Machu Picchu Essay Research Paper M A

Machu Picchu Essay, Research Paper M A C H U P I C C H U E X A M I N E D Introduction High in the Peruvian Andes are ancient ruins located near the headwaters of the Amazon River. In recent years, these ruins have seen an increase in tourist visitations. So what has caused the increase of people to a remote area in the eastern Andes above the Rio Urubamba? It is Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu Essay, Research Paper



High in the Peruvian Andes are ancient ruins located near the headwaters of the Amazon River. In recent years, these ruins have seen an increase in tourist visitations. So what has caused the increase of people to a remote area in the eastern Andes above the Rio Urubamba? It is Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu the city built by the Inca during the 1400?s, was brought to the world?s attention by Hiram Bingham. This site contains numerous interesting objects the skillful Inca constructed from stone. After taking into account what is at Machu Picchu, one can see what lures hordes of individuals to this lost city in the mountains.

How Did Machu Picchu Come to Be?

Machu Picchu was built after Pachacuti?s conquest in the mid-1400?s. Pachacuti?s rise as Inca ruler became so after rallying the Inca forces. He then lead them to an unexpected victory over a invading rival group–the Chanca.

The Inca were surrounded by similar proto-states that were continuously vying for control of neighboring regions. One warlike group to the northwest of Cuzco, the Chanca, exerted such a pressure on the Inca that the aged King Viracocha, deciding it was fruitless to resist their impending invasion, fled to the safety of a fortress. But two seasoned generals and Viracocha?s son, Prince Yupanqui, rallied the populace and threw back the Chanca attack on Cuzco. Prince Yupanqui, immediately ascended to the throne and took the name Pachacuti (Cataclysm, or Earthshaker), and was to become one of the greatest military strategists in the Americas.1

Pachacuti stayed while his father, the former ruler, Viracocha and his older brother fled the invaders. Pachacuti?s rule was identified with conquest and social reorganization. He started the great Inca conquest of western South America.

Pachacuti was the Alexander, the Napoleon of the Incas, a successful conqueror who had the energy to supervise every detail of the administration of his empire. (Indeed, Pachacuti?s name may have meant ?Reformer of the World? in the Inca tongue.) As the Jesuit chronicler Bernabe Cobo wrote, Pachacuti ?instituted the state with a code of laws and statutes. . . . He set everything in order: he abolished some rites and ceremonies and added others. He expanded the official religion, instituting sacrifices and services by which the gods were to be worshipped. He embellished the temples with magnificent buildings. . . . In short, he overlooked nothing and organized everything efficiently.

The Inca?s first emperor ruled from 1438 to 1471. Archeologists argue Machu Picchu was built for special religious and ceremonial function under the orders of Pachacuti. Others believe the town was fortified to control the trade with the jungle inhabitants. The most popular belief for the existence of Machu Picchu its past use as a royal estate and a religious retreat for Pachacuti and his subjects.

Machu Picchu?s Re-discovery

Hiram Bingham is associated with the re-discovery of Machu Picchu. For Bingham, finding Machu Picchu was pretty fortuitous. According to his son, Alfred Bingham, the story of the discovery of Machu Picchu is not necessarily all true.

The accepted version which had evolved not without my father?s encouragement, was that he had set out to find a lost city, the last capital of the Inca Empire, and that after a long and arduous search he had found it, buried in an impenetrable tropical jungle on an almost inaccessible ridge of Machu Picchu Mountain. . . . He had indeed been looking for the last Inca capital, and he did find it; but it was not Machu Picchu, nor was it the chief objective of his 1911 expedition. He stumbled on Machu Picchu not after a long search but within forty-eight hours of beginning his first field trip. The ruins were not in an impenetrable wilderness but just off a road that served a thickly populated region. It was not hidden in the jungle but largely exposed by local farmers who had cleared the ruins to grow crops. And with barely a hundred houses it could be called a city only by courtesy.

Peruvian historians told Hiram Bingham of the last city of the Inca?s–Vilacabamba. This city was the capital for Manco Inca an prince who was crowned Inca ruler by the Spanish but later led a rebellion in 1536. Vilacabamba became the new Inca capital after Cuzco had fallen under Spanish control.

The story of the discovery of Machu Picchu may have been embellished with myth. The story begins on July 24, 1911 where a then 35 year old Bingham comes across the ruins of Machu Picchu. While searching for Inca ruins Bingham and his Yale Peruvian Expedition meet a local farmer Melchor Arteaga. Arteaga knew of ruins and the interested Bingham set out along with a Peruvian sergeant in search of them. After much climbing in the humid rough jungle environment, a sight of terraces was seen by Bingham. Then above the terraces he saw the site–Machu Picchu.

