Friday, February 12, 2016



  It's always nice to meet and greet a new friend as soon as you arrive!  Hola, llama! 

The Sacred Valley of the Incas, commonly known as the Urubamba Valley, is located in the Andes of Peru and includes the former Inca capital of Cusco (aka Cuzco) and the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. This area of Peru formed the heart of the Inca Empire. Stretching approximately 37 miles, the Urubamba Valley is an area of fertile farmland and Spanish colonial villages including Pisaq (aka Pisac) and Ollantaytambo.

The Inca ruins of Machu Picchu is perched above the Urubamba River valley and sits in a saddle between two sharp peaks named Machu Picchu (Old Peak) and Huayna Picchu (Younger Peak) with a commanding view down two valleys and a nearly impassable mountain at its back.


The Inca Empire grew huge in less than 100 years from a small area in south central Peru to a vast region encompassing all of modern day Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and parts of what is now Colombia, Argentina, and Chile. The expansion and development of the Inca into one of the world's great civilizations during such a short time remains one of the mysteries modern science has yet to solve.

The Inca, like Romans of the Old World, were inheritors of several thousand years of human cultural development, traditions and technological evolution. The Inca were masters of using and improving upon what they had learned from earlier peoples. They are best known for amazing feats of engineering, management, road building and astonishing architectural achievements like Machu Picchu, accomplished with only stone, wood and bronze tools.

The Incas never used the wheel in a practical way, although its use in toys shows that they knew its principle. Its use in engineering may have been impractical due to the lack of strong draft animals, the steep terrain and dense vegetation. How they moved and placed the enormous stones remains uncertain, but the general belief is that they used hundreds of men to push the stones up inclined slopes. 

Through very efficient organization, the Inca effectively managed vast populations, agricultural seasons, food distribution, storage, building projects, and moving large armies of workers and soldiers without the aid of a written language. 

Machu Picchu is an extraordinary stone city along the Inca Trail in Peru and forms one of the most famous historical sites in the world. It is widely believed to have been constructed by the Inca Yupanqui people sometime during the mid-fifteenth century. We will never know for sure exactly who lived up there, but we do know that they were Incas. And we also know that they had retreated in secret to the place called Machu Picchu (which translates to "Old Peak"). We also know that this secret city was never discovered by the Spaniards.

Looking down upon the Urubamba Valley from the heights of Machu Picchu.

Scientists have determined that Machu Picchu could have had a population not exceeding approximately 750 to 1.000 people based on the number of stone buildings located at the City.  There are remains of 140 stone buildings on the site, but not all of them were for residential purposes.  The capacity of 750 people was never filled at Machu Picchu based on the 244 skeletons which have been found. Of the skeletons found 135 belonged to men and 109 belonged to women.

The location of the city was kept secret from other Incas as well. This helped keep it away from the eyes of the Spaniards. Some believe that the city was left behind by the Incas a long time before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors and Pizarro's troops. Perhaps it was left a short time after its construction, thus becoming extinct during the height of the Inca Empire before the Spanish conquest.  The mystery of what happened to Machu Picchu will probably never be solved.  For me, this only adds to the allure and fascination of Machu Picchu.

 Getting closer and closer to the town of Aquas Calientes which will be our home base for exploring Machu Picchu.  Going my way?  Let's do Machu Picchu!

c. 1425 CE - 1532 CE
The Inca Empire flourishes in South America.
1438 CE - 1471 CE
Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui  (aka Pachacutec in Spanish) reigns as the leader of the Inca Empire.
c. 1450 CE
Machu Picchu is founded by Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui (aka Pachacutec in Spanish)
c. 1510 CE
The Inca abandon the settlement of Machu Picchu.
1532 CE
Pizarro and the Spanish conquistadors arrive in South America.
1911 CE
Machu Picchu is "discovered" on July 24, 1911 by the American historian Hiram Bingham III
1981 CE
Machu Picchu was declared a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary
1983 CE
Machu Picchu declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site
2007 CE
Machu Picchu was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in a worldwide Internet poll.

