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Machu Picchu, sacred city of the Incas, is accessible by train from Cuzco, or via a trek along the Inca Trail, in Peru.  The "city" was never discovered by the Spanish conquistadores and remained lost for centuries. 

Machu Picchu is an architectural jewel. The Beauty and Mystery of it's walled ruins, once palaces of the finest Inca stone work, are augmented even more by the lush, almost virginal landscape of the surroundings.Green jungle flora suffuses the abrupt topography. Orchids add a strange brilliance.

The ruins blend harmoniously amid the narrow and uneven topography. One thousand, three hundred feet below, snakes the Urubamba Canyon and its roaring river.

Machu Picchu sits nearly 8,000 feet above sea level, on top of a ridge between two peaks of different size. The smaller peak, called the "Huayna Picchu", is the one most often seen in photographs of the ruins.

With the passing of the centuries, the ruins' original name has been forgotten.The name "Machu Picchu" comes simply from its geography. It literally means "old peak", just as "Huayna Picchu" is "young peak". The more accurate translation relates, however, to the concept of size, with Machu Picchu as the " bigger peak" and Huayna Picchu,the"smaller peak".

With its discovery in 1911, Machu Picchu made its debut as an authentic archeological enigma. Its purpose continues to intrigue, with mysteries that perhaps will never fully be unraveled.


It was Hiram Bingham who, in charge of a Yale University expedition, discovered Machu Picchu on July 24, 1911.  Bingham's goal had actually been to locate the legendary Vilcabamba which was the capital of the governing Inca's descendants.  They resisted the Spanish invaders and used Vilcabamba as a fortification between 1536 and 1572.

But on penetrating the Urabamba Canyon, in the desolate site of Mandorbamba, Bingham's expedition learned from a peasant named Melchor Arteaga that the hill Mahcu Picchu, at the top, held important ruins.  To reach them meant ascending a steep slope covered with dense vegetation.  Even though skeptical- the expedition was familiar with the many myths about "lost cities"-Bingham insisted on being guided to the spot.  Once there, a child from one of the two families that lived there, led him to imposing archeological structures covered by tropical vegetation and abandoned centuries ago.

As an astonished Bingham noted in his diary: "Would anyone believe what I have found?..."

How did this center of Inca culture hide itself in the mountain jungle?  From our knowledge of Greek, Egyptian and other early civilizations with written records, it is hard to understand how such a fantastic site could have been hidden from the Spanish.   Yet until its discovery in the 1911, Machu Picchu, "the lost city of the Incas", remained forgotten for 400 years. 

Actually, Machu Picchu is not a city at all.  It was built by Pachacuti Inca as a royal estate and religious retreat in 1460-70.  Its location -- on a remote secondary road in nearly impassable terrain high above the Urubamba River canyon cloud forest -- ensured that it would have no administrative, commercial or military use.  Any movement in that direction to or from Cusco and the Sacred valley upriver would have been by other Inca roads, either the high road near Salcantay or by the Lucumayo valley road.  Travel was restricted on these roads except by Inca decree.

After Pachacuti Inca's death, Machu Picchu remained the property of his kinship group, who were responsible for maintenance, administration and continued building. As an extraordinary sacred site (location as well as buildings), it was visited by Topa Inca and the last great ruler, Huayna Capac, although each in turn built their own estates and palaces.  Few outside the Inca's retainers knew of its existence.

Machu Picchu, like most Inca sites was undergoing constant construction and had a resident crew of builders as well as attendants, planters, and others, and the compound required a steady supply of outside goods.  So in order to really understand how Machu Picchu remained a secret, it's necessary to understand how Inca culture constricted travel and information.

The Inca were a completely regimented society.  Although great numbers of people were moved around for corporate state projects (mit'a) and resettlement, once at a location, they did not move.   The royal roads were reserved for official travel. The Incas were able to control their remarkable state system through a pyramidal hierarchy with information and direction flowing down through 10 overseers to 100, to 1000 and so on.  We know from historical writing and the archaeological record that the Incas did not possess a written language, although, they must have used some symbols and perhaps diagrams.  We also know that the Quipu ( collection of colored strings and knots) was extensively used for accounting and record keeping.  But Quipus need highly trained interpreters to read them, and the Spanish were unable to locate or interrogate even one of these specialists.  The Inca also maintained a class or guild of verbal historians.  But with the catastrophic collapse of Inca state structure following the arrival of the Spanish, these historians were scattered and forgotten.

