It’s no “wonder” Machu Picchu (Peru) was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, as announced in July 2007 in Lisbon, Portugal. The other 6 destinations that made the list include: Chichen Itza (Mexico), Christ the Redeemer (Brasil), Colosseum (Italy), The Great Wall of China (China), Petra (Jordan), and Taj Mahal (India).
A Short History of Machu Picchu
Built in approximately 1450-1470 by the Incan Emperor Pachacútec, Machu Picchu means “old mountain” or “old peak” in Quechua, the South American Indigenous language of the Inca Empire. Machu Picchu is located in southern Peru, halfway up the Andes Plateau and is 2,350 metres above sea level. It is found deep within the Amazon jungle, above plains of the Urubamba River, and is located just north west of the city of Cusco. It is theorized that Maccu Picchu’s location amongst the mountains was thought to be sacred because of its alignment with astronomical events.
A true “city in the clouds,” Machu Picchu is a symbol of the Incan Empire prior to the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire and its lands. Only 100 years after it was built, the ancient Incan city was abandoned, most likely due to an outbreak of smallpox. In the early 16th century, the Spanish conquered the Incan Empire but never found Machu Picchu. Thus, it was forgotten but preserved from damage during the conquest.
Rediscovery of Machu Picchu
In 1911, American historian and archaeologist Hiram Bingham from Yale University rediscovered Machu Picchu and it became known as “The Lost City of the Incas.” Bingham is also thought to have been one possible origin of the character “Indiana Jones.”
In 1983, Machu Picchu was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization), It was called “an absolute masterpiece of architecture and a unique testimony to the Inca civilization.” Its architecture boasts of a classic Incan architectural style, with polished dry-stone walls made of blocks of stone. The stones were cut so precisely that they would fit together in such a way that no mortar would be used and even a knife’s edge could not fit between the blocks. Machu Picchu’s three primary archaeological treasures include the Intihuatana, the Temple of the Sun and the Room of the Three Windows.
Today’s Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is the most popular tourist site in Peru and also brings in a great deal of revenue. However, in the past 20 years, it has also been drawing in a great deal of commercial interest. Many people including historic, cultural, and ecological preservation groups have become concerned that this archaeological site is being endangered by tourists and commercial development interests: trains, hotels, helicopters, and etc.
Peru’s Geological Institute has suggested that closing down the site for 2 days a week, or limiting the number of visitors to Machu Picchu, would help to preserve the site. The government has not yet reached a conclusion, but has felt the concerns as “alarmist” thu far. In September 2007, an agreement was made between Peru and Yale University, that the ancient artifacts that were first removed by Bingham would be returned to Peruvian soil.
In 1993, author James Redfield wrote a novel called The Celestine Prophecy. The fictional novel incorporated themes of new age and spirituality. The main character journeys to Peru to learn and gain knowledge on insights that were recorded in an ancient Peruvian manuscript, left behind by an indigenous culture even prior to the Inca people. Redfield’s book helped to popularize travel to Peru and Machu Picchu, and it’s highly likely you won’t be able to visit Peru or Machu Picchu today without its mention.
If you are considering a visit to Machu Picchu by bus/train or trekking there through the Inca Trail, be sure to check on whether they are open and accessible to tourists at that time. It’s also a good idea to book as early as possible, especially for multiple day treks – and be sure to read up on the rules and guidelines for travelling on the Trial and visiting Machu Picchu.
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