The citadel of Machu Picchu is only one of a series of settlements built by the Incas in what is today the Historic Sanctuary, although without any doubt it is the most important, due to its size and complexity. Nobody knows yet, however, how many archaeological sites exist. Almost every day new sites are discovered under the vegetation.
Functions and Types
Although most of the sites are mostly agricultural complexes -that
is, groups of agricultural terraces of different sizes and shapes
according to the topography - there are also architectural clusters
of different sizes and characteristics that had different functions.
Here and there areas appear at the roadside known as tambos
These served as lodging for the walkers. Other places are only small
structures of a rectangular floor plan, known as huayranas
"praying places"), which served as control posts. The most important
structures are the agricultural terraces, the quarries which supplied
the building stone and the sources of abundant and safe drinking
water. There are also thousands of places where you can only see
large carved stones, known as huacas
All the sites are closely related, as regards architectural style and building type and also as regards basic ornamentation. They also share a unique integration with nature. After all, they all form part of the same moment in our history. At that time, the mild weather in the area allowed agricultural production to feed local people, the panacas
of Inca royalty and the city of Cusco dwellers. Local products were even sent to the rest of Tahuantinsuyo along the great Inca Trail or Qhapaq Ñan.
SETTLEMENTS ON THE RIGHT MARGIN
OF URUBAMBA RIVER
On the right bank of Urubamba river there are so far 29 registered archaeological sites. Below we will describe some of the most important ones.
Approximately at Km. 84 of the railway and 2,600 m above sea level, the valley of the Urubamba river noticeably narrows due to the outcropping of a great rocky formation. The Incas used it to control access to the lower part of the valley, as the only road descending from Ollantaytambo passes through it.
The road that comes from up the valley is interrupted by a great wall. To avoid it, one has to go through a great opening leading to a small enclosure. Then, one has to go down some stairways until one finally goes through a great trapeze-shaped opening measuring 2.3 meters. Only then can one continue along the road which runs downstream parallel to the Urubamba river.
The Great Enclosure
Behind the wall there is a great enclosure, unique in kind and in all the region, measuring an average of 8 meters long by 3 meters high, with walls 1.6 meters thick. There are other significant cultural elements showing the importance of this site in the complex system of space management. One of them is a rock formation decorated with pictographic motifs which farmers in the area identify as representing the sun and the moon.
The Cabracancha Channel
Furthermore, one of the Incas' main hydraulic works, the Cabracancha irrigation channel, starts here and then flows across the Canabamba area. Unfortunately, it has been severely damaged by the construction of the railway. Finally, opposite this, across the river, stands a carved rock known as huaca, evidently for ceremonial use.
This is a second narrowing of Urubamba valley, due to a rocky outcrop which over thousands of years was cut out by water action, approximately at km. 86. The Incas had to put all their technology to the test in order to overcome this natural obstacle, which was also used to build a second control post to guard the access to Machu Picchu, and to build a bridge allowing passage to the other bank of the river. Moreover, reinforcing once again the close relationship between nature and the supernatural, the rocky formation was used as a giant huaca, to carry out a great number of carvings in bas-relief, including regularly spaced shapes and holes.
SETTLEMENTS ON THE LEFT MARGIN
OF URUBAMBA RIVER
At Km. 88 of the Cusco-Quillabamba railway, which is approximately where the Historic Sanctuary starts on the east, you can find these settlements located on the middle and lower slope of the left embankment of the Urubamba river. Just as in the case of the right bank, the left one contains an important number of towns, all associated to sophisticated agricultural systems characterized by their size and complex irrigation systems. There is also evidence of a complex road system for linking the settlements.
The most important production areas are: Quente, Tarapata and Pacaymayo. They are formed by extensive systems of agricultural terraces, covering in each case an area of more than 1,000 meters long by 250 meters wide, and artificially irrigated.
This is a very extensive and well-designed settlement area on a hill, 2,800 meters above sea level. It is made up of four sectors of agricultural terraces and a fifth sector of dwellings. It is one of the most extraordinary examples of the sophisticated Inca technology for turning arid soil into fertile, productive earth. The urban cluster consists of more than a dozen rooms, haphazardly arranged. They are enclosures typical of Inca architecture. In general they are well preserved, so much so, that in some constructions the roofs are preserved together with the stone nails used to keep them in place.
It is located at Km. 104 of the railway. This is one of the most important residential areas in the lower part of the valley, as it is a key point in the road network. Access to this place is along a branch road which goes down the valley and then branches off: one branch going to Huayna Quente and the other one to Puyupatamarca.
The place is made up of several enclosures, a huaca or ceremonial center (consisting of a big rock carved as a seat), water fountains and an area of agricultural terraces built on a plain.
Located at Km. 107 of the railway to Quillabamba, this is another of the great towns connected to the huge network of the "Camino Inca". The place is divided into two sectors by a stream which flows down from Puyupatamarca and crosses Huiñayhuayna. The sector on the west side has the largest concentration of enclosures, in which the rooms show a very refined finish. Next to this sector, at the head of the stream, there are four water fountains and, at the back there is a great door where two roads begin: one goes to Huiñayhuayna through the gorge and the other one runs along the hillside to Quillapata.
Near Km. 121 of the railway lies a ceremonial center of great importance, associated to an amazing set of agricultural terraces. The basic feature is its gigantic huaca, a stone block over 5 meters high, carved at different, uneven levels. Another important item here, showing exquisite workmanship, is a particularly beautiful water fountain of white granite, with four distribution holes. This is the crossing point of the "Camino Inca" from Ollantaytambo to Vilcabamba.