 One of the few major Pre-Columbian ruins found nearly intact, Machu Picchu was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983.  

The Incas built a trail up the side of Huayna (pronounced "Wayna") Picchu, the larger and dominating peak seen above, and built temples and terraces on its top. The peak of Huayna Picchu is about 8,920 feet above sea level and about 1,180 feet higher than Machu Picchu which is the smaller peak seen to the left of Huayna Picchu in the above photograph. According to local guides, the top of the mountain was the residence for the high priest and the local virgins. Every morning before sunrise, the high priest with a small group would walk to Machu Picchu to signal the coming of the new day.


American historian Hiram Bingham "discovered" Machu Picchu in 1911. He originally thought he had come across Vilcabamba, another legendary Inca site, but Machu Picchu was an untouched and previously undiscovered city. Machu Picchu is often mistakenly referred to as the "Lost City of the Incas" (a title more accurately applied to Vilcabamba), but is definitely the the most familiar icon of Inca civilization.

Hiram Bingham III at his tent door near Machu Picchu in 1912. Hiram Bingham was an American historian and lecturer at Yale University although not a trained archaeologist.

There are disputes as to whether Bingham was in fact the first to “discover” Machu Picchu as others have claimed to have been there before Bingham including the native Quechua people who led him to the city. However, he is credited with being the official discoverer of Machu Picchu and bringing the city to the attention of the world.

Although the citadel of Machu Picchu is located fairly close to Cuzco, the former Inca capital and now the main commercial city of the area, the Spanish never found this amazing site. Consequently, it was not plundered or destroyed as many other sites were. Over the centuries the surrounding jungle grew over the site and few outside the immediate area knew of its existence.

Hailed as one of the greatest archaeological discoveries in the world, Machu Picchu was five centuries old when Bingham discovered it. Most of the outlying buildings have been reconstructed in order to give tourists a better idea of what the structures originally looked like. By 1976 thirty percent of Machu Picchu had been restored with restoration continuing to this day.


Machu Picchu (translated from the indigenous Quechua language means "old peak"). Machu Picchu lies in the southern hemisphere and is approximately 50 miles northwest of the city of Cuzco (aka Cuzco). It sits at the crest of the mountain of its name, Machu Picchu, and the entire site is approximately five square miles in dimension.  Machu Picchu's elevation is 7,710 feet which is over 3,300 feet lower than Cuzco and it has a milder climate than the old Inca capital of Cuzco. Having personally experienced a brief, but horrible attack of altitude sickness in Cuzco I can attest to this very,very unpleasant condition.  A word of caution:  take the time needed to adjust before hitting the Inca highlands. You won't regret it!

A map of Machu Picchu, the Inca site in the high Andes of the Urubamba Valley. The settlement was founded by Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui in c. 1450 CE. Typical of Inca architecture, the settlement follows the contours of the natural topography.

Machu Picchu is an Inca citadel set high in the Andes Mountains in Peru above the Urubamba River valley. Built in the 15th century and later abandoned, it’s renowned for its sophisticated dry-stone walls that fuse huge blocks without the use of mortar, intriguing buildings that play on astronomical alignments, and panoramic views. The exact former use of Machu Picchu remains an unsolved mystery.

Machu Picchu is roughly divided into an urban sector and an agricultural sector and into an upper town and a lower town. The eastern section of the city was probably residential. The western, separated by the square, was for religious and ceremonial purposes. The temples are in the upper town and the warehouses in the lower.

The architecture is adapted to the mountains. Approximately 200 buildings are arranged on wide parallel terraces around a vast central square that is oriented east-west. The most widely used form in Inca architecture was the kancha, a rectangular enclosure housing three or more rectangular buildings placed symmetrically around a central courtyard. Kancha units served widely different purposes as they formed the basis of simple dwellings as well as of temples and palaces. In addition, several kancha could be grouped together to form blocks in Inca settlements.

Extensive terraces were used for agriculture and sophisticated channeling systems provided irrigation for the fields. Numerous stone stairways set in the walls allowed access to the different levels across Machu Picchu.

