Machu Picchu is one of the most visited tourist attractions on the planet. It was built by the Incas, under the orders of Emperor Pachacutec, in approximately 1450 AD. Later, during the viceroyalty it was abandoned and forgotten until its rediscovery by the American explorer Hiram Bingham in 1911. Since then it has gained the interest of the whole world. But its history is older. Learn more about the wonder of the world.
The first inhabitants of Machu Picchu
The first inhabitants of Machu Picchu were the various ethnic groups belonging to the Marcavalle culture, the first to inhabit the Cusco valley around 1,000 BC
This is demonstrated by the ceramic finds at the site. However, there are no numerous buildings that account for a massive population in the place. From this it is concluded that the area that includes Machupicchu was inhabited by few families or ethnic groups dedicated mainly to agriculture.
While in Machu Picchu there were a few families that populated the place; In the city of Cusco, the Incas sought alliances to expand their territories under the leadership of Manco Cápac (early 13th century).
Machu Picchu is located in the jungle region of Cusco, a difficult area for agriculture and, therefore, for life. For many years it was thought that only the Incas inhabited this difficult geography. However, in 2011 an important tomb was discovered in the Vilcabamba district belonging to the Wari civilization (VII AD – XIII AD). This finding reconsidered the limits of this ancestor culture to the Incas.
The Incas in Machu Picchu
The Incas settled in the Cusco valley at the beginning of the 13th century AD During those first years, under the leadership of the Inca Manco Cápac, the territory of the Incas was small, encompassing part of the current city. At that time it was known as the ‘Curacazgo del Cusco’.
In subsequent years, through alliances with neighboring peoples, the Incas managed to expand their territory encompassing part of the current Sacred Valley of the Incas. However, their territories were always threatened by uprisings and, above all, by the existence of the powerful Chanca culture. Machu Picchu was a territory not yet conquered by the Incas.
The history of the Incas changed at the end of the 15th century when the brave young prince Pachacutec defeated the Chancas and founded a powerful empire that rapidly expanded its limits in all directions. It is there that the Incas conquer the jungle territories of Machu Picchu and found the Tahuantinsuyo (empire of the ‘four’ theirs or regions). They had ceased to be a simple ‘curacazgo’ to become the largest empire in South America today.
The Incas and the Chancas fought for territorial control of the southern Andean region of present-day Peru. In 1438 the Chancas invaded Cusco, which was left unprotected by the abandonment of the Inca Viracocha. In fear of defeat, the Inca prince Yupanqui arose who defended Cusco and defeated the Chancas in the battle of ‘Ichupampa’. The neighboring ethnic groups were surprised by the Inca victory and joined them by expanding their territory.
Pachacutec and the construction of Machu Picchu
Pachacutec (1400 AD – 1471 AD) was the first emperor of Tahuantinsuyo. Under his rule, the Inca territory expanded the territory vertiginously, conquering the jungle of Cusco in the east.
Emperor Pachacutec planned the construction of Machu Picchu. What he wanted was to demonstrate the Inca power in the new conquered territories. In addition, the aim was to build a religious sanctuary and royal dwelling for the emperor and his family.
Pachacutec carefully planned the construction of Machu Picchu. He chose a special geography on top of a mountain (for a lookout), surrounded by mountains and a breathtaking landscape.
To get to Machu Picchu, he ordered the construction of a network of Inca roads, part of the famous ‘qhapac ñan’. To worship the gods he ordered the construction of the Temple of the Sun and other enclosures made with finely carved stones.
Carbon-14 evidence found at Machu Picchu indicates that it was built around the middle of AD 1450. Its construction was not completed after the death of Pachacutec or that of his successor Túpac Yupanqui (1441 AD – 1493 AD). Even today it is possible to see some unfinished buildings.
The labor used for its construction came from the conquered peoples in the north of the map of Peru, under the system of ‘mitimaes’.
According to the investigation of the Spanish María del Carmen Rubio, the true name of the citadel was ‘Patallaqta’. Machu Picchu was a name chosen later due to the presence of the mountain ‘Machu Picchu’ located above the citadel.
In addition to ordering the construction of Machu Picchu, Pachacutec is attributed various works of great importance, such as: the planning and construction of thousands of kilometers of Inca roads (qhapac ñan), the construction of the renovated Coricancha temple (Temple of the sun) in the city of Cusco, the construction of the city of Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley as well as the renewal of the Inca State.
