Machu Picchu is a must-see for anyone stepping foot in Peru. Located on a mountain ridge 7,970 feet above sea level, the wonderfully preserved “Lost City” is a world-renowned archaeological site. It’s a story of a long-kept secret and lost Inca civilization in the Andes. The site showcases impressive architecture dating back to the fifteenth century, symbolizing the excellent technical skills of people at the time. It is also a place of beauty, with its breath-taking mountain landscape and unrivaled views of the valley below. There is no doubt that Machu Picchu is one of the world’s most important and most mesmerizing heritage sites.
While visiting Peru this month, we made the trip to the “Lost City” and uncovered the secrets within its walls. Join us here on our Machu Picchu virtual tour, where we share these secrets with you. We look at the ancient Inca site, its remarkable history, and what the future holds.
The Discovery of the “Lost City” of Machu Picchu
The first stop on our Machu Picchu virtual tour takes us back to its discovery. The Lost City may have been around since the Incas, but it wasn’t until 1911 that the site was unearthed. American explorer Hiram Bingham was the man that found and unveiled the site to the world. Upon discovery, the temples and terraces were partially hidden in lush South American vegetation and overgrown with moss and vines. However, the significance and technical skill behind the ancient remains was evident. “Suddenly, I found myself confronted with the walls of ruined houses built of the finest quality of Inca stonework,” said Bingham. And Bingham wasn’t wrong – Machu Picchu is an engineering marvel.
Before Bingham’s discovery, the existence of Machu Picchu was entirely unknown; it was one of the world’s best-kept secrets. He found the site somewhat by accident while searching for Vilcabamba, the last Inca capital, before their 1572 defeat. Indeed, when Bingham found Machu Picchu, he and the world believed it was the city of Vilcabamba. This explains why we use the name “Lost City” interchangeably in our Machu Picchu virtual tour, as do many other people worldwide. For several years this was our truth, and Bingham carried this belief until he died in 1956. It wasn’t until the discovery of the real Vilcabamba eight years later that the theory was disproved. Machu Picchu wasn’t the Lost City of the Incas, after all.
A Site Fit for Royal or Religious Purposes
If not a lost city, then what is the story behind these incredible ancient ruins? According to archaeologists, it’s believed that Machu Picchu is a mountain retreat for Inca emperors. Radiocarbon testing places the site’s construction at around the year 1450, when Emperor Pachacutec ruled. Pachacutec is widely regarded as the “founder of the Incas” known for his conquests in the Cuzco Valley. It’s thought the site was intended for Pachacutec and acted as an elite estate for himself and other royals.
Another interesting theory worth mentioning in this Machu Picchu virtual tour has also surfaced in recent years. Italian archaeoastronomer Giulio Magli theorizes the ancient site is the end of a ceremonial pilgrimage from Cusco. The same Inca trail is used as a modern-day pilgrimage, with hundreds of visitors each day walking the route. There are much easier routes through the mountains, but the Incas deliberately designed the trail challenging. Moreover, the Incas viewed the mountains as sacred. Passing through this landscape is likely an intentional decision to connect with the spirits. This suggests the route was used for religious purposes, with Machu Picchu the pilgrimage’s final destination.
Many structures that make up Machu Picchu hold clear religious and spiritual significance. Take the Temple of the Sun, the first place we are visiting on our Machu Picchu virtual tour. Drawing similarities to the Sun Temple found in Cuzco, the structure is semi-circular in design. Its position on the mountaintop is also purposeful. It allows sunlight to enter through a window and shine onto the altar during the June solstice, serving as an observation place. It is believed that many sacrificial ceremonies were performed within its walls, honoring the Gods above. Beneath the temple lies a natural cave, where Incas performed rituals to honor Mother Earth.
The site holds many more religious buildings, including the Temple of Condor and the Temple of the Three Windows. Principal Temple lies adjacent to the Sacred Plaza. Being the largest temple on the site, archaeologists believe this is where public ceremonies took place. Scattered among these main structures are granite terraces, gateways, plazas, and homes. Over 200 buildings have been discovered at the archeological site, stretching 80,000 acres across the mountain top.
A Showcase of Exceptional Skills
One of the key take-home points from our Machu Picchu virtual tour is the high quality of the ancient ruins. The Lost City has not survived by chance but rather due to the incredible skill of the Incas. The area is prone to earthquakes, with Machu Picchu itself sitting atop two fault lines. Moreover, rain-induced landslides and other natural disasters are common in Peru. Within normal circumstances, the buildings and terraces would have crumbled and collapsed. However, it is thanks to the exceptional technical skills of the Incas that the site still stands proud today.
All of the temples and terraces at Machu Picchu are made with granite stones. The transportation of these enormous granite rocks up a 7,970-foot tall mountain in itself is a huge feat. However, the real skill comes from the technicalities of their building methods. The Incas precisely chiseled each stone by hand, so they perfectly slotted into place, wedged tightly against the surrounding stones. Of course, this makes for an aesthetically stunning finish fit for royal or religious purposes. But, more importantly, it ensures each structure is surprisingly sturdy. When earthquakes occur, the rocks are said to “dance” in their place before settling back into their original position. If it were not for these incredible skills, the world-renowned site may not exist today.
The Future of Tourism at Machu Picchu
Visiting the “Lost City” and experiencing its magic first-hand is a dream for many. Most travelers see ticking the infamous site off their bucket list as a rite of passage. However, looking into the future, a Machu Picchu virtual tour may be the answer. Although thousands have flocked to see the architectural wonder since its discovery, the COVID-19 pandemic brought restrictions on visitors. In March 2020, the attraction closed to all visitors before reopening in November. However, from 3,700 ticket sales per day in 2017, the number of daily tickets capped at 2,244 post-pandemic. Moreover, each ticket is now allocated a set entry time – miss the timeframe, and you’re denied entry. Limitations of trekkers on the Inca Trail are also in place, limited to 250 hikers per day, down from the previous 500.
These restrictions are set to stay as they allow for better crowd management. The Peruvian icon is also struggling under the weight of its popularity, something these restrictions hope to aid. Therefore, the “Lost City” is no longer a last-minute destination. Book well in advance or find a Machu Picchu virtual tour to avoid disappointment if you’re taking the journey.