Picchu, which is sometimes called
the "Lost City" is a pre-Columbian
city created by the Inca Empire.
It is located at 2,430 m (7,970
ft) on a mountain ridge. Machu
Picchu is located above the
Urubamba Valley in Peru, about 70
km (44 mi) northwest of Cusco.
Forgotten for centuries by the
outside world, although not by
locals, it was brought back to
international attention by
archaeologist Hiram Bingham in
1911, who made the first
scientific confirmation of the
site and wrote a best-selling work
about it. Peru is pursuing legal
efforts to retrieve thousands of
artifacts that Bingham removed
from the site.
Separated into three areas - agricultural, urban, and religious - the structures are arranged so that the function of the buildings matches the form of their surroundings. The agricultural terracing and aqueducts take advantage of the natural slopes; the lower areas contain buildings occupied by farmers and teachers, and the most important religious areas are located at the crest of the hill, overlooking the lush Urubamba Valley thousands of feet below.
The ruins of Machu Picchu, rediscovered in 1911 by Yale archaeologist Hiram Bingham, are one of the most beautiful and enigmatic ancient sites in the world. While the Inca people certainly used the Andean mountain top (9060 feet elevation), erecting many hundreds of stone structures from the early 1400's, legends and myths indicate that Machu Picchu (meaning 'Old Peak' in the Quechua language) was revered as a sacred place from a far earlier time. Whatever its origins, the Inca turned the site into a small (5 square miles) but extraordinary city. Invisible from below and completely self-contained, surrounded by agricultural terraces sufficient to feed the population, and watered by natural springs, Machu Picchu seems to have been utilized by the Inca as a secret ceremonial city. Two thousand feet above the rumbling Urubamba river, the cloud shrouded ruins have palaces, baths, temples, storage rooms and some 150 houses, all in a remarkable state of preservation. These structures, carved from the gray granite of the mountain top are wonders of both architectural and aesthetic genius. Many of the building blocks weigh 50 tons or more yet are so precisely sculpted and fitted together with such exactitude that the mortarless joints will not permit the insertion of even a thin knife blade. Little is known of the social or religious use of the site during Inca times. The skeletal remains of ten females to one male had led to the casual assumption that the site may have been a sanctuary for the training of priestesses and /or brides for the Inca nobility. However, subsequent osteological examination of the bones revealed an equal number of male bones, thereby indicating that Machu Picchu was not exclusively a temple or dwelling place of women.
There are several legends about the origins or the Inca and the emergence of Manco Capac, who was the founder of the dynasty of princes of Cuzco and the Inca Kings. One such legends tells of strangers or new tribes that came from unknown lands across the sea in rafts or boats and landed on the coast, later either settling there or trekking further into the highlands. Other legends tell of the wandering of a clan in search of a permanent place to settle. This clan took up residence at the island sanctuary on Lake Titicaca. Subsequently, Manco left his 200 companions there with the assurance that they would find him again if they asked for the "Son of the Sun and Moon." He reportedly wandered slowly in a northwesterly direction to a shrine of Pacaritampu, about a two day walk from Cuzco. According to legend, Manco Capac had been prepared by a magician for his future as king.