But Machu Picchu was mostly forgotten even before the Spanish came. Small pox was the conquistadores' advance guard. Huayna Capac and an estimated 50 percent of the population died of small pox sometime around 1527. Inca government suffered, and after a period of turmoil, the empire fell into civil war over Inca secession. Machu Picchu was probably abandoned at this time -- both because it was expensive to maintain and with most of the population dead from war or epidemic, it
was hard to find the labor to keep it up.

The Pizarros arrived in Cusco in 1532. The first wave of Spanish were mostly illiterate, uneducated adventurers who had little interest in anything besides wealth and power. By the time scholars and administrators arrived, knowledge of Machu Picchu had been lost.

Manco Inca staged a country wide rebellion in 1536. After a failed siege of Cusco, Manco, along with remnants of the court, army and followers, abandoned his headquarters at Ollantaytambo. Fleeing back into the remote Vilcabamba beyond Machu Picchu, He burned and destroyed Inca settlements and sites accessible to the Spanish including Llatapata at the start of the trail to Machu Picchu from the Urubamba River.

But by that point it hardly mattered. The Machu Picchu trail and the site itself would have been long overgrown and the approach blocked by seasonal landslides that so hinder backcountry travel in Peru.


Suggested Reading

Lost City of the Incas: The Story of Machu Picchu and its Builders, Hiram Bingham, Atheneum, 1972.
The Incas and Their Ancestors: The Archaeology of Peru, Michael Moseley, Thames and Hudson, 1992

History of the Conquest of Peru, William H. Prescott, New American Library, 1961
The Conquest of the Incas, John Hemming, Hartcourt Brace 1970.
Machu Picchu, The Sacred Center, Johan Reinhard, Nuevas Imagenes, Lima. 1991.
Lonely Planet Peru, by Rob Rachowiecki - An essential Peru travel guide.
The Rough Guide to Peru by Dilwyn Jenkins
The Ancient Kingdoms of Peru by Nigel Davies
The Cities of the Ancient Andes by Adriana Von Hagen, et al.



Machu Picchu Links

Rediscover Machu Picchu has several excellent articles and links.

Roy Davies Inca Site  has several excellent articles and dozens of links to other Inca pages.

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu This link has photographs and notes on the ruins seen along the trail.

Inca Trail and Machu Picchu by Angus McIntyre.  A good description of the Trail, with photographs.
 
The Inca Trail FAQ   Some answers to frequently asked questions.
 
Routes and Tips - The Inca Trail and the Royal Trail  In addition to advice on hiking the Inca Trail this site contains information on a recently discovered shorter trail to Machu Picchu, the Royal Inca Trail, which starts at Km 104 of the railway very close to the archeological ruins of Chachabamba, where the Incas worshipped many Andean deities.   By walking the Royal Trail you can reach the citadel of Machu Picchu in one or two days.
 
20,000 Miles of Dreams (excerpt)  A brief account of what it was like to be on the Inca Trail in weather so atrocious that the authorities were forced to close the trail for the first time in the national park's history.
 
The Inca Trail : a virtual tour by Ben Brazil  A personal account with photographs.
 
The Inca Trail El Camino Inca by Vince Stevenson  A very detailed account with photographs, of a trek undertaken in January 1996.
 
Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail by Marcos Aninkvicius Gazzana.  Photographs and a description in Portuguese. An English version is under construction.
 
How I survived the Inca Trail by Jen Warren  A very detailed account, with photographs, of one woman's experiences.
 
Inca Trail and Peru Travel Information  By David Gualtieri, based on a visit there in September 1997.
 
The Inca Trail, King of Trails by Ulf Carlsson  A description with emphasis on the environment and what needs to be done to preserve this magnificent national park for future generations.
 
Hiking the Inca Trail by Ric Finch  A good description with links to high-quality photographs of the places mentioned in the text.
 
The Inca Trail Race   Run the Inca Trail! This is a race for those who find hiking far too easy, are extremely fit and well-acclimatised, or simply suicidally mad! Andes Adventures also organize an Inca Trail run.
 
The Machu Picchu Library  An excellent source of information including a large collection of links.  Another version of the Machu Picchu library is maintained on the George Mason University University server.
 
Machupicchu Online   Official web site for tourist information in Spanish. An English version of the site is planned.
 
Magnificent Machu Picchu  A collection of images.
 
Peru Multimedia Gallery  Includes photographs, audio and video clips, and a QuicktimeVR panorama of Machu Picchu.
 
Machu Picchu - Places of Peace and Power  Photographs from a forthcoming book on sacred sites by Martin Gray.
 
Arild Nybø's Pictures from the Inca World  More photographs of Machu Picchu.
 
