Are you planning a visit to Machu Picchu, or simply curious about this World Wonder? How much do you know about it? Either way, there's no doubt Machu Picchu is the most important tourist destination in South America. Around 3000 people arrive in Peru every day to visit this ancient Inca Citadel and UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, there are still many unanswered questions about Machu Picchu.
In this blog, we'll bring up some of the most intriguing facts about this site, from its construction, purpose, and discovery in the modern era.
Here are the most fascinating facts about Machu Picchu!
7 Historical Facts about Machu Picchu
1. Machu Picchu was built by Inca "Pachacuti"
Peruvian culture started somewhere around 5000 B.C. In the north of Lima, Caral is one of the oldest civilizations in Peru; they lived in the desert and survived trading with their neighbors while Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, and India were developing.
The Incas appear in the history line around the 1300s. Many Inca cities were built over the foundation of past civilizations, like Cusco, the capital. However, no traces of earlier culture were found in Machu Picchu. This means that the Incas were the first to arrive at these mountains. Machu Picchu was built between 1400 AD to 1500 AD. This period belongs to Pachacuti, the 9th Inca ruler, and his son Túpac Inca Yupanqui.
2. Machu Picchu was abandoned after the Spanish Invasion
Despite many theories of diseases, wars, and hunger in Machu Picchu, it might have suddenly caused the people to leave the great citadel. Nowadays, we know that Machu Picchu was still inhabited during the first years of the conquest and abandoned during the retrieve into Vilcabamba, the last capital of the Incas.
3. Machu Picchu was never the "lost" City of the Incas
Hiram Bingham arrived at Machu Picchu on July 24th, 1911. He found 3 families living at the first building right after the entrances: Bingham’s first guide was a little boy 11 years old named “Pablito,” he used to play inside Machu Picchu and knew the Inca city by hand; all this was documented in the first pictures taken in black and white.
4. Hiram Bingham did not discover Machu Picchu
When Hiram Bingham arrived in 1911, he found a painting in the Temple Of The Three windows saying “Agustin Lizarraga 1902”. He was a farmer from Santa Teresa town next to Machu Picchu. Unfortunately, he fell into the Urubamba River in 1912 and died.
Everybody agrees that Hiram Bingham did not discover Machu Picchu. However, Hiram Bingham gave scientific and historical value, bringing attention to this citadel. In 1913, “National Geographic” magazine published a detailed article introducing Machu Picchu and its work, revealing the great citadel. So we can say, in fact, that Hiram Bigham is the scientific discoverer of Machu Picchu.
5. The Inca Trail was used as a Pilgrimage path to Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu has 2 ancient access routes: One is an easy access path along the Urubamba River banks, allowing the arrival to the great citadel in just one day. The other one is the stunning Inca Trail that climbs mountains and arrives at the different temples before arriving at Machu Picchu.
Many historians suggest that the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu had a ceremonial purpose: a hike to prepare travelers for Machu Picchu, the Sacred Citadel. The Inca Trail might represent the first Inca King, Manco Inca’s journey when they exited the Island of the Sun in Lake Titicaca and traveled across the Mountains to Cusco Valley, where they found the capital of the great empire.
Learn more about the Inca Trail.
6. Yale Returned Artifacts To Peru
Hiram Bingham III excavated in Machu Picchu between 1912 and 1915, and the artifact found during this time left Peru under a special governmental decree. The Materials were loaned to Yale University for research and needed to be returned. Some artifacts were returned after World War I, but most were kept in the school.
In 2008, Peru’s government filed a lawsuit against Yale, and in 2012, after a partnership agreement between Yale University and the Univerity of Cusco, all artifacts were returned.
7. Machu Picchu was not finished
The question that everybody asks is if Machu Picchu was finished. Many Inca sites in Cusco were not completed, like Ollantaytambo, invaded by the Spaniards. Most of the rocks the Incas were transporting to build the city were left on the trail; now, these boulders are called “Tired Stones.” The rocks were transported from faraway quarries.
Machu Picchu, on the other hand, the quarry was right there, and the city was completed. However, like any other modern city, it was still growing, so we see unfinished construction in Machu Picchu.
Check out our 4-day Inca Trail. The best way to avoid the crowds, with fixed departure reduced price available!
8 Architectural facts about Machu Picchu
1. Machu Picchu was made earthquake-resistant
Peru is a seismically unstable country situated in the Pacific Ring of Fire, and earthquakes had flattened the cities long before the Inca nation. Machu Picchu is also built between 2 geological fault lines. However, the Inca engineers knew that and made all their cities earthquake-resistant. The stones are cut so tightly that you can’t fit a needle between these spaces.
2. The best part of Machu Picchu is the underground
Modern engineers in Machu Picchu had estimated that 60 percent of Machu Picchu is underground constructions, and we can only see the remaining 40 percent. This doesn’t mean tunnels. The underground structures are the drainage system and the building’s foundations on such a steep mountaintop.
