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Peru’s Machu Picchu was built by the Incas sometime around 1400 and was used until the time of the Spanish conquest. For some reason Machu Picchu was never discovered by the Spanish despite being located only 50 miles from Cuzco
After the Incas abandoned the Machu Picchu it was overgrown by the jungle. Machu Picchu was lost and forgotten by the outside world for more than 350 years until Hiram Bingham, a Yale University historian was led there in 1911 by local farmers.
When the Incas ruled this land they were led by an emperor and nobles, consisting of priests and relatives of the emperor. Below them in importance were architects and craftsmen, next was the working class (mainly farmers), and lastly the peasants and slaves.
The Incas believed in reincarnation and worshipped the god of creation, as well as gods of the sun, rain, lightning and more. They had no written language but supposedly recorded information using knotted strings, which cannot be interpreted today.
The best way to arrive at Machu Picchu is by taking the Hiram Bingham luxury train which stops at the small town of Aquas Calientes which is located beside the Urubamba River. Next to the headwaters of the Amazon, the vegetation there is lush and green. You then take a bus that climbs the mountain on narrow and precipitous switchbacks that are so close to thousand-foot drops that one cannot see the ground beside the bus window. At the top of the climb, visitors will find the gates to Machu Picchu and the entrance to the only hotel by the park, the Orient-Express Sanctuary Lodge.
After checking into the hotel, guests can enter the gates of the park and climb the winding path to the ruins of Machu Picchu, emerging on one end of the ancient city. It is said that Machu Picchu sits in the “saddle” of the mountain, flanked on either side by peaks that tower over the ruins.
The Incas’ greatest achievements were their building prowess and architecture, and there are about 140 structures there — temples, residences, watchtowers and guardhouses — built on many levels. Their mountainside foundations and drainage systems have withstood earthquakes and floods for hundreds of years.
There are irrigation canals that carried fresh spring water to one house after another, and agricultural terraces built on slopes using retaining walls and topsoil hauled from the valleys below to create level, high-altitude growing areas.
Inca-built walls stand strong here today as they do in ruins throughout South America. Builders lowered one rock on another and carved away the lower rock until the two fit snugly, the concavity of the lower stone providing extraordinary stability without mortar.
The view from the site is mesmerizing, spectacular mountains in every direction, some with peaks shrouded in clouds. Many believe the site and the setting combined are the reason Machu Picchu was recently named among the New Seven Wonders of the World in a worldwide Internet poll.
It’s been 100 years since Hiram Bingham introduced Machu Picchu to the outside world, and in this anniversary year, the site will be visited by an all-time record number of tourists.
If you come, plan to stay as late as you can, until the crowds have gone and the fog and the peace have descended upon the ruins. For it is only then that you may hear the ghosts of a dying empire, struck down by smallpox and the cunning and treachery and greed of the conquistadors.
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