Machu Picchu Abandoned, a Summary  An article by Gary Ziegler outlining some theories about why Machu Picchu was never found by the Conquistadors.
 
The Meaning of Machu Picchu  Based on a book by James Westerman.
 
The Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu    Information from UNESCO.
 
Machu Picchu: Consecration or Desecration   A plea for the preservation of this unique area by Carol Cumes who is the author of a book, Journey to Machu Picchu, on the traditions and beliefs of the Andean people.
 
The End of a Legend   Save Machu Picchu! It is threatened by a plans for a huge new hotel which would dominate the ruins. This website tells you what you can do to ensure that Machu Picchu is preserved for the sake of generations to come.
 

Adventures in The Cusco Area

The Pongo de Mainique Adventure Trek   A journal with many photographs of a trip starting from Cusco, going through the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and across the glaciers of the Vilcabamba Mountain Range down to the Urubamba and the Pongo Canyon.
 

The Incas and Other Peruvian Civilisations

The Empire of the Incas    An outline of the history of the Inca Empire by Dennis Ogburn at the Department of Anthropology at the University of California at Santa Barbara. These pages include one with links to some other selected sites on the Incas and a bibliography of books about them.
 
Books about the Incas    An extensive list of titles that can be ordered from Aon Books, a company affiliated with Amazon.com.
 
Ice Mummies of the Incas   Information, with photographs, about the sacrificial mummies found on the summit of Sara Sara in Peru in September 1996.
 
Inca Architecture    An account of its characteristic features with links to illustrative photographs.
 
Sixpac Manco    The web site of Vincent Lee who is the author of a number of books on Inca and Chachapoyas architecture and ruins.
 
Descendants of the Incas   This site contains a wealth of writings and photography about people living today near the city of Cuzco, Peru. It was the capital of the Inca empire and is close to Machu Picchu.
 
Talking Knots of the Inca    An article about a recently discovered manuscript, supposedly dating from the 17th century, explaining the function of the quipus, or knotted strings used by the Incas for keeping records.
 
The Civilization of the Incas   An attractive and informative site which includes various school projects.
 
Inti Raimi, Festival of the Sun     Photographs and notes about the modern Inti Raimi Festival held on the southern hemisphere's Winter Solstice every year plus information about the original Inti Raimi in prehispanic times.
 
Ancient Peru    Brief information on the Inca, Moche, Chimu, Paracas, Nazca and Chachapoya peoples.
 
Raiders of the Lost Tomb    How Dr. Walter Alva, Director of the Bruning Museum, saved the Moche treasures of the Lord of Sipan.
 
Exploring Lost Civilizations    Information on selected expeditions, conducted in Peru's Dept. Of Amazonas by Gene Savoy, Frank Ciampa and Dr. Gary Ziegler.
 
Chacha Picchu, New Discoveries in Amazonas, Peru    An account of recent archaeological discoveries in the Chachapoyas region.
 
Other Lost Cities of Peru    An article from Outpost Magazine, December 1998, about the Chachapoyas region which contains little-visited ruins such as the massive fortress of Kuelap, built with three times the amount of stone used in Egypt’s great pyramid of Giza.
 
Images of Archaeological Sites in Peru   By Clive Ruggles, Senior Lecturer in the School of Archaeological Studies, Leicester University.
 
South & MesoAmerican Archeology   A collection of links on the ruins of the civilizations of the New World.

Contacts between Ancient Civilisations?

Thor Heyerdahl and the Kon Tiki

Thor Heyerdahl - A Living Legend    An account of the Norwegian archaeologist and explorer's career and his controversial theories about pre-Columbian contacts between Peru and Polynesia.
 
Thor Heyerdahl's incredible life and career    Another good account of Thor Heyerdahl's life and theories.
 
Kon Tiki Museum    The museum's web server has accounts of recent research into the possibility of contacts between Peru and Polynesia in pre-Columbian times as well as accounts of Thor Heyerdahl's work.
 
Thor Heyerdahl Expeditions and Archaeology of the Pacific Peoples   More information on his work and links to related sites.

Gene Savoy

Gene Savoy Home Page     Gene Savoy has discovered no fewer than 43 lost cities in Peru! These include not only Inca sites but, even more importantly, huge ruins built by the the Chachapoyas who were conquered by the Incas just a few decades before the Incas were themselves conquered by the Spaniards. He is also a strong advocate of the view that there were contacts by sea between the civilizations of Peru and those of central America, Europe and Asia.
 
Explorer Finds a 'Lost World' in the Jungles of Peru   Gene Savoy believes he has found the lost city of Conturmarca. Sunday, September 26, 1999.
 
