Machu Picchu was built around 1450, at the height of the Inca Empire. Its construction appears to date to the period of the two great Incas, Pachacutec Inca Yupanqui (1438–71) and Tupac Inca Yupanqui (1472–93). It was abandoned just over 100 years later, in 1572, as a belated result of the Spanish Conquest. Machu Picchu is situated above a bow of the Urubamba River, which surrounds the site on three sides, with cliffs dropping vertically for 450 meters (1,480 ft) to the river at their base. The area is subject to morning mists rising from the river. The location of the city was a military secret, and its deep precipices and steep mountains provided excellent natural defenses. The Inca Bridge, an Inca grass rope bridge, across the Urubamba River in the Pongo de Mainique, provided a secret entrance for the Inca army. The city sits in a saddle between the two mountains Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu, with a commanding view down two valleys and a nearly impassable mountain at its back. It has a water supply from springs that cannot be blocked easily, and enough land to grow food for about four times as many people as ever lived there. To say Machu Picchu was an impregnable fortress in addition to a sanctuary is to overstate the obvious.
The site is roughly divided into an urban sector and an agricultural sector, and into an upper town and a lower town. The temples are in the upper town, the warehouses in the lower. Approximately 200 buildings are arranged on wide parallel terraces around a vast central square that is oriented north-south. The various compounds, called kanchas, are long and narrow in order to exploit the terrain. 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 the site. The eastern section of the city was probably residential. The western, separated by the square, was for religious and ceremonial purposes. This section contains the Torreón, the massive tower which may have been used as an observatory. There were temples in the eastern section, the “Temple of the Condor” is an example.
The Sacred Plaza is located in the far western side of the Urban Sector in a naturally elevated position. The plaza is home to three important buildings: The Main Temple, The Three Windowed Temple and the Priest’s House. Within the plaza there are also three mysterious stones: the first a large low lying flat stone thought to have been used as an altar; the second a much smaller and taller quadrangular block thought to have also been used as an altar; and the third stone in the shape of a rhombus, of which its corners point to the four cardinal points.
The “Main Temple” is 11 m (36 ft) long by 8 m (26 ft) wide. It is a wayrana type temple, meaning that it has only three walls built with rectangular stones. In the temple are seven trapeze-shaped niches on the central wall and five on each side wall. Behind the Main Temple there is a small room known as the Chamber of Ornaments. Due to its situation, it must have been closely linked in function to the temple. At the bottom of the back wall there is a low platform, like a stone seat or bed, that to Western eyes has merited the name of “the sacristy” of the Main Temple. Today, looking towards the northeast, one can see that the central wall of the temple has been moved. Archaeological digs have shown that the movements were due to rainwater seepage, although some geologists suggest the real reason is a minor geological fault existing at that point. They also indicate the presence of a similar fault under the Sun Temple. The deity worshipped in this main temple remains unknown. However, historians claim it may have been Wiraqocha, the invisible chief Andean god. During Inca times it was said that the Temple was adorned with colorful mantles, emblems and mummies of the most important Inca leaders. The temple supposedly housed an effigy of P’unchao, a divine sacred symbol made of solid gold representing the Inca God Wiraqocha. When the Incas abandoned Machu Picchu at the time of the Spanish conquest, they took with them all the most important artefacts leaving behind just the stone structure which we see today.
Temple of Three Windows
The “Temple of the Three Windows” is one of the foundations with the longest history in the sacred lost city of Machu Picchu. According to the native indigenous folklore, the city was built up with the purpose to hide the Inca civilization from the Spanish conquerors, and this location was without a doubt more than ideal for such shelter. This temple held a great spiritual value for the civilization but also has a very important historical meaning. Consisting of only three walls on a rectangular base and covered by a roof made of adobe walls were constructed from large blocks of solid rock carved in polygonal shape forming a conglomerate of perfectly matched stones each other, leaving space for originally five Windows, although there are today only three of them indicating the exact location of the sunrise. The roof is supported by a column of stone and the temple hosts a carved stone with engravings that represent the three levels where the Inca civilization divided the Andean world: the sky spirituality (Hanan-Pacha), the Earth’s surface or the mundane (Kay-Pacha) and subsoil or inner life (Ukju-Pacha). There are many theories as to why this building has three windows, most of which come from ancient chronicles written by Spanish conquistadores and prominent natives nobles; all of which seem to contradict each other. Hiram Bingham believed that the three windows symbolized the place where the Incas originated. His theory was based on the written words of the chronicler Pachakuti Yanki Salqamayhua who says that after the great success of Manco Cápac (the legendary first Inca ruler) in creating the Inca Empire, he himself ordered the construction of the temple. The three windows were supposed to represent the three windows of his parents’ house. Interestingly according to Inca mythology Manco Cápac and his sister Mama Ocllo were sent from heaven, not from their parents’ house.
House of the Priest
This house is located on the south side of the Plaza, and Bingham named it the “House of the Priest” thinking that from there the Supreme Priest would depart to direct the religious acts that would have had to take place in the plaza. This building is of less architectural quality, with two doors exiting onto the plaza and a series of niches in the interior.
