on September 27, 2010
A site where just a tiny amount of imagination transports us to a city at the height of the Inca Empire when temples, terraces, houses, palaces, towers, fountains and staircases were home to a population of about 1000. For many centuries this was a site hidden, buried in the jungle, overgrown since the Incas deliberately abandoned the city, although it is not known when or why this happened. The Spanish conquistadors never found Machu Picchu to loot or destroy and it was the American explorer Hiram Bingham who stumbled on the Inca citadel in 1911. At the time the city had almost returned to the original vegetation but a slow and often painful archaeological project from Yale University set about unearthing this stunning and now iconic site.Entrance to the site was through a small complex and its narrow passage ways made it impossible for more than one person to enter at a time, an obvious and well constructed defence strategy. But having manoeuvred this entrance the whole site opened up in front of us. The emotion of the visitors was almost electric as the gasps of admiration and excitement rippled through our small party (four of us). This was the wow factor plus. Unbelievably believable. A magic site as the city of Machu Picchu emerged from the mist. The whole setting was just as I’d hoped it would be. Mystical, fascinating, awe inspiring, incredible ...... and any other superlative that you can muster.All we’ve heard about earlier in respect of Inca design is laid out in front of us. The superbly constructed terracing on the steep hills; neatly planned streets; public building; and high status accommodation.Our tour takes us to the key sights on this site: the waterfalls, storage buildings, agricultural terraces, temples, astronomy observation points, ceremonial places, and public plazas. Our guide had stories about every point of our tour. One of the most fascinating debates, in my opinion, was the one about the reason that the site was abandoned. There are numerous theories, but the important factor to make note of is that there were very few burials detected on the site. This fact alone pointed to the Incas leaving the city of their own volition. It is felt highly unlikely that disease ravaged the population because there is no sign of large scale burials and as the conquistadors did not find the city it is also believed unlikely that the Incas were fleeing the invaders. So just check out the sun temple and there is clear sign of fire damage and it is strongly suggested that a bolt of lightning hit this holy place causing significant structural damage (this is clearly evident today) and fire soon followed. The Incas would have seen this as the "wrath of the Gods" and as their Gods were displeased with them they felt no choice but to abandon their holy place. This theory sounded good to me and I happily signed up for this interpretation of the Inca’s abandonment of Machu Picchu.We stand at the Intihuatana (Hitching Post of the Sun), which has been cordoned off since it was chipped by the makers of a television commercial when they dropped a piece of equipment a on it. Weird that this modern story should take precedence over tales of its contemporary life. It was fascinating to note the different quality of the stone work, with prestigious temples being carefully crafted and lower level building being almost "thrown together", the latter is of course an over-statement but there is a real difference between the buildings. Indeed where other buildings join the Sun Temple you can observe the difference in a block’s width. I’d advise a climb up to the upper terrace overlooking the settlement as it’s from here that you’ll get that "picture postcard" photograph. It is a bit of a tough climb, but that’s mainly because of the varying height of the steps with a touch of altitude. At the far side of the site are the "labourer’s accommodation" and there’s a very interesting boulder which looks as if it was naturally deposited there. But take a moment to check out its contours and then look straight ahead into the middle distance towards the Sun Gate. There is the outline of natural cliff that is almost absolutely duplicated onto the boulder. Why? Who knows? But clearly the shapes were transferred by man onto the boulder. Perhaps a stone mason’s practice piece or a message to the Gods? Certainly this was overlooking the ceremonial site where the population of Machu Picchu would assemble for religious messages and where the archaeologists found a lot of broken high quality pottery believed to have been offered as "sacrificial offerings" to the Gods. The Inca’s best pottery that was donated to the Gods at key times in the Inca calendar or when there seemed to be a need to please the "spiritual beings" that overlooked the daily lives of this Inca settlement.Machu Picchu is still a spiritual place that is very hard to give justice to in words or pictures. I think it is a truly iconic site that has to be seen and experienced to believe. If you can get there then I’d strongly recommend a visit. And then when you can’t capture the enormity of the site to others you will fully understand how I feel about the great Machu Picchu.
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