A brief History of Machu Picchu

  • Machu Picchu was built around 1450 and abandoned around 1533
  • The Spanish Conquistadors never made it to Machu Picchu
  • It was forgotten for almost 450 years till it was rediscovered in the early 1900’s
  • In 1911 Hiram Bingham, a Yale Explorer officially rediscovered the site
  • Machu Picchu is by far South America’s nr. 1 archeological site

Inca Times

Being the number one archeological site of South America one cannot visit Machu Picchu without a little background information. Here are the basics; the name Machu Picchu means Young Mountain in Quechua (Native Language from Peru) and has been given to this site in modern times. The true name of Machu Picchu has been lost in history. Machu Picchu is believed to be built by the ninth Inca Emperor; Pachaqutec or Pachacuti. He ruled the Inca Empire from around 1440ac till his death in 1472ac. Machu Picchu is estimated to be built around 1450ac and abandoned about 100 years later when the Spanish arrived to the Cusco region around 1533ac. Many theories about the main function of Machu Picchu have been elaborated but nowadays scholars consider the Royal Retreat theory as the most probable. This theory claims that Machu Picchu was built as a royal retreat for Inca Pachacuti where he could entertain guests, hunt and consult Mother Earth. After the Spanish arrived Machu Picchu mysteriously disappeared, not only from the map, but almost from the collective mind of the Inca. It is a proven fact that the Spanish never made it to Machu Picchu even though they dominated the local population completely in the early years of the conquest. The site of Ollantaytambo where the Spanish had one of the fiercest battles with the Inca, is located at less than 35km from Machu Picchu. After the conquest a pocket of Inca resistance was able to retreat deep in the cloud forests where they created the last city of the Incas; Espiritu Pampa. This last pocket of Inca had little contact with the outside world and it is because of this that Machu Picchu disappeared from the collective memory. Machu Picchu was forgotten for almost 450 years before it was rediscovered. The person who rediscovered Machu Picchu is a point of discussion as the locals who lived in this valley always were aware of the site and there are stories of one or two foreigners that may have been to the site in the beginning of the 20th century.

Modern Times

Nevertheless, in 1911 American Explorer Hiram Bingham was the one that put Machu Picchu back on the map. Hiram Bingham was in Peru in 1909 and was shown the Incas site of Choquequirao which was discovered some years earlier. Fascinated by the stories he heard and the things he saw, Hiram Bingham decided to come back to Peru and discover the last city of the Incas. Based on information he got from local living in these valleys Hiram Bingham found what he was looking for; Espiritu Pampa, the last city of the Incas. As the whole site was overgrown, he did not realize the size of this Inca site and discarded it as the last city. He kept searching and a few months later was taken to Machu Picchu by a local child and declared Machu Picchu to be the lost city of the Incas. It was not till decades later that scientists prove that Espiritu Pampa was the last city of the Incas and not Machu Picchu. Hiram Bingham with help of Yale and the National Geographic Society came back to Peru several times and excavation and restoration of this massive site began. It is said that Hiram Bingham brought back almost 40 crates full of archaeological objects from Machu Picchu most of these sitting in the basement of Yale University. A couple of years back, ex-president Alan Garcia was able to negotiate 4 crates to come back to Peru but the fact of the matter is that no-one actually knows how much is still stored by the university and what magnificent pieces the collection may contain.

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