Machupicchu was constructed around 1460AD then was abandoned less than 100 years later. It is likely that most of its inhabitants were wiped out by smallpox before the Spanish conquistadores arrived. Hiram Bingham the credited discoverer of the site, along with several others, originally hypothesized that the citadel was the traditional birthplace of the Inca people or the spiritual center of the "Virgins of the Suns”.
Machupicchu is a city located high in the Anden Mountains in Peru. It lies 43 miles northwest of Cuzco at the top of a ridge, hiding it from the Urabamba gorge below. The ridge is between the highlands and the massive Huayna Picchu, around which the Urubamba River takes a sharp bend. The surrounding area is covered in dense bush, some of it covering Pre-Colombian Machupicchu cultivation (which means "Old Peak") was most likely a royal estate and religious retreat. It was built between 1460 and 1470 AD by Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, an inca ruler. The city has an altitude of 8,000 feet, and is high above the Urubamba River canyon cloud forest, so it is likely that it did not have any administrative, military or commercial use. After Pachacuti’s death, Machupicchu became the property of his allus, or kinship group, which was responsible for its maintenance, administration, and any new construction.
Machupicchu is comprised of approximately 200 buildings, most being residences, although there are temples, storage structures and other public buildings. It has polygonal masonry, characteristic of the late Inca period.
About 1,200 people lived in and around Machupicchu, most of them women, children, and priests. The buildings are thought to have been planned and built under the supervision of professional Inca architects. Most of the structures are built of granite blocks cut with bronze or stone tools, and smoothed with sand. The blocks fit together perfectly, although none of the blocks are the same size and have many faces; some have as many as 30 corners. The joints are so tight that even the thinnest of knife blades can't be forced between the stones. Another unique thing about Machupicchu is the integration of the architecture into the landscape. Existing stone formations were used in the construction of structures, sculptures are carved into the rock, water flows through cisterns and stone channels, and temples hang on steep precipices.
The houses had steep thatched roofs and trapezoidal doors; windows were unusual. Some of the houses were two stories tall; the second story was probably reached by ladder, which likely was made of rope since there weren’t many trees at Machupicchu altitude. The houses, in groups of up to ten gathered around a communal courtyard, or aligned on narrow terraces, were connected by narrow alleys. At the center were large open squares; livestock enclosures and terraces for growing maize stretched around the edge of the city.
Of up to ten gathered around a communal courtyard, or aligned on narrow terraces, were connected by narrow alleys. At the center were large open squares; livestock enclosures and terraces for growing maize stretched around the edge of the city.
Important things found at Machupicchu is the intihuatana, which is a column of stone rising from a block of stone the size of a grand piano. Intihuatana literally means ‘for tying the sun", although it is usually translated as "hitching post of the sun". As the winter solstice approached, when the sun seemed to disappear more each day, a priest would hold a ceremony to tie the sun to the stone to prevent the sun from disappearing altogether. The other intihuatanas were destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors, but because the Spanish never found Machupicchu, it remained intact. Mummies have also been found there; most of the mummies were women.
Few people outside the Inca’s closest retainers were actually aware of Machupicchu’s existence. Before the Spanish conquistadors arrived, the smallpox spread ahead of them. Fifty percent of the population had been killed by the disease by 1527. The government began to fail, part of the empire seceded and it fell into civil war. So by the time Pizarro, the Inca’s conquerer, arrived in Cuzco in 1532, Machupicchu was already forgotten.
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