3. Machu Picchu’s water system is significantly advanced
Before building the city, Inca engineers had to plan how to bring enough water. Machu Picchu is located in the Could Forest, a warm and humid place; the reason why 60 percent of Machu Picchu is underneath is that the Incas were fighting against the humidity against the rain, and they built a vast drainage system to exit the water from the city and avoid landslides. However, they needed to bring water to the citadel and consumption; this needed to be just enough for all living in Machu Picchu.
They decided to build a 749m long canal with a 3% inclination. There were 16 fountains to distribute the water for each neighborhood; the first one at the top was reserved for the king. This inclination allowed the water to run smoothly through the city, even in the rainy season, without causing any trouble.
4. Machu Picchu has 2 Mountains you can climb
Almost all visitors want to climb Huayna Picchu Mountain, but few people know about the other mountain called Machu Picchu Mountain or Montaña. Huayna Picchu will sell out very fast, but you can still climb Machu Picchu Mountain, which offers even more incredible views. Machu Picchu Mountain is the highest mountain at 3,082 meters (10,111 ft.). It’s important to know that Machu Picchu citadel differs from Machu Picchu Mountain.
5. Machu Picchu was an Astronomical Observatory
Machu Picchu is considered a holy city; there are temples and sacred places all over the town.
Recent studies have shown that most of Machu Picchu’s buildings are oriented toward the most important mountains. One of the best examples is the Intihuatana Stone; the corners of this structure point to Salkantay Mountain, Pumasillo, Yanantin, and the Sungate.
6. Machu Picchu is divided into 2 sectors
Machu Picchu was very well planned. The town was divided into 2 main sectors divided by a vast wall.
The agricultural sector is the first part of the terraces that the Incas used for farming maize, beans, and fruits. The terraces have an advanced drainage system.
The urban sector is divided by a tall wall; inside, there are temples, palaces, houses, and plazas. There are around 200 buildings that house around 800 to 1000 people in total.
7. The Spaniards did not destroy Machu Picchu
The conquistadors destroyed most Inca sites like Sacsayhuaman, Ollantaytambo, and Pisaq. However, Machu Picchu was never found thanks to its hidden location, making it one of the Incas’ best-preserved archaeological treasures.
8. Machu Picchu has a Secret Temple
This is the Temple of the Moon; unfortunately, this place is optional and only allows visitors to visit the early Huayna Picchu Mountain shift.
Machu Picchu also has a local museum below, near the bridge crossing the Urubamba River. You will see the artifacts found in Machu Picchu and many of the first pictures taken in 1911.
7 Curious Facts about Machu Picchu
1. Llamas are the only foreigners living in Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu has been a protected area and a World Heritage Site since 1983. No one can live inside the citadel. However, during your visit, you will see several llamas gracing freely; they are not native to the area but were brought to Machu Picchu to enhance the site’s beauty and trim the grass.
2. You can walk up to the ruins
Once in Aguas Calientes, you can take the $24 bus to Machu Picchu or follow Hiram Bingham’s 1911 route for 1.5 hours.
The free hike entrance offers extraordinary views of Machu Picchu, the Urubamba River, and the surrounding mountains. However, we do not suggest the hiking trail if you are finishing a trek like the Inca Trail, Salkantay Trek, Lares Trek, or any other trekking tour.
3. Only women lived in Machu Picchu?
Among the findings in Machu Picchu, there were around 160 skeletons, most of which were short. Dr. George Eaton, the osteopath, concluded that most of Machu Picchu’s inhabitants were women. Bingham concluded that the site was the “Temple Of The Virgins Of The Sun. “
Later research will prove that the number of female and male skeletons was almost equal, and the skeleton was short because that was the average height of the Incas by that time.
4. Machu Picchu has only 2 seasons
Machu Picchu has only 2 seasons: the wet and dry seasons.
The wet season from November to March
The Dry season from April to October
5. Machu Picchu means Old Mountain
Although there's no written evidence of the name "Machu Picchu," the Incas used their main and widely spoken language, "Quechua," to refer to any place or town around the Empire. The compound Quechua word; “Machu” means old or great, and Picchu means mountain, which can be interpreted as "Old Mountain."
Learn more about Quechua: The Language of the Incas.
6. Machu Picchu is not the real name
On July 23rd, 1911, the expedition led by Hiram Bingham reached the small village of Mandor near Aguas Calientes. The local farmer Melchor Arteaga told the explorers that there were many ruins in the nearby mountains. They asked the name of the site, and he said Machu Picchu.
Unfortunately, there is no record of a town with this name. Over the years, many names have been proposed, like Llaqtapta and Karmenqa. However, a few years ago, historians found writings from the first conquistador in which there was a list of the Inca kings and the cities each built. One line says Pachacuti built Picchu, which could be the actual name of Machu Picchu and proof that Pachacuti built this incredible city.
7. There are 2 ways to arrive at Machu Picchu
When is the best time to visit Machu Picchu?
Machu Picchu is a site of incredible beauty and mystery, and there is no single answer to the question of when is the best time to visit. However, a few things to remember can help you plan your trip.
For more information, you can enter this blog: The best time to visit Machu Picchu.
Author: Juan Coronel – a Native Tour Guide and Travel expert