Machu Picchu, Peru

The naturally fortified city high in the Andes contains royal residences, temples, plazas, homes, and workshops. Discover them on this tour.

This story was created for the Google Expeditions project by Smarthistory, now available on Google Arts & Culture.

Machu Picchu From Terraces

When the Spanish conquered the Inka Empire they never found the royal estate of Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu was likely abandoned soon after the Spanish arrived.

It was largely forgotten until Hiram Bingham from Yale University, relying on the knowledge of local inhabitants, located the city and brought it to the world’s attention. Machu Picchu is now the most visited tourist destination in Peru.

Machu Picchu

At the left you can see visitors entering the city’s main gate. Just past the gate is the upper section of the city—filled with the houses, tombs, and temples of the elite. On the lower slopes, are homes and workshops of artisans and laborers.

Huayna Picchu

Look to the far side of the city to see the peak, Huayna Picchu. The Inka built the Temple of the Moon here and an an additional temple constructed with fine masonry in a stone recess known as the Great Cavern.

Terrace walls

The Inka carved agricultural terraces from the steep mountain slope to produce the food needed for the city. It took enormous effort to form the retaining walls since no civilization in the Americas used the technology of the wheel, except small wheeled toys.

The Andes

The Inka built trails even on steep peaks like Phutuq K'usi (bottom center). In the river valley 1500 feet below, the climate allows for tropical plants, pampas cat, ocelot, otter, weasel, bear and the Andean condor.

Intihuatana Platform

Here is the Intihuatana stone known as the “hitching post of the Sun,” as well as finely crafted masonry walls and a view of Machu Picchu’s main plaza.

Intihuatana

The Intihuatana (hitching post of the Sun) was carved from a large boulder on a high platform. It may express the importance of Earth and Sun in Inka spiritual tradition. The ruler Pachacuti Inka Yupanqui was believed to have descended from the Sun.

Stonework

Inka masonry was well suited for this earthquake-prone region. The Inka shaped large granite boulders to tightly fit a slight convex surface with the concave form of an adjacent stone. The result are remarkably tight seams and a beautiful varied surface.

Trapezoid windows

The windows and niches in Inka architecture are trapezoidal (tapered rectangle) in shape.  The result is that a less massive lintel (the stone that tops the window) could be used to span the window opening.

Main Square

This is one of several plazas that divide the city. Like so much in the city, the plazas are built on multiple levels. There is also a complex water system with fountains and drainage to channel rainwater for irrigation of the planted terraces.

Temple of the Sun (Torreon) and Cave

Here we can see the Temple of the Sun above a sacred cave that may have contained a royal burial.

Both have extremely fine stonework built upon a massive boulder of living rock and within the Temple above (also called the observatory), there is an altar that may have been open to the sky even when it was in use.

Temple of the Sun (Torreon)

There is a remarkably accurate alignment between the altar stone within and the constellations Pleiades, Scorpio, and the Sun on the winter solstice. The Torreon’s masonry is some of the finest at Machu Picchu and there is a small cave under the boulder.

Royal tomb

The huge boulder that forms the foundation for the Torreon is also the ceiling of a small cave. Inside is exacting stonework. At the upper right, masonry has been ingeniously built atop the living rock.

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