The American professor Hiram Bingham searched already some time for the lost city of Vilcabamba. This was the last hiding place of the Incas. On July the 23rd of 1911 he and his team were again deep in the Andes looking for Vilcabamba. He relied on cryptic indications in an old document about the last free Inca Manco Capac II who escaped from the Spanish after the defeated revolt in Cusco. The weather was very bad, but an innkeeper fanned the interest of the professor telling a story about a lost city in the neighborhood. He and his team stayed in the humble hotel of the innkeeper who was promised a silver dollar if he could bring the team on location.
On the 24th of July Bingham went together with the innkeeper and a representative from the Peruvian government facing the bad weather, gray clouds and tropical rains. The other members of the team choose to stay in the hotel and wash their clothes. The professor and the two fellow passengers had to cross the wild Vilcanota River by a wooden bridge and climbed 600m on a very steep mountain. Halfway the mountain the guide talked with the owner of a simple hut with a thatched roof.
Bingham wanted to continue and a 10-year-old boy guided him. They had to climb over Inca terraces and a little later his encouragement was finally rewarded. He stood before the walls of Machu Picchu. The picture on the left-hand side is the first ever taken from the Sacred City. The tropical vegetation was ranked over the ruins totally, but the remains were pretty good preserved. In the next years of investigation Bingham took about 11.000 (!) pictures from the complex.
In his book "The discovery of Machu Picchu" he later wrote: "Suddenly I was standing in front of the walls of a ruin and houses from the best quality of Inca building art. The walls were difficult to see because the trees and moss ranked partly the stones during centuries. But in the shade of bamboo bushes and climbing plants were the walls visible of white granite blocks chopped in the highest precision. I found brilliant temples, royal houses, a big square and tens of houses. It looked like a dream."
Machu Picchu is situated between steep mountains with summits above 5.500m and the always-wild Vilcanota River. The only way to get there was over a narrow footpath constructed by the Incas, the Inca Trail or the Camino del Inca. Today thousands of tourists come by train to visit the Sacred City. The visitors get of the train in Aquas Calientes and take a bus to the ruins. The city of Machu Picchu is located at 2.400m above sea level and a 100km from Cusco. Lots of visitors still arrive in the sacred city by the Inca Trail. There are trails from 2 to 9 days; the most common are the 2-days and the 4-days trail. You have to have a good physical condition. The second day of the trail crosses a pass of 4.300m with views on glaciers, white summits and the mystical subtropical forest.
On the four-day trail various ruins can be seen and the guide will explain with a charming pride what these places represented in the empire of the Incas, Tahuantinsuyu. Left is the ruin of Wiñawaña where the Inca Trail passes the day before arriving in Machu Picchu. The Sacred City is situated on the other side of the mountain. More details of how to get there and what you need in the Machu Picchu section of Cusco.
The Sacred City is built between two sharp peaks, in south the Machu Picchu (Old Mountain) and north the lower Huayna Picchu (Young Mountain). 800m below twists the Urubamba (or the Vilcanota River) through the 90° steep rock walls. The vegetation is the beautiful subtropical rainforest. All of this combined with the surrealistic beauty of the city of Machu Picchu makes this place one of the most beautiful on earth.
A wonderful whole
An estimate 1.200 people could live in Machu Picchu. In fact it is difficult to speak about a city because there are not even 200 buildings. There is a religious, a military and a residential area divided by a majestic square. Nevertheless it takes some time to visit all buildings separately. In the religious area you'll find the temples, the royal sarcophagi, the Intihuatana and the residential buildings of the priests. A fair part of the religious area is reserved for the Inca, his consort the Mama Occla and the royal household. A temple-like building with three big windows made of life-sized granite blocks perfectly fitting together, did Bingham suspect he found Tamo-toco. The description of the (never found?) legendary temple with the three windows were the symbol of the caves where the divine Father of the first Inca (Manco Capac) lives, looks alike the odd building in Machu Picchu.
But this is uncertain because the style of the Sacred City is late-Inca. The highest part of the religious area is the Intihuatana. Next to this most sacred place is a flat little square from where a high priest or the Inca could talk to his people. The acoustic is perfect on the big square below, similar to the modern auditoriums. On the right hand side of the main square is the residential area and on top, on a rocky hill, the military zone. The Intihuatana itself is a kind of sundial perfectly shaped out of the highest peak of a natural rock (see on the picture on the right hand side, the mountain on the background is the Huayna Picchu). "Inti" means "Sun" and "Huatana" "catch", a rock that holds to Sun so to speak. It was an altar to worship their highest visible god, the Inti. The people in the Peruvian highlands still come together on solstice to offer prayers and flowers on the Intihuatana in and around Cusco.