Andean Explorers Foundation and Ocean Sailing Club   Details of the extraordinary journeys of explorer Gene Savoy and his crew on the ill-fated ship Feathered Serpent III-Opir as they sailed the seven seas in an attempt to confirm their theories of cultural exchange among ancient peoples.
 
Shipwreck won't stop explorer   A report from the Seattle Times that Gene Savoy is determined to try again despite the loss of his double-hulled, 73-foot mahogany vessel the design of which was based on images found on pre-Incan pottery from Peru's northern desert.

Other Evidence for Trans-Oceanic Contacts

Ruins may show 'Incas' beat Maoris to New Zealand   An ancient earthwork discovered in a remote New Zealand forest could have been built by a South American civilisation that arrived 1,000 years before the Maoris arrived. Daily Telegraph Thursday 11 June 1998.
 
Early Crossings : Scientists Debate Who Sailed to the New World First    Evidence from inscriptions in central America similar to those from the Shang dynasty in China and pottery in south America similar to that of the Jomon period in Japan suggest that Europeans may not have been the first to visit by sea.
 

Peru

Peru Home Page   A large collection of links to sites based in Peru.
 
Images of Peru   This is one of the files that are part of the Peru Home Page (above) but it is worth mentioning separately. It consists of pictures from all over Peru, including the Cusco area.
 
Peru Reference Desk   A large collection of links maintained as part of the Latin American Studies Virtual Library.
 
Peru Links    This is claimed to be the most extensive collection of Peru links on the Internet. It is certainly very extensive.
 
Peru Traveller Guide    An excellent source of information for the independent traveller to Peru.
 
Window on Peru   A directory of resources of all kinds from commerce to recipes.
 
Peru Tourist Guide
 
Virtual Peru    Describes the different regions of Peru, the country's history, its culture and people. The site includes many photographs.
 
Destination Peru  A Lonely Planet website. In addition to material related to that in the guidebook this site includes a forum with hints and advice from recent visitors to the country.
 
The Peru Explorer   An online guide to Peru including, of course, Machupicchu.
 
The Lost Cities Adventure: Peru    Navigable panoramas for those of you who have Quicktime Vr installed, and still images for everyone else.
 
PeruSource  Archaeology and Travel Information about Peru. This website was created by an archaeologist who lives in the United States and travels often to Peru.
 
The South American Explorers Club   A natural starting point for travellers seeking information.
 
Cultures of the Andes  Music, poetry and language are just some of the subjects covered by this site. In addition there is a large well-categorised collection of links to other sites on the people, history, current affairs, culture and landscape of the Andes.
 
CIPS - Californian Institute for Peruvian Studies  Contains a lot of information about archaeology, including archaeo-tourism which gives tourists interested in such matters the opportunity to assist both foreign and Peruvian professionals.
 
Rumbos Magazine  The online version of a marvellous bilingual Spanish/English magazine on Peru. If you are interested in Peru, whether you know any Spanish or not, you should read this magazine. Better still, order the printed version so you don't need a computer to read it!
 
Books on Peru   A selection of books that can be ordered from The Travel Bookshop.
 
Fired Up! The life of a novelist in Peru   In an interview with HarperCollins Linda Davies discusses her experiences in Peru and the inspiration they provided.
 
President Fujimori accepts a Nest of Vipers  The Peruvian president, keeping calm during the hostage crisis, on his way to London to attract foreign investment.
 

Adventure Travel Companies

Journey Latin America  You can read their Condor dossier for full details of an the itinerary. Recommended!
 
Explore Worldwide  Recommended.
 
Exodus  Exodus also offer a variety of trips to Peru.
 
Adventure Specialists  This company's founder is Gary Ziegler, the well-known archaeologist. News of his activities and plans is also available.
 
Andes Adventures  This company offers both treks and, for the exceptionally energetic, running adventures including a run along the Inca Trail. 
 
Tread Lightly  A US travel company specialising in eco-tourism.
 
Peru Expeditions Overland   A Peruvian-based company organising a wide range of trips.
 
Vilaya Tours    An adventure travel company based in Chachapoyas specialising in trips to places in that region, including the immense ruins of Kuelap, one of the largest stone structures in the world.

Newsgroups for Inca Trail Discussions

If you have direct access from your browser to newsgroups the links below should work but if you don't you can get access via Deja News instead.

rec.travel.latin-america   This is the most popular Usenet newsgroup for discussions of the Inca Trail.
 
rec.backcountry   Has the occasional discussion of the hike.
 
alt.rec.hiking   Also has relevant messages occasionally.
 

 


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