 The central buildings of Machu Picchu use the classical Inca architectural style of polished dry-stone walls of regular shape. The Incas were masters of this technique which is called ashlar in which blocks of stone are cut to fit together tightly without mortar. Many of the hand cut stones in the central city are so perfect that it is said not even a blade of grass fits between the stones.  And I can certainly believe it.

With its incredibly ornate stonework and architecture Machu Picchu is widely considered to have been an important ceremonial site. The large number of temples underlines the religious importance of Machu Picchu. Some of Machu Picchu’s most impressive structures include the semi-circular Temple of the Sun (aka Intiwasi and the Torreón), the Temple of the Three Windows, and the Intihuatana Stone (aka Intiwatanawhich are located in the first zone. These structures were dedicated to INTI, their sun god and greatest deity.


The Intihuatana stone (aka Intiwatana) at Machu Picchu

Located north of the main plaza the Intihuatana stone (aka Intiwatana) is a beautifully carved rock that the Incas may have used for astronomical purposes as well as spiritual and religious ceremonies. In Quechua the word Intihuatana has been translated as “hitching post of the sun." It also has been translated from the Quechua language as ""sun" from the word "Inti" and from the word "wata" which means "year" thereby giving  the purpose of the stone as a solar year observatory or as a sun dial. I particularly like the image of the "hitching post of the sun"translation!  

The Intihuatana stone was carved insitu from one solid piece of granite and is located close to the Royal Plaza. The top of the rock is carved into a square with each of its corners marking the 4 cardinal points: north, south, east, and west. Many believe that the Intihuatana had the specific function of measuring both the solstice and the equinox which were very important in their primarily agrarian existence. 

A solar calendar, an Inca altar, or a source of positive energy?  Maybe all of the above!

Another theory was that the stone was full of energy which made it a focal point of the positive energy found at Machu Picchu.  Sounds pretty "New Age" to me, but then the Incas might have known a thing or two about positive energy way before our modern time.  In the past, visitors to Machu Picchu would often place there hands upon the stone to absorb the positive energy of the stone, but nowadays the stone has been partitioned off from passing visitors with a permanent security guard watching over it. "Así es la vida which translate to "such is life."  

Pedro Sueldo Nava was an official tour guide in Machu Picchu and Cuzco for ten years who describes the Intiwatana in his book "A Walking Tour of Machupicchu" (1976) as "perhaps one of the most beautiful and enigmatic places to be found in Machu Picchu." It is definitely one of the most iconic features of Machu Picchu.


The Temple of the Sun (aka INTIWASI in the Quechua language) was also known as
Torreon (the tower) in Spanish. Some believe the Temple of the Sun was used to honor and celebrate Inti, the Sun, the most important Inca deity. 

The Temple of the Sun is located in the urban sector and can be only entered through a large access gate which provided the city with a necessary means of protection and security. According to many researchers, the exact location of Machu Picchu, aka the Citadel, was chosen because of its high altitude which put it closer to their most important god, Initi, the Sun. It is also surmised that its high altitude would benefit their astronomical studies which was an important aspect of Inca culture. 

The most important building for Machu Picchu, the tower known as Torreon, was placed inside of the Temple of the Sun to indicate that that was exactly the position with the highest altitude all over the city. This position also made the Temple of the Sun the civic center Machu Picchu where the most important and meaningful events were held.

When the sun of the winter solstice enters through the central window of the Temple of the Sun it falls directly on the large ceremonial stone which seems to be protected by the round structure.

The Temple of the Sun or Intiwasi is shaped like a semi-circle and was built on an existing granite stone. It was shaped to blend with the natural curves of the stone and has a diameter of approximately 35 feet.There is also a cave underneath the Temple of the Sun which formed naturally. And while some believe it was a royal mausoleum, there is no evidence to suggest this is true. However it is likely this cavern was used for some kind of religious reason as there is a stairway carved into a large rock near the entrance.


The Temple of Three Windows, together with the Temple Mayor (the main Temple) and the Intihuatana Stone, make up what Hiram Bingham called the Sacred Plaza. The Temple of the Three Windows and the Temple Mayor not only have the most impressive architecture, but were the most important spiritual structures in Machu Picchu.

