Machu Picchu

Rediscovered by Hiram Bingham in 1911, this lost city rose 2000 ft above the river valley. Unlike Schliemann, Bingham didnt originally plan to search for a site. He went to Peru in 1911, the same year Olduvai Gorge was discovered, for the purpose of retracing the route of Simon Bolivar, who had marched across the Andes to fight against the Spanish. Bingham was drawn slowly into the search for Incan ruins after a local government official invited him to look for a site whose name meant 'the craddle of gold'. He was soon captivated by the snow-capped peaks, sheer canyon walls and forests. He used notes from a Spanish religious order as a guide to find the site, much like Schliemann's use of the Iliad to search for Troy. Guided by a local boy, Bingham eventually found the precipitous peak of Machu Picchu among dense vegetation.

"Surprise followed surprise in bewildering succession [he wrote]. Suddenly we found ourselves standing in front of the ruins of two of the finest and most interesting structures in ancient America. Made of beautiful white granite, the walls contained blocks of Cyclopean size, larger than a man. The sight held me spellbound. [later he added] Would anyone believe what I had found?"

Machu Picchu is set between two towering peaks, concentrated in an area 700 by 300 meters (2280 by 984 feet) The engineering is exceptional. The huge granite blocks are cut so precisely and fitted together so tightly that a razor blade cant pass between them. The blocks were placed at a carefully planned incline in order to protect the buildings from earthquakes, which, notably, have destroyed modern buildings while leaving the Incan city unscathed. The site is divided by a series of eight 'streets'. Numerous long stairways are evident, some of which have steps cut out of solid rock. There are fourteen groups of houses, which a grand total of 216 rooms. The site also features temples, tombs, prisons, a series of irrigation tanks, castlelike towers, and various other buildings, as well as a city wall with a main gate.

Located at an elevation of 2450 meters (8038 ft), the site is nearly impregnable. It overlooks sheer cliffs and is protected on three sides by the rapids of the Urubamba, which thunder 450 meters (1486 ft) below. The natural defenses are enhanced by the clever way in which the Incas made one of the paths leading to the site. It crosses a narrow ledge overlooking a sheer cliff. Over the chasm, the Incas constructed a log footbridge that, when removed, rendered the narrow path impassable.

[Back to Peru] [Back to Travels] [Back to Hippo Home]