Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu (Quechua: Machu Picchu, "Old mountain") is a pre-Columbian Inca site located 2,400 meters (7,875 ft) above sea level. It is situated on a mountain ridge above the Urubamba Valley in Peru, which is 80 km (50 mi) northwest of Cusco. Often referred to as "The Lost City of the Incas", Machu Picchu is probably the most familiar symbol of the Inca Empire.

It was built around the year 1450, but abandoned a hundred years later, at the time of the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire. Forgotten for centuries, the site was brought to worldwide attention in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, an American historian. Since then, Machu Picchu has become an important tourist attraction. It has recently come to light that the site may have been discovered and raided several years previously, in 1867 by a German businessman, Augusto Berns. It was declared a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary in 1981 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. It is also one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Machu Picchu was built in the classical Inca style, with polished dry-stone walls. Its primary buildings are the Intihuatana, the Temple of the Sun, and the Room of the Three Windows. These are located in what is known by archaeologists as the Sacred District of Machu Picchu. In September of 2007, Peru and Yale University reached an agreement regarding the return of artifacts which Hiram Bingham had removed from Machu Picchu in the early 20th century. Currently, there are concerns about the impact of tourism on the site as it reached 400,000 visitors in 2003.

Machu Picchu is 70 kilometers northwest of Cusco, on the crest of the mountain Machu Picchu, located about 2,350 meters (7,710 ft) above sea level. It is one of the most important archaeological centers in South America and the most visited tourist attraction in Peru.
From the top, at the cliff of Machu Picchu, there is a vertical rock face of 600 meters ending at the foot of the Urubamba River. The location of the city was a military secret because its deep precipices and mountains were an excellent natural defense. The Inca Bridge, an Inca rope bridge across the Urubamba River in the Pongo de Mainique, provided a secret entrance for the Inca army. Another Inca bridge to the west of Machu Picchu, the trunk bridge, has a section across a cliff face with a 6 metres (20 ft) gap in it which could be bridged by two tree trunks. If the trees were removed, it would leave a 570 metres (1,900 ft) fall to the base of the cliffs to discourage invaders. It is above Urubamba Valley.

The city sits in a saddle between two mountains, with a commanding view down two valleys and a nearly impassable mountain at its back. It has a water supply from springs that cannot easily be blocked, and enough land to grow food for about four times as many people as actually lived there. The hillsides leading to it have been terraced, not only to provide more farmland to grow crops, but to steepen the slopes which invaders would have to ascend. There are two high-altitude routes from Machu Picchu across the mountains back to Cuzco, one through the sun gate, and the other across the Inca bridge. Both could easily be blocked if invaders should approach along them. Regardless of its ultimate purpose, it is in a highly defendable position.

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