Monday, April 26, 2010

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is an ancient city located in Peru. Meaning “Old Peak” in Quechua, the native language from the Inca Empire, this mountain relic is claimed as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. The city draws its popularity not from what lies within its walls but where it was built, 2,430 meters (7,970 feet) above sea level.

The city is believed to have constructed around the 1450. Yet scientific research has shown that it was abandoned a little more than a century later, synonymous with the arrival of the Spanish Conquest. Historians speculate that the city’s population had succumbed to an outbreak of smallpox before the Spanish’s arrival.

Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was built in honor of the great Inca emperor, Pachacuti (1432-1472). Others hypothesize that its purpose was to govern the economy of nearby settlements. Located on a mountain top, its inhabitants would have had a good view of their surroundings. Smaller minorities believe the city had a more simple purpose such as a prison or an agricultural testing station that would test how different types of crops survived in the variable climate.

The city sits in a valley between the two larger mountains Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu. Early settlers would have received water from nearby springs while food would have been grown from local fields. It’s actually interesting, because there is enough land to feed four times what the city’s population at the time. Engineers also terraced the surrounding hillsides to guard against invaders and reduce soil erosion to prevent landslides.

 aerial shot of Machu Picchu

One of the area’s leading tourist attractions is the Intuhuatana Stone. A rare ritual stone found in South America, the rock is arranged to point directly at the sun during a winter solstice. This results in no shadow casted by the leading pillar during the equinoxes. It’s speculated the device was a primitive calendar.

Did you know?- There are many flights of stairs at the city consisting of one hundred steps or more carved from a single block of granite!

The important buildings inside Machu Picchu have polished-dry stone walls made with a technique called ashlar in which precision cut stones are fitted together tightly without mortar. Peru has a lot of seismic activity and the structure’s walls can shift and resettle without collapsing.

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