Rock and Sun united
In fact, Machu Picchu was never desolated. Is it the city where the Spanish were looking for during ages, El Dorado? When the professor Hiram Bingham arrived he encountered some farmer families living there. They told him this was the perfect place for not paying any taxes or doing military service. Bingham also found some graffiti on some rocks scratched by former visitors who left their names. One of them was Antonio Raimondi, the Count of Sartiges and Charles Wiener. The names of the Santander brothers can still be seen at the lower parts of the Temple of the Sun (1909).
The great Inca Pachacuti probably ordered the building of the city as a religious retreat place because the style of the houses and temples are from his government. Lots of buildings can be named remarkable. The Torreon for example, also known as the temple of the Sun (see picture left, in the valley streams the Vilcanota) is constructed above a cave, a cavern that served as storeroom for the mummified Incas and other dignitaries and as a ritual offer altar. The Torreon itself is built with firm granite, perfectly smoothed and fitting into each other. In the temple is a little Intihuatana chopped and served as a solar observation place, this is also visible on the picture on the right hand side. Most probably there was no roof to protect the temple against rain and wind. The windows point to the places where the Sun rises on respectively the summer- and the winter solstice. These days (the 21st of December and the 24th of June) stream the first sun rays into one of this windows through the Inti Punctu (the Gate of the Sun) or the valley on the other side of the Vilcanota. More remarkable things are discovered in Machu Picchu.
Mysticism and symbolism
Fernando E. Elorrieta Salazar and Edgar Elorrieta Salazar worked together for years to find out why the Incas constructed their temples on the chosen places. They linked the many myths and symbols left by the Inca culture to explain the position of the many fantastic cities and temples in the Sacred Valley in the dale of the Urubamba between Cusco & Machu Picchu. They left a good illustrated book "The Sacred Valley of the Incas, Myths and Symbols", published in Cusco in 1996. Let's take a closer look to their discoveries.
The brothers Salazar researched why Machu Picchu was built on this location and come to revolutionary discoveries. Let's first consider the geographic environment in combination with the many legends and traditions left by the Incas and the chroniclers.
The Incas had a cosmological vision of existence according to their myths and legends and in everything that they consider sacred. Sacred was connected to the word "Huaca" and had a range of meanings. A Huaca could be a sacred something, a temple, a consecrated place, things that seem to exist out of their natural order, remarkable things because of their exceptional beauty or excellence or things that became sacred by offering its natural powers, like sculptures of humans, animals, etc. The Incas had besides the meaning of Huaca a parallel meaning, the Huauque or Brother. For example, they saw the valley of the Urubamba as a reflection of the Milky Way, the Mayu. The abundance of sacred elements found in Machu Picchu confirms the conviction that the Incas built the Sacred City as a place of pilgrimage, a sanctuary. The trail constructed by the Incas, known as the Inca Trail, was probably the chronological order followed by the Incas before finding the place where they built Machu Picchu. As a jewel rests this city in the middle of the surrounding summits and encircled by the Vilcanota twisting as a enormous snake its way around the sanctuary to the tropical rainforest (see drawing).
The Machu Picchu (the mountain, the city itself is situated at its foot) and the Huayna Picchu make up a first belt around this magical place. The higher mountains around represent a second belt. The Incas believed that this place was chosen by the Cosmos to build the Sacred City. On the Inti Raymi (the 24th of June) appear a triangle on two concentric circles carved into the Intihuatana pointing to the Machu Picchu (see the picture, the concentric circles are difficult to see, but are above on the right hand side of the triangle).
The chosen location: the Puma
Animals always played an important role in the myths of the Incas and especially the Snake, the Puma and the Condor. They represent the underworld, the world of men and the upper world. These animals are wonderfully processed in and around the Sacred City.
The Huayna Picchu has the natural shape of a Puma. The architects built small high terraces on the summit to give the impression that the hair of the puma stands up straight. The eyes are cut out; the mouth and the form of the head have a natural origin. The drawing shows clearly the Puma guarding the Sacred City. The white line points to a young bird stretching its wings. Remarkable that Huayna Picchu means "Young Mountain" in Quechua and Huayna Pichiu "Young Bird".
It must be obvious by now that the Incas didn't choose this place by coincidence. They planned the building of their most beautiful sanctuary according to the natural elements surrounding the place and the ideology of their cosmic vision. When the Incas realized how special this place is, they started the building of the city itself. A huge titan work was waiting for the architects, workers, astronomers and priests to apply the natural elements into a magnificent whole.