Life in Machu Picchu
According to the findings in Machu Picchu, the citadel had a population of one thousand inhabitants on average. The majority was common population that was dedicated to the cultivation of its hundreds of agricultural terraces. But there was also a small nobility and even priests who enjoyed privileges.
Contrary to what is believed today, Machupicchu was not a city isolated from the rest of the empire. A few kilometers away the Incas built other cities such as the current archaeological sites of Patallacta, Qentemarca and even Choquequirao. These cities were also dedicated to agriculture and were communicated through the Qhapac ñan.
Another part of the population of Machupicchu was also dedicated to the construction of roads, buildings and temples. This is demonstrated by the unfinished works found in the citadel, such as the roads in the Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu mountains.
Archaeological evidence indicates that Machu Picchu, until the arrival of the Spanish and the subsequent war against the ‘Vilcabamba rebels’ was a very well organized citadel with enough products to support its population.
Machu Picchu covers an area of 325 square kilometers. It has more than 150 buildings, the most important of which are: The Intipunku, the Main Temple, the Intihuatana, the Temple of the 3 Windows, the Sacred Rock and the Royal Tomb. Two immense mountains stand out in its surroundings: Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu mountain. The Incas built roads to their peaks.
The fall of Machu Picchu
With the arrival of the Spanish to the city of Cusco in 1533, the history of Machu Picchu would change forever because, between 1537 and 1572, the war between the Spanish invaders and the rebellious Incas of Vilcabamba developed. .
The city of Vilcabamba was the last refuge of the Incas who refused to submit to the Spanish. From there, under the leadership of Manco Inca (1514 AD – 1545 AD) they fought the Europeans who could not enter the jungle and find the Inca defense post.
Due to the location of Machu Picchu just 47 kilometers from Vilcabamba, the inhabitants of the Inca city were forced to participate by the army of the rebel Incas. Thus, in 1537 the citadel was gradually abandoned.
The residents of Machu Picchu who remained continued to cultivate the lands that served the rebel Inca army. Some findings at the site also indicate that the population played an important role in defense by stealing supplies from the Spanish.
According to the historian Luis Lumbreras, the Temple of the Sun shows signs of having been set on fire, probably due to the fire caused by the Augustinian friars who came to Machu Picchu to evangelize its inhabitants. This visit would be the only Spanish presence in the citadel and was due to an agreement between the leader Titu Cusi Yupanqui and the Spanish authorities.
Finally in 1572 Tupac Amaru I (1545 AD – 1572 AD), the last Inca leader of Vilcabamba, was captured. After his assassination in the Main square of Cusco by the Spanish authorities, the inhabitants of Machu Picchu were forced to join the new colonial government. That is why the Inca citadel was abandoned in its entirety.
After the death of Emperor Atahualpa in 1533, the Spanish arrived in the city of Cusco. The ruling dynasty soon realized the true intentions of the invaders so they fought them from the hidden lands of Vilcabamba. The rebellious Incas were: Manco Inca, Sayri Túpac, Titu Cusi and Túpac Amaru. The latter was captured and executed in the Main Square in Cusco. After his death, the Inca dynasty ended.
The Spanish and the oblivion of Machu Picchu
From its construction in 1450 until its total abandonment in 1572, the Inca city of Machu Picchu had a little more than a century of operation.
Due to the difficult road to Machu Picchu, the Spanish did not populate the place. Thus, a few peasants settled in the Inca city to work the agricultural platforms that, due to their abandonment, gradually lost themselves in the wild vegetation.
The Spanish did know of the existence of Machu Picchu. This is attested by some maps from colonial and republican times. In addition, the few inhabitants of the place had to contribute with tribute to the Ollantaytambo hacienda belonging to Hernando Pizarro.
However, due to the low productivity of Machu Picchu and the few settlers that inhabited the place; The economic importance of the Inca citadel was not much.
Thus, slowly the few settlers of Machu Picchu were integrated into the colonial system within the ‘Indian reductions’. Gradually the vegetation completely covered the archaeological site of Machupicchu, which was forgotten for a long time.
