Thousands of visitors come to Peru and take a Machu Picchu tour every year. Official figures put numbers at about 300,000 per year and this increases each year. While some fear for its safety and wonder if it will be around for ever, the worldwide appeal is only going to increase as each year more and more decide to include Machu Picchu in their Peru vacation package.Here we give you a quick overview of the history of Machu Picchu. so you have a good idea before you arrive and can impress your guide with your knowledge! We guarantee you will not be disappointed.
How old is Machu Picchu ?
Radio carbon dating places the age of the building of Machu Picchu in the fifteenth century, with the most likely dates being between 1460 and 1470 AD which coincides with the height of the Inca Empire when the emperor or Sapa Inca Pachacutec Yupanqui was in power. Upon his death in 1471, the Inca Empire stretched from Chile in the far south, to Ecuador in the extreme north of the empire and included the vast majority of the land area of Peru and Bolivia and much of northern Argentina. The Spanish arrived in Peru less than 100 years later but did not visit Machu Picchu itself as it is believed that a smallpox epidemic eliminated most of the people in the area before the Spanish conquistadors arrived. Hiram Bingham is credited with re-discovering Machu Picchu in July 1911 although he was originally in search of Vilcabamba, the last Inca refuge during the conquest by the Spanish.
Did Hiram Bingham really discover Machu Picchu?
Hiram Bingham learned of extensive ruins on a ridge high up in the mountains from a rector at the Universidad Nacional de San Antonio Abad in Cusco, who told Bingham about a useful contact who lived in the Urubamba Valley sixty miles from Cusco. Bingham traveled to meet up with this man who took him to Machu Picchu. He discovered the many terraces built for agriculture and traveled further along the Urubamba River deeper into the Sacred Valley. In the Vilcabamba River Valley, he discovered a 20-foot high white rock which he identified as an Inca shrine and some extensive ruins on top of a hill. After many further archaeological studies of the area that included a complete survey, Bingham concluded that the site was the “Lost City of the Incas” and proposed that the heart of the entire Inca civilization was focused on Machu Picchu.
Although credited as being the first scientist to map and measure the site and published the results, Bingham had many predecessors who were aware of Machu Picchu. In 1865, Antonio Raimondi, an Italian geographer, published a map of the area of the Urubamba Valley with a peak called Machu Picchu distinctly marked on it. In 1875, a French traveler named Charles Wiener made reference to ruins he had heard of in the area but never visited. Other missionaries climbed to the ruins in 1906. It is known that Bingham was told where to look and even had previously published maps in order to let him know how to find the area.
What was Machu Picchu?
Dr. Johan Reinhard, an Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society, has presented evidence that Machu Picchu was considered a sacred religious site, not only because of its location, that held significant religious importance for the Inca culture, but also because of the existence of artificial platforms similar to those on other Inca sites that have a religious function. The particular types of stone structures at the site also point to the religious significance of Machu Picchu, curved, very fine stone walls for example. These types of structures are only built at religious sites so the natural conclusion is that Machu Picchu was considered to be a sacred area.
UNESCO site and New World Wonder
In 1983, Machu Picchu was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and an “Historical Sanctuary” by Peru, with the high, cloud forest area totalling 325.92 square kilometers surrounding it to be considered part of the Sanctuary too. The sanctuary not only includes the ruins but a large part of the surrounding area that is rich in the flora and fauna of this Peruvian ecosystem.
Machu Picchu was placed on the 2008 Watch List of the 100 Most Endangered Sites by the World Monuments Fund as its environment has become degraded. Increased tourism and the development in the town of Aquas Calientes have contributed to this situation with court orders and the government of Peru struggling hard to maintain its original state. Recent measures in limiting numbers of visitors may go a long way to reducing future impact and keep Machu Picchu open to the public for decades. Contact us to start planning your Machu Picchu tour now.