The first thing to do was clearing the tropical rainforest. The steep terraces around the city prove the difficulty of building the complex. The shape of the whole place where the city is built is also special: the form of a huge condor, flying up to visit the Milky Way, the Way of all Beginning.
Work and production: the Caiman
The caiman place an important role in the history of the Incas and all ancient cultures of Latin America. They maybe thought that the caiman is the oldest living animal on this world, the creature that has always existed on the earth of the Pachamama. Or maybe because the caiman is the biggest of all crocodiles and master over the rivers in the jungle.
The Urin-sector of Machu Picchu is the sector dedicated to Inca Amaru Tupac. This is the complex where the caiman is shaped out. The peculiar composition of this sector gives the impression as the caiman climbed out of the Vilcanota River to the top of the mountain. The caiman gives us the illusion of being in movement. On the drawing above the caiman is clearly recognizable. Hiram Bingham already recognized this part of Machu Picchu as the section where the labor was expressed (in the body of the caiman) and as the military zone (head).
The sections are divides as follows:
A: the head naturally shaped by rock and a rocky hill
B: the middle part where the houses were constructed for the Chosen Women or the Virgins of the Sun, weaving fine clothes and brewing chicha-beer. The stomach of the caiman are the storehouses, the stomach of the caiman was always full
C: temple shaped as a condor, honored to the death cult
D & E: male and female genital organs
F & G: represent the powerful tale of the caiman, formed by little terraces and giving the impression as being in movement
H: the house where visitors stayed the first day when arriving in Machu Picchu after a long trip or the last night before going back, strengthened by the powers of this magical place
The leading rank
The Hanan-sector was reserved to organize the governmental and religious matters. This is in contrast to the Urin-sector where handicrafts were practiced. The animal used to represent the whole of this section is the Puma, lying down on the big abyss of Machu Picchu. Its royal form stands out with its raised head pointing west and the body in resting position. The head is shaped out of the terraces around the Intihuatana, the most sacred temple in Machu Picchu. The Intihuatana itself forms the crown of the Puma, the crown from where the Incas did their astronomical observations.
The temple with the three windows is on the back of the Puma. This temple is dedicated to the place where the father Wiracocha of the first Inca Manco Capac lives. The stomach is the granite rock mine where they got the stones to build the temples. The anus of the Puma is the main entrance of the city of Machu Picchu.
The Sacred Bird
Men and nature worked perfectly together to create this architectonic genius complex as a harmonic whole. Today we understand that Machu Picchu is one of the most beautiful creations of humankind. The complex rests in the womb of two mountains and is surrounded on both sides by an impressive abyss. The Vilcanota River meanders around the city as a snake. The subtropical rainforest with its forever mist and its picturesque waterfalls do honor the whole. This place is an unforgettable experience for every visitor.
All places previously described are united in a superior whole. The genius designers built Machu Picchu in such way that the Sacred City looks like a majestic old Condor flying west where the sun goes to sleep, to the Milky Way and the Hanan Pacha (the upper world). On his back the biggest bird in the world carries the most important religious symbols of the people of the Andes, so that the Old Bird is the messenger from humankind to eternity, to the infinite.
The environment of the complex, the acrobatic building and the magical neighborhood capture every visitor to the Sacred City. Many books are written about Machu Picchu, millions of pictures are taken every year, but nothing can touch the experience of the sensation being in person on this sacred place, no picture, no film, no description can give the impression of how Machu Picchu really is as a majestic complex. Is Machu Picchu really the name of the sanctuary? Could it be that there exists a much older name according to the city, to the shape of the complex, an old condor? Machu Pichiu: Pajaro Viejo
Machu Pichiu: Old Bird
This might be the meaning hidden in the old name and the name given to the Sacred City, the Apu or the Spiritual Bird, still invoked by the local people for advice and healing and named to the highest summits in the neighborhood of the Sacred Valley of the Urubamba. The Apus who brought peace to the people and while flying over the Sacred Valley to the west, leaving a trace of light, to the Milky Way, where everything began and where he brings the Truth, the Absolute, crossing space and time, to the idea of God!
(From "The Sacred Valley of the Incas, Myths and Symbols" written by Fernando E. Elorrieta Salazar and Edgar Elorrieta Salazar, published by Sociedad Pacaritanpu Hatha, Cusco Peru 1996). In this well illustrated book there is much more explained about the ruins in the Sacred Valley. We truly advice every visitor to Peru to read this book.