Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Inca, is one of the most important archaeological sites in South America and the most visited tourist attraction in Peru. Despite being located close to the Inca capitol of Cusco the site was never discovered by the Spanish during their conquest, consequently it was not destroyed and remained relatively intact. Machu Picchu (meaning 'Old Peak' in the Quechua language) refers to the mountain that overlooks the city, its Inca name is not known.
Believed to have been built by Pachacuti, the ninth Sapa Inca (1438 - 1471 AD), the true purpose of Machu Picchu has never been conclusively determined although it is believed to have been a retreat for the Inca chief and his elite or a secret ceremonial city. Situated two thousand feet above the Urubamba River and invisible from below, the cloud shrouded city contains palaces, baths, temples, storage buildings and around 140 houses, all in a good state of preservation.
Spread over approximately 5 square miles, Machu Picchu housed a population of around 750 to 1200 people. It consists of a number of Sectors or Districts, which relate to the activities which were carried out there. These are Agricultural, which consists of terraces constructed by the Inca. These enabled crops to be grown but also provided stability to the mountain. The Industrial sector provided the facilities to produce and maintain the implements required by the population. The Urban sector provided the living accommodation for the people and the nobility. The Sacred District contains the religious buildings. The most famous buildings are the Intihuatana, also known as the "The Hitching Post of the Sun" as it was ceremonially used to tie the Sun to the earth each year. The Temple of the Sun, with its semicircular facade built to tie in with the natural rock which allows the sun to cast a shadow through its windows along a stone altar on the winter and summer solstice. Also in this sector are the Temple of the Three Windows and the Main Temple, which show structural damage from movement. A variety of other buildings and points of interest provide a beautiful and atmospheric place and one of the most enigmatic ancient sites in the world. Machu Picchu was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, describing it as "an absolute masterpiece of architecture and a unique testimony to the Inca civilization".
Cusco dates back to 1200 AD and is linked to the first Inca ruler Manco Capac. Its main period of expansion occurred in the 15th century under the rule of the Inca Pachacuti, who was responsible for the growth of the Inca Empire as far south as Chile and Argentina, and north to Ecuador and Columbia. The empire came to an abrupt end on the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors, under Francisco Pizarro who executed the Inca Atahaulpa and occupied Cusco in 1534. Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire from the 13th century until the Spanish arrived although it was an Inca rebellion by Manco Inca in 1536 which led to its destruction and to its rebuilding by the Spanish.This started a cultural mix that left its imprint on every aspect of Peruvian culture, something that is especially noticeable in Cusco.
One of the most noticeable things about the architecture of Cusco are the Inca walls constructed of enormous granite blocks which are shaped to fit together perfectly in a puzzle pattern and laid without the aid of mortar. The Inca architecture has survived numerous earthquakes which reduced much of the Spanish colonial architecture constructed on top of the Inca walls.
The church of Santa Domingo was built in the 17th century on the walls of the Qorikancha, the Temple of the Sun. This has some of the finest stone work which is still visible in the curved wall beneath the west end of the Church. In Inca times the walls of the Qorikancha were lined with gold sheets. A number of other temples can still be seen with their exquisite stonework and niches along the walls for the mummies of the dead Inca rulers. One of the most famous pieces of stonework, due to its size and incredible workmanship is the 12-angle block to be found in the north wall of the palace of Inca Roca, the sixth Inca.
The Cathedral which dominates the north-east side of the city’s main square was constructed on the foundations of the Inca Viracocha's palace. The Cathedral, constructed in the shape of a Latin cross, was begun in 1550 and completed nearly 100 years later. The three-aisled nave is supported by fourteen massive pillars and has ten chapels surrounding it these contain a large selection of artworks. In 1959 the Cathedral was damaged by a large earthquake and in 1983 Cusco became a World Heritage Site.
The Sacred Valley of the Incas or Urubamba Valley was formed by the Urubamba River and stretches from the
old Inca capital of Cusco to below the sacred city of Machu Picchu. Within the
valley are many historical and archaeological sites including Pisac, famous for
its market; Tambomachay, which is believed to
a site for ritual bathing for the nobility; Urubamba; Qenqo the carved rock
complex with its labyrinth of passages which are believed to have been connected
to fertility; and the Inca temples and fortress of Ollantaytambo situated at
the top of steep terracing which provided excellent defences. The fortress was
the only place to resist a Spanish attack. Following the Manco Inca’s defeat at
Sacsayhuaman after the unsuccessful siege of Cusco in 1536 the Inca retreated
to Ollantaytambo and held off Francisco Pizarro's younger brother Hernando,
eventually forcing him to retreat by flooding the plains below. The stone used
for these buildings was brought from a quarry on the opposite side of the Urubamba
River. The complex was still under construction at the time of the conquest and
was never completed.
Sacsayhuaman is a magnificent Inca fortress whose ramparts consist of three large parallel walls zigzagging for over 400m.It is believed to have originated around the time of Pachacuti the man who founded the Inca Empire and built Machu Picchu. The walls consist of blocks of up 8.5m high and weighing nearly 300 tonnes are fitted together with incredible accuracy. Following the rebellion by Manco Inca in 1536 the Inca held Sacsayhuaman as a base in the siege of Cusco until the Spanish broke out and captured the fortress killing all its’ defenders.