Intihuatana, the place when the sun gets tied, is located at the top of a terraced sacred mountain. After climbing around 70 steps, you can see the sacred stone, a wonder of the ancient technology, given the fact that was a kind of clock to measure when was the time to celebrate the winter solstice, called by the Incas INTI Raymi, one of the most important celebrations and rituals of the entire Empire. This ceremony consists in praying to the Sun, their almighty God, to not leave them for the harvest time, and in a symbolic way, keep or tie the sun to that beautiful rock. On September of 2000, a beer company was making a commercial, and one of the cranes hit the solar clock, breaking some part of the point, leaving it in a terrible condition, The National Institute of Culture (INC) sued the company for the damages in 2005.
The “Sacred Rock” is a large stone reaching a height of 3 m (10 ft) and is located in an area formed by a rectangular perimeter with two adjoining houses called “huayranas” which have the peculiarity of having just three walls of Pirka architecture. The Sacred Rock sits on a base 7 m (23 ft) wide, adopting a form that resembles the profile of a feline animal on a podium of solid rock that was carved by the construction tools referred to as Ollantaytambo. Anthropologists compared this shape to feline animals such as a representation of the sacred puma of the Cerro Pumasillo of Machu Picchu. Another theory is that the stone mimics the line of the mountains behind it. Behind this stone is the path to Huayna Picchu.
Among the several locations which have shaped the division of the Citadel of Machu Picchu in their different urban areas and consequently in their different social classes, the Central Square or Main Plaza of Machu Picchu is the symbol of one of the most important for hosting the more far-reaching sacred celebrations of the Inca religion due to its vast size it is the ideal location to accommodate mass religious and social ceremonies. The Central Square shows how the Incan society followed a strict, but at the same time, well-structured organization of the city within their different social classes. After several studies by experts of the world community of anthropology, the understanding is that the Main Plaza played a very important role in the Inca society and the segregation of its socials classes. This explains the reason for the existence of a physical axis to distingish different Inca social classes, which were separated one from the other not only different privileges of social class, but also by the existence of the suburban areas which host different individuals of the society.
Temple of the Sun
The Temple of the Sun is located in the urban sector and can be only entered through a large access gate, which was provided with double beams and a closure mechanism to provide the city with the necessary means of protection and security. According to anthropological researchers, the exact location of the Citadel was chosen to place the city at the highest altitude and, thus, this location in turn get to contemplate heaven more closely. The Inca civilization believed that, a closer position to the Sun would allow a better and more appropriate location for the settlement, as well as for the practice of the different doctrines like astronomical studies. The “Torreon” shows a striking semicircular architectural design; its flat segment holds the Serpent gate while the circular wall has two peculiar trapezoid shaped windows. The tower was built up on the top of a big granite rock that is part of the mountain, taking advantage of its natural outline. It was on this rock where a 10 meter enclosure and half wall were made out of irregular blocks of stone hand-polished stone. The door used to contain a large number of elaborate encrusted jewels and all kind of golden ornamentation. The proof that these adornments were part of the decoration of walls and ceilings, has been explained in the large number of empty hollows on all the elements of this complex. On the winter solstice (6/21) the sun shines directly through the eastern window. On the summer solstice (12/21) the sun shines through the southeast window.
The Ñusta Palace is located in the same architectural ensemble as the Temple of the Sun and became considered as part of the temple and not as a building with its own independent character. Experts found a very close relationship between the Ñusta Palace and the Temple of the Sun since the Palace was not only an annex to the Temple of the Sun, but it was noted for being a building with laborious and refined methods of construction, techniques that were reserved only for the most important buildings of the city. The fact of being annexed to the Temple of the Sun has awarded many other denominations with names such as House of the Ñusta or cloister of the Ñusta. The House was planned to house the residence of one of the most important members of the aristocracy of the city, so that experts on anthropology came to the conclusion that this would have undoubtedly been the place where the Priestess lived. The Ñusta Palace or Palace of the Princess stood on two floors and showed an excellent quality in the work of construction. Through a small gate located at the flat top of the Palace, you can directly access an antechamber which then communicates with the Tower of the Temple of the Sun.
Temple of the Condor
The Temple of the Condor in Machu Picchu is a breathtaking example of Inca stone masonry. A natural rock formation began to take shape millions of years ago and the Inca skillfully shaped the rock into the outspread wings of a condor in flight. On the floor of the temple is a rock carved in the shape of the condor’s head and neck feathers, completing the figure of a three-dimensional bird. Historians speculate that the head of the condor was used as a sacrificial altar. Under the temple is a small cave that contained a mummy. A prison complex stands directly behind the temple, and is comprised of human-sized niches and an underground maze of dungeons. According to historical chronicles that documented similar Inca prison sites, an accused citizen would be shackled into the niches for up to 3 days to await the deliberation of his fate. He could be put to death for such sins as laziness, lust, or theft.
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Three Windowed Temple: http://www.enjoy-machu-picchu.org/architecture/three-windowed-temple.php
The Only Peru Guide: http://theonlyperuguide.com/peru-guide/machu-picchu/highlights/