I suddenly found myself in a maze of beautiful granite houses! They were covered with trees and mosses and the growth of centuries, but in the dense shadow, hiding in bamboo thickets and tangled vines, could be seen, here and there, walls of white granite ashlars most carefully cut and exquisitely fitted together.

Bingham?s description of what he had found may not have been what he may have actually thought when he first saw the site. Alfred Bingham noted this site did not seem important to Hiram Bingham. ?. . . entries indicate that he did not appreciate the importance of what he had found and that it did not occur to him that it was the ?lost city? he was looking for.? Machu Picchu had not really been lost before Bingham came across it. Agustin Lizarraga had been to Machu Picchu before Bingham and had written his name on some of the walls. ?This place discovered in 1902 by Lizarraga. . .? is written on one page of his journal. After the article ?In the Wonderland of Peru? written by Bingham in National Geographic April 1913, Bingham was challenged by many critics as to being the true discoverer of Machu Picchu. ?. . . he cited Columbus, who, though not the first European to set foot in America, made it known to the world and so is credited with having discovered it.? So Agustin Lizarraga is like the Vikings who came to America before Columbus, having accomplished something before someone else but not being well known for that accomplishment.

Objects at Machu Picchu

Even after the death of Hiram Bingham in 1956, Machu Picchu has continued to fascinate numerous scholars and tourists. The Incas were very much like the Romans. They were soldiers, engineers, and administrators. The one area the Incas excelled in most was stone masonry. A chronicler, Bernabe Cobo describes the mason work of the Inca:

These clearly show the human effort that must have been required, to transport and erect them in their present positions. Even though these are so extraordinarily large, they are cut with amazing skill. They are elegant, and so finely positioned against one another, without mortar, that the joints are scarcely visible. With the rusticated, polygonal walls, I can assure you that although they may appear rougher than walls of (coursed) ashlars, they seem to me to have been far more difficult to make. For, not being cut straight (apart form the outer face which was as smooth as on ashlars), and yet being so tightly joined to on another, one can well appreciate the amount of work involved in having them interlock in the way we see. Some are large and others small and both sorts are irregular in shape and structure; but they are still positioned with joints as delicate as those of coursed ashlars. Thus, if the top of one stone makes a curve or point there is a corresponding groove or cavity in the stone above that fits exactly into the other. Some stones have many angles and indentations all round their sides; but the stones they meet are cut in such a way they interlock perfectly. Such a work must have been immensely laborious! To interlock the stones against each other, it must have been necessary to remove and replace them repeatedly to test them. And being of such great size, it is obvious how much suffering must have been involved!

The stone work described by Cobo can be observed in all its magnificence at Machu Picchu. The stone work architecture found at Machu Picchu is designed so that it is intertwined with the landscape.

One of the most fascinating objects the Inca stone workers crafted is found at the ?Sacred Plaza.? The object is known as the inti-huatana. It is a pillar of stone rising from a rectangular platform.

The gnomon rises 1.8 meters above its base, the highest such rock projection to survive among the Inca ruins of Peru. It is also the most powerfully elegant, a masterpiece of sculpture, rising in tapering planes form its curving base in a single strong upward thrust.

This ?hitching post of the sun? survived the Spanish conquest. At other Inca sites the Spanish had been, the ?Sun Stone? had been destroyed or replaced. No one really knows what exact ceremonial practices went on at the inti-huatana or at other shrines of the Inca. One can only assume.

The Incas were although well aware of the seasons and equinoxes. Felipe Guaman Poma pointed out that the Incas knew the moon was closer than the sun and also paid special attention to eclipses.

They calculated the month, day, hour and precise moment for sowing their crops, observing the movements of the sun. They observed the way in which its rays illuminated the highest peaks in the mornings and how they penetrated the windows of their houses. Variations in its direction and intensity acted as a precise clock to regulate the sowing and harvesting of their foods.

If the inti-huatana in Machu Picchu was a solar observatory for the Incas, the chronicler Garcilaso de la Vega may have described the ceremony that once took place at the gnomon.

To ascertain the time of the equinoxes they had splendidly carved stone columns erected in the squares or courtyards before the temples of the sun. . . . The columns stood in the middle of great rings filling the whole extent of the squares or open spaces. Across the middle of the ring a line was drawn from east to west by a cord. . . . When the shadow fell exactly along the line from sunrise, and at midday the sun bathed all sides of the column and cast no shadow at all, they knew that that day was the equinox. They then decked the columns with all the flowers and aromatic herbs they could find, and placed the throne of the sun on it, saying that on that day the sun was seated on the column in all his full light.

