Shrouded by mist and enveloped by lush vegetation the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu is set high in the Andes Mountains above the Urubamba River. Built in the 15th century, Machu Picchu was later abandoned a hundred years later at the time of the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire. Renowned for its sophisticated dry-stone ruins has made Machu Picchu the most famous archaeological site on the continent, a must for all visitors to Peru. Approximately 200 structures covering 80,000 acres make up this outstanding religious, ceremonial, astronomical, and agricultural center.
Perched dramatically 1000 ft above the Urubamba river this awe-inspiring ancient city was remarkably well hidden and protected as it was never revealed to the conquering Spaniards and was virtually forgotten until the early part of the 20th century. When these remarkable ruins were rediscovered by the outside world in 1911 by locally led archaeologist Hiram Bingham.
Machu Picchu is believed to have been built by Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, the ninth ruler of the Inca, in the mid-1400s. While often characterized as an Inca citadel or fortress the true purpose of Machu Picchu’s former use remains a mystery, with archaeologists only offering theories as to why it was built. One of the most popular and supported theories is the opulent Machu Picchu was built a retreat for Inca royals, the presence of elite residences in the northeast sector of the site backing that idea up. Other theories include it being the last refuge of the Inca empire, a nunnery for the Virgins of the Sun, a sacred haven meant to honor the surrounding environment, a religious or administrative center, and even a re-creation of the mythic landscape of creation from the Inca religion. Whatever it’s purpose archaeologists estimate that approximately 700-1200 people could have lived in the area but due to its isolation from the rest of Peru, living in the area full time would require traveling great distances just to reach the nearest village.
The preservation of ancient architecture and the breathtaking mountain vista it occupies has made Machu Picchu one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world today and the most important tourist attraction in Peru. No matter its purpose hikers, tourists, and the early explorers describe similar emotions of awe as they trek the end of the Inca Trail. Gazing out on all the temples, fields, and terraces blending in with the hillside, the elegant green paradise seems to take you to another time. Machu Picchu is the icon of Inca civilization and like the Mona Lisa or the Giza pyramids, it has been seared into our collective consciousness and entices visitors from around the world.