The ruins of Machu Picchu rest some 8000 feet above the Earth, the Incan Empire’s greatest architectural feat. Looming above the Cloud Forest of the Urubamba River, the lost city of the Incas boasts 200 buildings, mostly residences, temples and storage facilities.
Machu Picchu (“Old Peak”) was most likely a royal estate and religious retreat. The structure was built between 1460 and 1470 AD by Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, an Incan ruler. About 1,200 people lived in and around Machu Picchu, most of them women, children, and priests. The buildings are thought to have been planned and built under the supervision of professional Inca architects. Most of the structures are built of granite blocks cut with bronze or stone tools and smoothed with sand. The blocks fit together perfectly without mortar although they are of varying size with many faces and as many as thirty corners. The joints are so tight that even the thin knife blades can’t be forced between the stones. Another unique thing about Machu Picchu is the integration of the architecture into the landscape. Existing stone formations were used in the construction of structures, sculptures are carved into the rock, water flows through cisterns and stone channels, and temples hang on steep precipices.
The Spanish invaders at the time of the conquest and during centuries of colonial rule never discovered the city and nobody ever led them there; this suggests a site long abandoned and forgotten. However, Machu Picchu had never been lost to those who lived around it and those people eventually led the American explorer Hiram Bingham and his team to the site in 1911. Hiram Bingham, now world-famous as the discoverer of Machu Picchu, did not initially travel to South America to explore the land of the Incas. In fact, the Hawaiian-born Yale and Harvard educated historian first journeyed south from the United States to complete his study of the great nineteenth century liberator Simon Bolivar.