Another observer of the Inca?s worship of the sun or the great Inti Raymi was Cristobal de Molina. Molina, a young priest, chronicled a sun festival (celebrated during the months of June and December) during the first few months after the Spanish occupation of Cuzco.

. . . the Inca opened the sacrifices and they lasted for eight days. Thanks were given to the sun for the past harvest and prayers were made for the crops to come. . . . they brought all the effigies of the shrines of Cuzco onto a plain at the edge of the city in the direction of the sun?s rise at daybreak. [The effigies were housed under magnificent featherwork awnings, arranged in an avenue, and attended by the lords of Cuzco], all magnificently robed [in] rich silver cloaks and tunics, with brightly shining circlets and medallions of fine gold on their heads. . . . As soon as the sunrise began they started to chant in splendid harmony and unison. While chanting each of them shook his foot, . . . and as the sun continued to rise they chanted higher. [The Inca presided form a rich throne, and it was he who opened the chanting.] They all stayed there, chanting, from the time the sun rose until it had completely set. As the sun was rising toward noon they continued to raise their voices, and from noon onward they lowered them, keeping careful track of the sun?s course. Throughout this time, great offerings were being made. On a platform on which there was a tree, there were Indians doing nothing but throwing meats into a great fire and burning them up in it. At another place the Inca ordered [llama] ewes to be thrown for the poorer common Indians to grab, and this caused great sport. At eight o?clock over two hundred girls came out of Cuzco, each with a large new pot of . . . chicha that was plastered and covered. The girls came in groups of five, full of precision and order, and pausing at intervals. They also offered to the sun many bales of a herb that the Indians chew and call coca, whose leaf is like myrtle. There were many other ceremonies and sacrifices. Suffice it to say that when the sun was about to set in the evening the Indians showed great sadness at its departure, in their chants and expressions. they allowed their voices to die away on purpose. And as the sun was sinking completely and disappearing from sight they made a great act of reverence, rising their hands and worshipping it in the deepest humility.

It is very possible that this type of ceremonies observed by Poma, Molina, and Vega were performed in the Sacred Plaza of Machu Picchu and around the inti-huatana. On west side of the inti-huatana is a sharp dropping hill to a river. This may have been used to throw offerings. Also, and probably by no accident, the setting sun shines its rays on the snow capped slopes of the distant Vilcabamba mountains.

Water and Agriculture at Machu Picchu

A site so secluded in the Andean Mountains needed the bare essentials for the survival of its inhabitants. By studying the remaining buildings at Machu Picchu, it is estimated to have had a population of up to 1,000 people with a permanent population of about 300. Water is a basic element for the survival of man; so how did the habitants of Machu Picchu obtain their water? Could it have come from the Urubamba River located 450 meters down precipitous slopes? The water supplied to Machu Picchu actually came from natural springs located on the north slope of the mountain.

Two springs supplied the water. The primary spring was enhanced by a well-engineered stone collection system for the water. The spring is located at an elevation of 2,458m on the north slope of the mountain of Machu Picchu. The secondary spring is found 80m west of the primary spring area. The water from the springs flowed in a channel on a terrace toward the city. Under the flow of gravity, the water traveled down the smooth stone bottom and vertical stone sided canal. The canal averages about 12cm in height and 14cm in width. The cannel enters under the outer city wall and then on a terrace through the Agricultural Sector. It passes over the Dry Moat on a stone aqueduct and through a wall that separates the Agricultural Sector form the Urban Sector. The water is then supplied to a fountain. This fountain was the Inca ruler?s private water supply because it is located immediately near the main doorway of the Inca ruler?s residence.

From this first fountain, the water flows threw a series of 15 additional fountains in the center of the urban area. These fountains were the perfect solution for dispensing the water to the people. The Inca used their surroundings well. ?. . . the Inca were good hydrogeologists and knew how to put ground water to good use.?

The water was not the only element the Inca made good use of–the land was also used wisely. To grow agricultural produce for a city built on a mountain where flat land is rare; they terraced the mountain side. The magnificent terraced mountain sides were the first thing Hiram Bingham saw when he caught his first glimpse of Machu Picchu. ?But just around a promontory he came upon his first thrilling sight: a magnificent flight of stone terraces, a hundred of them, climbing for almost a thousand feet up the hillside.? The terraces were made of fieldstone set in clay. Undulating to fit the mountainside, the terraces were designed to be worked on by hand and used to grow mostly coca leaf, potatoes, a root called oca, and a grain called quinoa.

