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5 Interesting Facts About Machu Picchu

High atop the Andes or distributed across the Sacred Valley, the ruins of ancient Incan civilizations reveal the grandeur of another world. Search the heart of the Inca Empire, exploring Machu Picchu—the grandest of all the Inca sites—with our Galapagos program's post-tour option. 

This attraction captivates guests not only for its architectural appeal, but also for its important historical and cultural legacy. So remote and inaccessible that it was left untouched by the Spanish conquistadors, Machu Picchu was a secret known only to those living in the region until Hiram Bingham rediscovered it in 1911. "For the variety of its charms and the power of its spell, I do not know another place in the world that compares to it" said Bingham. 

Here are five interesting tidbits about Machu Picchu: 

1. It's deserving of recognition
Built around 1450 AD, Peru's Machu Picchu was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 and named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007. Machu Picchu means “Old Peak” or “Old Mountain” in the Quechua native language and is as famous as it is mysterious. The Peruvian government has taken steps to protect the ruins and prevent erosion of the mountainside in recent years.

Machu Picchu has influenced later projects, including a university building in Lima, Peru. The inspiration comes from the cascading levels of architecture that are visible in Machu Picchu. Buildings that possess open-air stairs are also taking a cue from the Incas. 

2. Its purpose remains debated
Many different theories exist about Machu Picchu's purpose—a royal estate, prison, and a secret ceremonial center among them. Indeed, dozens of alternate hypotheses have materialized, with scholars interpreting it as a trade hub, a station for testing crops, and a women's retreat. Several modern-day experts do believe it was a royal retreat for Inca emperors and nobles. Emperor Pachacuti, who ruled the Inca Empire from 1438 to 1471, is believed to have frequented the city. 

3. Its fine construction astounds
The Incas were some of the best masons in the world. The stones used in this construction were cut so precisely that they fit together without mortar. The structures were so well built with a technique called ashlar, that not even a knife blade can fit in between stones! These ancient walls have withstood hundreds of years of wind, rain, and even earthquakes.

In addition to masterful stonemasonry, experts point to more subtle ingenuity, often invisible to the untrained eye: drainage infrastructure, slope stabilization, and most of all, an overarching vision. 

4. Its creation was laborious
It is believed that no wheels were used to transport the heavy rocks up the mountain. Logs, yes. And hundreds of men pushing. Experts have also suggested the clever use of levers and ramps. This achievement is even more impressive given its location. The site receives up to 80 inches of rain annually, sits atop steep landslide-prone slopes, and lies upon active fault lines. Imagine such an undertaking without iron, or steel, or even a written language!

5. It's bigger than you may think
Machu Picchu is made up of more than 150 buildings ranging from baths and houses to temples and sanctuaries. 

It is divided into three areas: two that are populated, and the agricultural sector which is a vast system of terraces and irrigation canals. The urban sector has two districts. One of them contains most important sacred structures, like the Temple of the Sun and the Royal Room. The other urban neighborhood includes the homes of the nobles. The agricultural sector produced food for the elites and provided work for commoners to pay off their “mita,” a sort of labor tax required of all citizens.

The most distinct and famous structures include the Temple of the Sun, a solar observatory and religious center, and the Intihuatana stone, a sculpted granite rock that is believed to have functioned as a solar clock or calendar.

See the exquisite stonework of the city's most elegant buildings and learn about the impressive construction underground on our Galapagos post-tour. Click here for details.