Photo Essay: Machu Picchu

Photo Essay: Machu Picchu

On the 24th of July 2011, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the rediscovery of Machu Picchu by the American archeologist Hiram Bingham.  To commemorate this significant milestone, I published this short photo essay with images I took while in Machu Picchu in 2010.

Machu Picchu is a pre-Columbian Inca site built around 1450AD at the height of the Inca Empire. It was abandoned just over 100 years later, in 1572AD, as a belated result of the Spanish Conquest in Peru and other American regions.

From that moment on, knowledge of its existence was lost as the ruins were buried by the dense Andean jungle.

On July 23rd, 2011, Bingham and his team, who had been searching for the city of Vilcabamba –the last Inca refuge during the Spanish conquest– made their way from Cuzco into the Urubamba Valley.  There a local farmer told them of some ruins located at the top of a nearby mountain. The farmer called the mountain Machu Picchu, which meant “Old Peak” in the native Quechua language.

The next day, July 24th, Bingham met a small group of peasants who showed him the rest of the way.  Led by an 11-year-old boy named Pablito Alvarez, Bingham got his first glimpse of the intricate stone terraces that mark the entrance of an impressive ruin of a lost civilization.  It was not Vilcabamba, it was Machu Picchu.

For hundreds of years Machu Picchu had kept its existence secret, except for the knowledge of the peasants living in the region. From this moment forward everything changed, making Machu Picchu one of the most popular destinations in the entire world.

(click images to enlarge)

The Ruins of Machu Picchu, Peru
Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was built as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438–1472). Often referred to as the “Lost City of the Incas”, it is perhaps the most familiar icon of the Inca World.
The Ruins of Machu Picchu, Peru
Archaeologists presented evidence that the site was selected because of its position relative to sacred landscape features such as its mountains, which are purported to be in alignment with key astronomical events important to the Incas.
The Ruins of Machu Picchu, Peru
This is the Guard’s House; the first building you would have had to cross through if you were visiting Machu Picchu during the time of the Incas.
The Ruins of Machu Picchu, Peru
After visitors passed through the guard’s house, this was the view that greeted them.  In 1983 UNESCO designated Machu Picchu a World Heritage Site, describing it as “an absolute masterpiece of architecture and a unique testimony to the Inca civilization”.
The Ruins of Machu Picchu, Peru
When rediscovered, the ruins didn’t look as we see them today. Most of the outlying buildings have been reconstructed in order to give tourists a better idea of what the structures originally looked like. By 1976, thirty percent of Machu Picchu had been restored. The restoration work continues to this day. On the lower portion of the picture, you can see the part of Machu Picchu that has never been restored. It was left intact to show the original state of the ruins.
The Ruins of Machu Picchu, Peru
Machu Picchu is divided in three mayor zones; the sacred, residential, and agricultural zones. What you see in this picture is part of the lower residential zone.
The Ruins of Machu Picchu, Peru
The Incas had a superior planning knowledge and they left us proof of this. On the lower portion of the picture you can see a rock scale model of Machu Picchu mountain and Wayna Picchu Mountain, used to plan the development of the citadel.
The Ruins of Machu Picchu, Peru
When Bingham arrived at Machu Picchu, there were Quechua families living in the original crumbling structures.
The Ruins of Machu Picchu, Peru
A house restored to show how its original condition might have looked like at the time of the Inca Empire.
The Ruins of Machu Picchu, Peru
Machu Picchu was built in the classical Inca style, with polished dry-stone walls. This doorway stands between a sacred and a non sacred space. Look at the difference in the stone work between left and right, with the right side being polished, thus enclosing a sacred space.
The Ruins of Machu Picchu, Peru
Machu Picchu has three 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. The stone shown in the image is the Intihuatana Stone, the most sacred and “powerful” stone in Machu Picchu.
The Ruins of Machu Picchu, Peru
The llamas bring life to the citadel by inhabiting it and by presenting a colorful and interesting sight to visitors.

Although the citadel is located only about 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Cusco, the Inca capital, the Spanish never found it and consequently did not plunder or destroy it, as they did many other sites.  For this reason, Machu Picchu is highly significant as a relatively intact cultural site.

Today, more than 300,000 people visit Machu Picchu every year, braving crowds, landslides, and challenging treks to see the sun rise over the aging stone monuments of the “Lost Sacred City” and marvel at the mysterious character of one of the world’s most famous man-made wonders.

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38 thoughts on “Photo Essay: Machu Picchu”

  1. Norbert,

    These pictures bring back many good memories indeed. I’ve been to Machu Picchu and totally enjoyed it.
    Part of its charm is the journey to get there as well.

    1. Hi Kerwin – I agree, part of the Machu Picchu charm is the journey to get there. I loved my experience there and from what I see you had a great experience too!

  2. Jeremy Branham

    Fantastic photos Norbert! Machu Picchu is an example of one of those places that was a secret but now has become famous around the world! It’s a beautiful site to explore with some fascinating history.

    1. Thanks Jeremy! It is such a beautiful site. I was in Machu Picchu almost 10 months ago and I still get excited about my experience there and by its beauty.

    1. I had an awesome time, Jade! I believe you should go there, hike the Inca Trail, and arrive at Machu Picchu by dawn… you’ll love it! 🙂

  3. Caanan @ No Vacation Required

    Thank you for using the term “rediscovery.” I heard someone say “Hiram Bingham discovered Machu Picchu” on the radio the other day and I cringed. I am pretty sure the Inca’s and the people of peru knew it was there. 🙂

    Gorgeous photos BTW.

    1. Thanks Caanan! Actually, I’m very adamant on using the term “rediscovery” as I also cringe when I hear people say “discovery” in contexts like these. Like you said, the locals did know about Machu Picchu before Bingham went there. There were families actually living there at the time…

  4. Christy @ Technosyncratic

    Aww, love that last photo with the llama in it – looks like it has a red flower tucked behind its ear! 🙂

    1. Thanks Christy! Yes, the llama has like a small red pom pom in its head. It an accessory they put on most llamas at Machu Picchu. They look really cute.

  5. Wow Norbert, fascinating pictures and story. It must be amazing to see the sun rise over Machu Picchu. Interesting to hear about the polished and natural stone walls, dividing sacred and non-sacred places. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks Christina! Yes, that detail about the stones is very interesting. While we were walking through the Inca trail, we could spot by ourselves the sacred and non sacred ruins based on this detail. It was so interesting to see how they changed in quality, shape, and location. That helped us understand Machu Picchu better once we got there.

  6. Lovely photos! I first discovered about Machu Picchu when I watched the movie Montecarlo with Selena Gomez on the lead role LOL. Now, it is included in my bucketlist. Thanks for sharing!

  7. I have always dreamed of visiting Machu Picchu. This is a great site and every single man on the world should visit it, nature is so divine. I love it.

  8. Machu Picchu is so beautiful. Norbert you did an excellent job writing this article. I learned more from reading this than I did in school.

  9. I love your photos! theres something special about watching the sunrise, it makes the already amazing place that little bit more magical – I remember how I woke up early to watch the sunrise over Taj Mahal, such a great experience 🙂

    1. Thanks M.! I agree, sunrises have this enchanting look that make places feel even more magical. I would love to see the Taj Mahal during sunrise. I’m sure it must look great!

    1. I know right?! It’s like a place traced out of a fiction book. But sometimes reality is stranger and more fascinating than fiction, and Machu Picchu is proof of that!

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