On March 23, 1524 Francisco Pizarro founded the city of Cusco. Since then, the colonial system remodeled the Inca system. The indigenous settlers became slave-type labor. ‘Indian reductions’ were formed to group them together and better control them through the ‘encomienda’ system. The inhabitants of Machu Picchu could not isolate themselves from the system so they went to the newly formed towns. Thus, the Inca city was gradually abandoned.
Hiram Bingham and the discovery of Machu Picchu
From the Independence of Peru in 1821 to the discovery of Machu Picchu in 1911, only a few settlers in the surroundings of Machu Picchu knew of its existence. However, no one understood the historical importance of the Inca city.
Rumors of the existence of an immense Inca city hidden in the jungle region of the Andes Mountains reached beyond the Peruvian borders. The famous Italian naturalist researcher Antonio Raimondi arrived in the area in 1865 although he failed to appreciate the citadel.
In 1867, according to the American businessman Paolo Geer, Machu Picchu was looted with the permission of the Peruvian authorities by the also German businessman Augusto Berns. It is presumed that many pieces of gold and silver were looted from the temples of the place.
In 1880 the famous Austrian-French explorer Charles Wiener realized the existence of Machu Picchu although he never reached the place. By then the existence of maps that gave account of the existence of the famous archaeological site was already known. Yet the world did not know the true importance of the site.
In 1902, the Cusco residents Justo Ochoa, Enrique Palma, Gabino Sánchez and Agustín Lizárraga visited Machu Picchu, recording their names inscribed on the stone of the Temple of the 3 Windows.
Finally in 1911, the American explorer Hiram Bingham, helped by local people, arrived at Machu Picchu carrying out research work. It was the explorer who published in the National Geographic Society magazine the ‘discovery’ of an important Inca city in the jungle of Cusco.
In later years Hiram Bingham, sponsored by Yale University, returned to Machu Picchu up to three times (from 1911 and 1915) to carry out research work in the area. Bingham published several books on his journey. However, until the day of his death in 1956 he believed that what he had discovered was Vilcabamba, the ‘Lost City of the Incas’.
The American explorer Hiram Bingham not only arrived at Machu Picchu during his journey through Peru in 1911. Some years before he arrived at the current archaeological site of Choquequirao. He also participated in investigations in the archaeological sites of the city of Cusco (Qenqo, Pucapucara, Tambomachay and Sacsayhuaman). His journey through Peru and Machu Picchu was recorded in the famous book: Machu Picchu, The Lost City of the Incas.
Machu Picchu wonder of the world
Since the world news of the existence of Machu Picchu in 1911, research work in the area was carried out with the support of Yale University, first, and the Government of Peru, later.
From 1912 to 1915, the vegetation that covered the temples and buildings of Machu Picchu was eradicated. It was in those years that Yale University brought to the United States more than 50 thousand archaeological pieces from the Inca citadel. These were: ceramics, tools, textiles, wood carvings, metal objects and even mummies.
Between 1924 and 1928, photographers Juan Manuel Figueroa and Martín Chambi portrayed Machu Picchu, attracting more attention from the world, even from treasure hunters.
Research work continued since 1942, this time by the archaeologist Manuel Chávez Ballón, whose team manages to discover the existence of other nearby sites such as Wiñayhuayna.
At that time the entrance to Machu Picchu was free. By the second half of the 20th century, after the construction of roads and train tracks, visitors began to arrive to Machu Picchu from different parts of the world. However, there was still no visit and conservation plan by the Peruvian authorities.
It was only in 1981 that the authorities realized the historical importance of Machu Picchu. That year it is declared ‘Historic Sanctuary of Peru’. In 1983 it became part of one of the ‘Cultural Heritage of Humanity’ by UNESCO. So the number of visitors to the place has already increased.
The great tourist boost in Machu Picchu occurred in 2007 when, through a global vote organized by the ‘New Open World Corporation’, the Inca city was chosen as one of the ‘7 wonders of the modern world’. The other wonders were: Chichén Itzá in Yucatán (Mexico), the Coliseum in Rome (Italy), the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil;) the Great Wall of China (China); Petra (Jordan); and the Taj Mahal in Agra, (India).
Today Machu Picchu is one of the most visited tourist destinations in the world.
Currently Machu Picchu receives approximately 1.5 million people a year. At its feet in the town of Aguas Calientes there are hotels of various types, including 5-star services. Also restaurants, cafes, bars and more. Every year Machu Picchu occupies the first places as the tourist attractions preferred by people from all over the world.