FACTOID: Machu Picchu was constructed as an estate for the 15th century Inca emperor Pachacuti. It was inhabited for less than 100 years.
FACTOID: Machu Picchu translates as Old Mountain in Quechua, the Inca language.
Machu Picchu was discovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham - a famous explorer and politician and a lecturer at Yale at the time. Some maps indicate Machu Picchu as early as 1874 so others may have been there ahead of him. He thought it was the last Capitol of the Inca Empire but it turned out to be just an estate of an emperor. It is a UN World Heritage site. Most people have seen photos of the site but it is much more spectacular in person.
This is the typical Machu Picchu photo that everyone takes.
The site is at about 8,000 feet in altitude. It is lower than the city of Cusco, the capital of the Inca Empire that is about 50 miles away. Cusco is above 11,000 feet.
The Spanish did not know about Machu Picchu and that it why it escaped destruction. During the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire they would normally destroy any city they found. When found it was completely covered with vegetation.
Since the Queen and I and Brenan's friend Julia did not hike up Huayna Picchu we had our own guide during their absence.
The weather alternated between dreary and rainy to just cloudy. The sun did not appear until we were ready to leave the site and take the bus back to Aguas Calientes.
We explored both the residential areas of the estate…
… and the agricultural fields.
The central buildings use the classical Inca architectural style of polished dry-stone walls of regular shape. The Incas were masters of this technique, called ashlar, in which blocks of stone are cut to fit together tightly without mortar.
Because Machu Picchu is built on a fault line and is subject to seismic activity all the windows and doors are built as trapezoids as opposed to rectangles. This makes them much stronger and less susceptible to damage in earthquakes.
Temple of the Sun
The Temple of the Sun is one of the main buildings at Machu Piccchu.
This sculpture carved from the rock bottom of the sun temple is `water mirrors' that allow for the viewing of the sky and sun.
Huayna Picchu is a mountain that sits `behind' Machu Picchu. It translates as `Young Mountain'. It is about 1000 feet higher than Machu Picchu. The top of the mountain was the home of the high priest - who left his home everyday to hike down to Machu Picchu to proclaim the new day. There is a hike to the top of the mountain that you need to make a reservation for months in advance. The tickets are timed as they only allow a certain number of people on the trail at the same time.
Everyone made a reservation to go up except the Queen who is afraid of heights. There is a warning that there are steep steps, narrow trails, slippery rocks, and big drop offs on the way to the top.
Julia, Brenan's friend joined us late and she could not get a space. My knees were bothering me from the previous day on the Inca Trail so I volunteered for her to go but they accepted not substitutes even though there was one less hiker on the trail. The site is highly regulated - allowing only 400 visitors per day at either 8 AM or 11 AM.
The Queen's daughter, Dana had to give up about half way up the trail. She has some height fears and the view around each corner finally got to her.