The buildings in this district are particularly large with massive rock lintels weighing as much as three tons, characteristic of imperial Inca architecture. The Temple of Three Windows consisted of only three walls with a stone hall 35 feet long and 14 feet wide containing three trapezoidal windows along one wall, a rare feature in Inca architecture. Bingham theorized that the three remaining windows of the original five framed the distant mountains representing the three mythological caves from which the mythological Ayar brothers, the "children of the sun," stepped into the world.

 Only three windows remain of the original five in the Temple of Three Windows.  Many believe that the windows represent a different part of the world as defined by the Inca civilization:  the underground or inner life (Uku-Pacha), the heaven or spiritual life (Hanan-Pacha), and the present or mundane life: (Kay-Pacha). 

There are many theories as to why this building has three windows most of which come from ancient chronicles written by Spanish conquistadors and prominent natives nobles. Most of these theories seem to contradict each other. Since the Inca did not have a written language we will never know for sure, but I personally love the mystery which adds to Machu Picchu's magic.


The Royal Tomb is located below the Temple of the Sun and is one of the most important tombs in Machu Picchu. Formed by a small natural cave with an opening facing east, the interior of the Royal Tomb is made up of finely carved stones, niches and lithic pegs.* The main feature of the tomb is a large altar with 2 levels and a symbolic stair case carved insitu ** in the natural rock.
* Lithic fragments, or lithics, are pieces of other rocks that have been eroded down to sand size and now are sand grains in a sedimentary rock.
** Insitu: situated in the original, natural, or existing place or position. example: the archaeologists were able to date the vase because it was found insitu.

Due to the fine stone carvings and the location of the tomb within the Urban Sector of Machu Picchu, historians deduce that The Royal Tomb contained the mummies of the Inca hierarchy in Machu PicchuAlthough the term tomb suggests a closed dark burial chamber, the tomb was actually open to light, specifically in the mornings, when the sunrise illuminated the entire tomb. The tomb could have been considered more like a chapel, a place of worship, and less like the closed tombs that were found elsewhere within the citadel.

The mausoleum contains a massive rock which bears part of the Temple of the Sun. This is the place where the Incas came to worship their gods and give ceremonial offerings as a sign of last respect to the mummies of their leaders and high ranking officers of this kingdom
When Machu Picchu was abandoned by the Incas, all of the important ornaments and mummies were removed for safekeeping. When Hiram Bingham arrived at Machu Picchu in 1911, the Royal Tomb was found to be empty. Since then, later archaeological digs have revealed little more.

What a great place for a rest and a spectacular view of Machu Picchu!


Hiram Bingham III at upper right with a local guide on a jungle bridge at Vilcabamba (hand-colored glass slide circa 1911). 

In 1911 Hiram Bingham with his book "Lost City of the Incas"brought to public attention the site of the ruins of the city at the remote forest site then called Espíritu Pampa approximately 81 mile west of Cuzco. Bingham, however, did not realize its significance and believed that Machu Picchu was the fabled "Vilcabamba," the lost city and last refuge of the Incas.

Hiram Bingham who is credited with the "discovery" of Machu Picchu had actually been seeking Vilcabamba (aka Vilcapampa), the “Lost City of the Incas,” from which the last Inca rulers led a rebellion against Spanish rule until 1572. He cited evidence from his 1912 excavations at Machu Picchu which were sponsored by Yale University and the National Geography Society in his labeling of the site of Machu Picchu as Vilcabamba,"Lost City of the Incas."  However, Bingham's belief is no longer widely accepted for the following reasons:

Gene Savoy (christened Douglas Eugene Savoy) was an American explorer and amateur archaeologist who discovered and explored more than forty (40) Inca and pre-Inca cities in Peru almost fifty years after Hiram Bingham. Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, Savoy made a series of expeditions to Peru discovering various Inca and pre-Inca archaeological sites. In 1964 he discovered Vilcabamba which was the secret mountain stronghold where the Incas hid from Spanish conquerors in the 16th century until it was destroyed and lost.  Vilcabamba was the actual fabled "Lost City of the Incas" a title often incorrectly applied to the more famous ruins of Machu Picchu.

