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This article was published 13/3/2018 (846 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Machu Picchu is one of the greatest architectural mysteries of Incan civilization — the largest and most sophisticated empire in pre-Columbian America.
They rose to power in the early 13th century, spanning out from southern Peru in both directions, from modern-day Chile in the south to Ecuador in the north. Along the way they constructed more than 20,000 kilometres of stone trails to link their towns and cultural sites.
At the centre of Inca civilization is a city called Cusco, which means "navel." Perched in the Peruvian Andes at an elevation of 3,399 metres, Cusco was once the capital of the Incan Empire. Tourists travelling to Machu Picchu typically arrive by air from Lima into Cusco, and spend a few days acclimatizing here.
Being my first time experiencing high altitude, I initially felt exhausted, light-headed, slow in my thinking, and with zero appetite. But after two or three days of extra rest, increased hydration, a few good meals, and several Advils, I began to feel like myself, eager to finally see the place that has long been on my bucket list.
The ancient city of Machu Picchu was built on a plateau at 2,430 metres, beginning around the year 1430, and there are many theories as to why it exists. Some local legends explain it as a ceremonial site, since many of its structures — both man-made and natural — align with astronomical events.
Others believe it to be a strategic military fortress nestled in the mountains, accessible by only two trails that could be easily barricaded. This theory makes sense when you also consider Machu Picchu is nearly encircled by the turbulent Urubamba River in the valley far below, is surrounded by 44 mountains, and most importantly, is completely hidden from every lower vantage point.
One of the most accepted theories is that it was intended to be a retirement place for Pachacuti, the ninth Incan ruler. However, since the Incas had no written language, and no historical records exist, all that is known today was passed down orally from one generation to the next. This means we’ll never truly know, and that’s why Machu Picchu remains one of the greatest archeological mysteries in the world.
There is also no definitive explanation as to why the Incas outright abandoned Machu Picchu only 100 years after it was built — even before the Spanish arrived. Surprising, the Spanish never found Machu Picchu during their invasions, and although locals knew of it, it remained unknown to the outside world until 1911, when American archaeologist Hiram Bingham was led to the site. Since then, it has become the most familiar symbol of the Incan Empire, and one of the most spectacular ruins anywhere on the planet.
Machu Picchu remains one of the most fascinating and important archeological sites. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, and is listed among the New 7 Wonders of the World. Tourists flock here to witness its magnificent series of buildings, plazas and platforms connected by narrow lanes and pathways. It was built mostly from granite, without the use of mortar or metal tools, and with stones cut so precisely they’ve withstood the test of time, every kind of weather, even earthquakes.
Tour companies like Zephyr Adventures offer guided trips, taking care of all the permits and paperwork required to hike the famous Inca Trail. This once-in-a-lifetime trip is definitely worth the time and money to get there, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to witness a truly unique and sacred place.
RoseAnna Schick is an avid traveller who seeks inspiration wherever she goes. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
RoseAnna Schick is an avid traveller and music lover who seeks inspiration wherever she goes. Email her at email@example.com
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