Machu Picchu is one of the most visited places in the world. Here is the truth behind 3 longstanding myths surrounding the Inca citadel.
1. Who discovered Machu Picchu?
Machu Picchu, as most archaeologists agree, was built in the 15th century by Inca ruler Pachacutec (or Pachacuti) Inca Yupanqui. It was abandoned with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors and remained as such until the citadel’s so-called rediscovery. Most attribute the discovery to American explorer Hiram Bingham, who published an account of his findings in Peru in 1911.
Yet, Machu Picchu, known as the Lost City, was not unknown to all. Locals of the area knew of its existence, like Melchor Arteaga, a landowner who lived on the banks of the Vilcanota. Arteaga knew of the citadel’s existence as far back as 1902 (that we know of), and took Bingham to the citadel.
2. Why was Machu Picchu built?
Another Machu Picchu myth questions why it was built on top of a mountain, 2,430 meters above sea level. Was it was built as a military base or a place of leisure for Inca rulers?
Archaeologists and researchers believe Machu Picchu’s location was chosen for its military advantages. The steep mountain on which the citadel was built offers a natural buffer against enemies, while secret entrances (like the so-called Inca bridges made of natural fibers) gave the Inca army advantages against any attacks.
Yet, there is evidence that the citadel was built as a resting place for the Inca ruler Pachacuti. In 2012, a French explorer discovered the Inca palace (located in front of the Temple of the Sun) that was likely used by Pachacuti. Though tourists are restricted from accessing this chamber, guides can point to it while passing through the urban sector. Said to be full of skeletons, a gold-plated staircase and other treasures, the tomb is located some 20 meters underground.
3. How is Machu Picchu still standing?
Aside from the long gone rooftops, made out of wood covered with straw, the Inca buildings of Machu Picchu are mostly intact. How has Machu Picchu, and other Inca structures, withstood nearly five centuries? The question leads many to believe myths and theories of alien handiwork. But in fact, the longevity of the structures is due to their solid foundation.
To build Machu Picchu, portions of land had to be flattened and underground retaining walls placed to provide additional support. The structures were built from granite dating back to 246 million years ago, collected from rockfalls kilometers away from the sacred site.
Learn more about Machu Picchu and its elements of astrology, nature and spirituality, with our guide.
Source: What to see in Machu Picchu
Cover photo: AmaraPhotos.com
Now that you're here:
We're asking you, our reader, to make a contribution in support of our digital guide in order to keep informing, updating and inspiring people to visit Peru. Why now? In our near 20-year journey as the leading English-language source on travel in Peru, we've had our fair share of ups and downs-but nothing quite like the challenges brought forth in the first quarter of 2020.
By adapting to the changing face of the tourism and travel industry (on both local and international levels), we have no doubt we will come out stronger-especially with the support of our community. Because you will travel again, and we will be ready to show you the best of Peru.
Your financial support means we can keep sharing the best of Peru through high-quality stories, videos and insights provided by our dedicated team of contributors and editors based in Peru. And of course, We are here to answer your questions and help whenever you need us.
As well, it makes possible our commitment to support local and small businesses that make your visit an unforgettable one. Your support will help the people working in these industries get back on their feet once the world allows us to make our dream of enjoying everything Peru has to offer a reality again-from its mouthwatering gastronomy, thriving Amazon and archaeological wonders such as Machu Picchu.
Together, we will find a way through this. As a member of our community, your contribution, however big or small, is valuable.