Picchu to have thrived. This leads us to an examination of Machu Picchu’s possible purpose within the Inca Empire.
While a number of theories could be conjured up as to
how ancient Machu Picchu was used, it is of the most recent
consideration that the city was an important administrative
center for the region. It is here and around Cusco that
you will find the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and in cities and towns like Cusco, Pisac and Ollantaytambo, further
Inca ruins demonstrate the reach of the empire in the
immediate vicinity. It is also believed by some that ancient
Machu Picchu was also a ceremonial center of sorts, capitalizing
on its spiritually-invigorating location. According to
some theories, Machu Picchu also existed as a center of
control for conquered regions, serving also as a sort
of base for Incan aristocracy should they find themselves
under attack. According to an archaeologist by the name
of J.H. Rowe, however, the idea is that Machu Picchu history
sees the city as a sort of royal estate for Pachacutec.
Rowe, like some, believes that the city was populated
primarily by Pachacutec’s “family clan”.
This theory also contributes the notion that because of
the spiritual richness of its natural surroundings, it
was a most sacred center. Thus, the Inca
Trail would not merely have been a road between settlements,
but instead a route of pilgrimage.
As for secondary purposes, some believe that Machu Picchu history includes the city’s participation either as a look-out post or a protected source of coca. The coca plant was used for religious purposes by the Inca, and it remains widely used by natives to this day. If you are suffering from altitude sickness in the Andes Mountains, chewing on the coca leaves or steeping them as a tea helps to relieve the symptoms. The Inca revered the beauty of the natural earth, and it is hard to argue that Machu Picchu might have been simply a spiritual place. To this day, the magical energy that one feels at Machu Picchu makes for a good case that Machu Picchu was a place from which to worship the mountains, rivers and rocks, as well as the sun, the moon, and the stars. The surviving Temple of the Sun bolsters this claim indeed. When Inca rulers died, it was customary to build new royal retreats for the next Inca, and this leads some to believe that upon the death of Pachacutec, Machu Picchu came to fall by the wayside. Some academics claim that the water supply may have dried up for enough time to lead to the city’s demise. We will likely never have all the answers when it comes to Machu Picchu history, so you may feel free to develop some of your own opinions once you get there. Regardless of exactly how and why it was, Machu Picchu in Peru is the country’s top destination for a reason. It will simply take your breath away, much like it did to Hiram Bingham back in 1911.