About 80 kilometers from the Peruvian city of Cuzco, on the top of a mountain, lies the extraordinary historic sanctuary of Machu Picchu. Located 2,453 meters above sea level and surrounded by a majestic mountain landscape, this site was once an important palace and religious sanctuary for the Incas, the largest empire in pre-Columbian America.
Due to its characteristics and peculiar location, Machu Picchu is considered a masterpiece of engineering and architecture, with a rich history spanning more than seven centuries. Here we present its evolution, from its beginnings as an Inca settlement to the origin of its current popularity.
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It is believed that the citadel of Machu Picchu was built around 1450 by orders of Pachacutec, the first great ruler of the Inca Empire. The luxurious urban complex was built between the mountains of Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu, which rise above the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Besides being close to the Inca capital of Cuzco, the climatic and geographical conditions of this area were ideal for the cultivation of corn and coca, a medicinal plant of great ritual value for the Incas.
Machu Picchu was a classic Inca llacta, with a mobile population ranging from 300 to 1000 inhabitants. The citadel was divided into two areas: in the urban zone were the residences and religious precincts, such as the Temple of the Sun or Torréon, while the agricultural zone consisted of several terraced cultivation terraces built on the mountainside.
Despite its splendor, the Inca Empire was weakened by the outbreak of a civil war in 1529, and in 1532 it was annexed to the territories of the Spanish Crown. Although the Spanish probably knew of its existence, Machu Picchu\’s remote location meant that it was largely ignored by the colonial regime; proof of this is that no Christian temples were built in the citadel, something common in pagan sites of worship conquered by the Spanish. Less than a century after its creation, Machu Picchu was uninhabited, and was soon covered by the dense vegetation of the mountain.
The rediscovery of Machu Picchu
Beginning in the 19th century, several scientists and explorers began to speak of the existence of a lost city in the Peruvian Andes. These rumors reached the ears of Hiram Bingham, a professor of South American history at Yale University. Intrigued by the possibility of finding it, Bingham decided to make an expedition through the Sacred Valley of the Incas in 1911. Guided by Melchor Arteaga, a local tenant, Bingham climbed the mountain of Huayna Picchu and arrived at the ruins on July 24, 1911.
Although not an archaeologist by profession, the professor was struck by the majesty of the area, and secured the sponsorship of Yale University, National Geographic magazine and the Peruvian government to study the site in depth. Between 1912 and 1915, Bingham and his team conducted archaeological excavations at Machu Picchu, removing undergrowth and exploring the tombs of the citadel. National Geographic published an article about the discovery in 1913; thus, the citadel of Machu Picchu was put under the international spotlight.
The idea that Bingham rediscovered Machu Picchu is controversial, since the local inhabitants were always aware of its existence. In addition, it is important to mention that although Bingham was the first to recognize the importance of archaeological studies in the area, he is also credited with the extraction of more than 46,000 archaeological pieces-including mummies, bones and ceramic pieces-which were later moved and sold illegally in the United States. Many of them were sent to Yale University\’s Peabody Museum; after years of dispute with the Peruvian government, the university began repatriating the artifacts in 2011.
Machu Picchu today
In 1981, the area surrounding Machu Picchu was declared a historical sanctuary by the Peruvian government, a designation that protects both the archaeological site and the flora and fauna that inhabit it. In addition, it has been on UNESCO\’s World Heritage List since 1983.
Today, the citadel of Machu Picchu is the most visited tourist site in Peru. Each year it receives 1.5 million visitors, who travel a long way to marvel at the beauty of this unique place in the world.Finally, we know that you have to keep communication with your relatives and friends, that you need to be able to orient yourself in new cities, that you might need help with translation and that you might need to search for restaurants or hotels. That’s why with PeruSIM you can buy a SIM card including the data plan of your need without having to worry about high roaming costs.