The builders of Machu Picchu made the greatest possible use of its awkward site, terracing the slope between the defensive walls to the south and terracing the mountainside below the city on the east. Even the flat plazas that divide the inner city could have been used for agricultural purpose, growing coca or other tropical luxuries for the imperial court in Cuzco.

The crops at Machu Picchu feasibly were not supplied with water from the two springs. Rainfall on the basin in ancient times is estimated to have averaged about 1,830mm from 1450 AD to 1500 AD and about 2,090mm during the 1500 AD to 1540 AD. According to Wright, Witt, and Valencia, the annual rainfall at Machu Picchu was sufficient to support the agricultural crops.

Modern Day Machu Picchu

Today Machu Picchu is a historic sanctuary. Its status was established on January 8, 1981, under Law (Supreme Resolution) DS 001-81-AA. The sites is about 1,400 km south of the Equator on the eastern slope of the Peruvian Andes and is located at Longitude 72 degrees 32 feet and Latitude 13 degrees 9 feet. The dramatic site attracts visitors from around the world. ?In the mid 1980s, some 180,000 people annually visited the Inca Trail and the ruins. More recently, the figure has risen to 300,000, including 7,000 on the Inca trails.

Visitors usually reach Machu Picchu by a three hour train ride from Cuzco or by a three to five day hike to the site over the popular ancient Inca road–the Inca Trail.

The Inca Trail crosses ecological zones ranging from alpine to jungle, and more than 120 plant species per square kilometer have been identified within the park. A partial wildflower list numbers lupines, slipperworts, daisies, cacti, lilies, fuchsias, begonias, geraniums, irises, loasas, gentians, buttercups and many varieties of orchids. Hikers can watch condors soar off the peaks and hummingbirds feed on flowers in the jungle. Other fauna include deer, vizcachas (a small rodentlike animal related to the chinchilla) and the rare Andean spectacled bear. . .

The Machu Picchu sanctuary has faced problems in the past trying to conserve the site. Before services were placed along the trail, many hikers littered the trail with empty soda drink containers and other trash. According to Alfredo Ferreyros, initiator of the Inca Trail Project a conservation group, ?We feel that it is important to inform hikers of what they can and cannot do. Once we achieve this, 50 percent of the battle is won.?

The visitors and hikers don?t limit their destruction just to the trail, the ruins themselves are also put at risk.

. . . restoration and excavation work is often halted just to repair damage caused by the visitors. People venturing off the paths erode the soil, tumble walls and damage other structures. in 1982 Yepez roped off the rock pillar known as the Intiwatana (Hitching Post of the Sun) to prevent tourists from climbing on it to have their pictures taken. Visitors have even tried to carve their initials in the rocks and to chip off parts of the stones for souvenirs. Although food is prohibited in the ruins (there is an excellent restaurant and snack bar just outside the gates), it isn?t unusual to find soft drink cans and garbage left in the trapezoidal Inca niches or tossed on the ground.

Many volunteers have come forward to clean up the problems of pollution. Some of the groups include: South American Explorers Club, Peruvian Andean Club, and Explorandes.


As one of Peru?s main tourist attractions as well as an important archeological site, Machu Picchu will continue to attract visitors. Once a royal estate and religious retreat for Pachacuti Inca in the 1400?s, it was never discovered by the Spanish conquistadors and was lost for centuries. Its re-discovery to the world in 1911 by Hiram Bingham has lured scientists and tourist alike to explore the Inca ruins. The visitors to Machu Picchu are inspired by the magnificent setting and the stonework that blends harmoniously into the landscape. They view and investigate the terraces that once sustained the citizens of Machu Picchu. They view the agricultural sector, the inti-huatana in the Sacred Plaza, the urban center, the residential sector, the cemetery, and the many other spectacular stone structures. Fortunately, Machu Picchu is continually being restored and maintained so that many more people may enjoy its wonder and beauty.

Bingham, Alfred M. ?Raiders of the Lost City.? American Heritage, July/August 1987, pp. 54-64.

Hemming, John. Machu Picchu (Wonders of Man). New York: Newsweek, 1981.

Hemming, John, and Ranney, Edward. Monuments of the Incas. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1982.

Natural World Heritage Properties. Descriptions of Natural World Heritage Properties, Available World Wide Web: URL: pp. 1-5. (Attached)

Meisch, Lynn Ann. ?Protecting Heaven?s Gate.? Americas, July/August 1984, pp. 26-31.

Richardson III, James B. People of the Andes. Canada: St. Remy Press and Smithsonian Institution, 1994.

Wright, Kenneth R., Witt, Gary D., and Valencia Zegarra, Alfredo. ?Hydrogeology and Paleohydrology of Ancient Machu Picchu.? Ground Water, July-August 1997, pp. 1-6.