Savoy's discovery disproved Hiram Bingham’s belief that Vilcabamba and Machu Picchu were the same place.  Nevertheless, many sources still follow Bingham’s precedent and erroneously label Machu Picchu as the “Lost City of the Incas.” 

Here is my suggestion:  we could clear up this confusion by simply re-naming Machu Picchu "The Magnificent City (or Citadel) of the Incas" and leave Vilcabamba as the "Lost City of the Incas." What say you?  

"Gene Savoy, People Magazine's "Real Indiana Jones," achieved international fame in the 1960's with a series of daring expeditions into the dense Peruvian jungles of the eastern Andes and Amazon region that led to the discovery of numerous ancient and mysterious stone cities and settlements where none were thought to exist. He came to these discoveries as a result of his original and unique theory that pre-Inca and Inca civilizations originally occupied the tropical rain forests. His theory was confirmed in 1964-65 with his discovery and exploration of one of the most dramatic and important archaeological finds of this century: the fabled city of Vilcabamba, the Inca's last city of refuge from the Spanish (a city long thought to be Machu Picchu, the hilltop settlement found by Hiram Bingham in 1911). The full account of this discovery is contained in Savoy's book, Vilcabamba: Last City of the Incas, published by Robert Hale, London, 1970."

The mystery and magic of Machu Picchu continues to this day. Many researchers speculate that the Inca Pachacuti (aka Pachacutec)*** built Machu Picchu as monument to his own greatness. Others theorize that Machu Picchu was possibly a summer or royal retreat. Perhaps the city was an agricultural outpost, given the number of terraces, water channels and irrigation canals. Or perhaps an observatory, the summer home of the Inca rulers, or a combination of all? The mystery continues and I love the unknown and magic that is found in Machu Picchu!

***Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, or Pachacutec, or Pachakutiq Inka Yupanki was the ninth Sapa Inca of the Kingdom of Cusco which he transformed into the Inca Empire. 

Born: 1438, Cusco, Peru
Died: 1471, Cusco, Peru
Successor: Topa Inca Yupanqui
Grandchildren: Huayna Capac
Children: Topa Inca Yupanqui
Parents: Mama Runtucaya, Viracocha Inca

Descendants of the Inca, the indigenous Quechua of Peru, are very proud of their heritage and rightfully so.   

 Pooped out in the Andes, but Machu Picchu is totally awesome!  

Exploring Machu Picchu is thirsty work! I am very happy the Incas left an amazing system for delivery of water for both human consumption and irrigation. It still still delivers clear mountain water which I certainly enjoyed. 

Go to the following link for a wonderful PBS NOVA SPECIAL ON MACHU PICCHU:

Thank you for joining me in our exploration of the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu.  You may view additional photos in the following album which is as simple as clicking on the album photo.  I look forward to hearing from you with your comments, questions, and suggestions.  Muchas gracias, Laura

Memories are just a click away.  Hope to see you again very soon!


  1. Very prophetic that Machu Picchu was discovered on our Mother's birthday! Thanks for sharing the wonderful photos and story.

  2. So interesting, Laura! Beverly Rinderknecht, Peninsula Point and Newport El thru NHHS, was there last month, February, 2016, also! What are the odds? Id bet your trip was earlier followed by this lovely writing. I'll be reading all your posts as the days go on. Loved it! Chris

  3. Many thanks, Chris, for the comment. I was just thinking about the upcoming NHHS class reunion and there you were. Now if I could put a last name to "Chris" I would be even more pleased. You can email me directly at my email address on the home page of each posting. Gracias and saludos, Laura

  4. I love it that you include some history--so important for putting everything into perspective. Again, wonderful photos--so full of heart. And that last shot? Precious beyond words.

  5. Many, many thanks for your wonderful and encouraging comments, Vicki! As you know, it is so rewarding to hear from other bloggers and readers and to know your efforts are been appreciated.