was named the "Lost
City of the Incas"
, by Hiram Bingham, the researcher who announced
its existence to western civilization on June 24, 1911. Nowadays,
Machu Picchu is the most outstanding symbol of Andean culture and
one of the world's major tourist attractions.
The aesthetic quality of the pre-Hispanic buildings, the beautiful
landscapes surrounding them, and the way in which the former peoples
of this area planned and their buildings to merge with nature merited
inclusion on Unesco's World Heritage
List in 1983 as a "Cultural and Natural World Heritage Site".
Its translation into Spanish is "Montaña Vieja" (The Old Mountain). It has also been called "The Lost City of the Incas" since it had been a mystery, until Hiram Bingham revealed it to the Western world in 1911, despite de fact that Charles Wagner, 30 years before, had registered the ruins on his maps of the region, although never reaching the site itself.
The existence of Machu Picchu
was revealed to the
scientific world by Hiram Bingham, who reached this place on July
24, 1911, helped by natives who were accustomed to visiting it.
Bingham, an American anthropologist at the University of Yale, started
the archaeological investigation and carried out an amazing research
of the area, publishing a book, the "Lost City of the Incas".
Despite being one of the most important Inca
monuments, hardly anything is yet known about Machu Picchu.
There are still many questions that will probably never be answered.
What was it? What was its purpose? When was it built? Why was it
abandoned? Why did the Spanish conquerors never know about Machu
Picchu? Was it still inhabited even long after the Spaniards
had reached Cusco?, and many other such questions.
In a way, given its strategic location, it could have been a military centre, a defence post for controlling the likely rebellions by the "antis" or natives, or an advance post for the conquest of the forest area or Antisuyo.
It is also believed that it was the Inca's ideal resting place, or the major sanctuary devoted to the Inca Pachacutec, who saved the cuzqueños from the Chanca invasion. Or, as emerges from the discovery of an only-female cemetery, It might have been the secret home of the acllas or "royal virgins" devoted to the deities and serving the Incas.
As Luis Valcarcel claims, Machu Picchu may have
been Vitcos, the legendary fortress guarded by Vilcabamba, due to
the similarities between the Quechua words picchu and vitcos or
According to Luis Miguel Glave and Maria Isabel Remy, Machu Picchu corresponds to the Picho settlement, mentioned in an old document found in the Historical Archives of Cusco; then, it might have been located in the estates of the Inca Pachacutec.
According to Hiram Bingham, Machu Picchu could have been Tamputoco, the mythical cradle of the Inca elite. Later, he changed his mind and claimed that it could correspond to Vilcabamba, where Manco Inca and his dynasty dwelled after attempting to beat the Spanish invaders. In addition, given the amount of women's tombs found, he proposed that the last settlers were acllas or selected maidens that fled from Cusco when the Spaniards appeared, to hide in this remote area in order to perpetuate the ancient customs and rites.
Finally, Machu Picchu
is said to have fulfilled
the aims it was built for. It was used to shelter part of the Inca
aristocracy after the Spanish conquest of Cusco in 1532. Being an
unimportant agricultural centre far away from main roads, Machu
Picchu remained unknown to the Spaniards; that is why it was not
destroyed by the new conquerors. Once Tupac Amaru, the last Inca
rebel, was captured, it had to be abandoned, since there was no
longer any reason to stay there.
But, as yet, there are no certainties regarding its purpose. No 16th century chronicler mentions it. There are only hypotheses and conjectures. Since its discovery, Machu Picchu has remained an archaeological site shrouded in mystery. Its discovery simply triggered another mystery for archaeological science.
However, Machu Picchu
is, without any doubt, one
of the most important archaeological wonders of the world not only
because it was built on a ridge of difficult access, but also because
it is one of the few urban projects that merge perfectly with its
natural surroundings. There are no doubts that these ruins are just
as valuable for mankind as the other "Seven Wonders of the World".
It must have been quite a task for the men of those times to build
the majestic Citadel of Machu Picchu.