The citadel of Machu Picchu is almost certainly the most spectacular contemporary remnant of the once-proud Inca Empire. Today it was one of the primary tourist attractions in South America, a testament to the building skill of the Incans.
Machu Picchu was built out of granite stones. As in most Inca structures, mortar was not used to keep the stones together. There was no need to use mortar as the stones were cut masterfully to fit and support each other.
The site of Machu Picchu now holds the ruins of a citadel, sitting 7,970 feet above sea level and covering over 80,000 gorgeous acres in southern Peru.
How was Machu Picchu built?
No wheels or pullies were used to transport the stones up the mountain. They were either carved from granite bedrock on the site itself or dragged up by hand by hundreds of workers.
This amazing marvel was built without wheels or iron tools of any kind. While they were behind Europe in terms of that sort of technology, they were way ahead in the quality of their stone cutting. The stones are fitted together so well, that they did not need mortar and one could not fit a piece of paper between them.
The citadel was built with a system of 600 terraces beneath it. They were designed to prevent the stones from sliding down the mountain and to facilitate the growth of produce near the site.
Why was Machu Picchu built?
For years people mistakenly referred to this site as a “lost Incan city.”
There was also a theory that it served a military purpose, as the Incas were in a constant war when the city was formed. The era in which this citadel was built, was a time of great expansion for the Incan Empire. A series of conquests saw it expand its reach from Ecuador to Chile.
The wall and dry moat surrounding the site would seem to indicate that the planners did take military concerns into account.
However, the defenses of the site are not as impressive or well-constructed as Incan ruins elsewhere. The site also does not appear to be located strategically. No battles appear to have been fought in the area either.
Instead, it appears to have been a respite built by Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, one of the emperors of the Inca. It was certainly a home for the elite, rather than a regular city with a large population.
There are other royal Incan keeps in Peru, although none are as spectacular or at least as well preserved. The royal family did not dwell there throughout the year, but a team of caretakers kept it going when they were gone.
Other members of the Incan elite lived in Machu Picchu as well, mostly in the northeastern section of the complex. However, the emperor and his family lived quite far apart from the others in what contemporary researchers call the “Temple of the Sun.”
The quarters of the emperor were comparatively very luxurious and included a private garden, bath, and bathroom. The rest of the elite had to share those.
Inside the aforementioned “Temple of the Sun” is what appears to be an altar. In the Incan religion, sacrifices were made to Inti the Sun God. It made sense to place a temple dedicated to Inti near the dwellings of the Emperor since he was the head of the state pantheon of deities and the one most associated with Incan political power.
Inti was worshipped through ritual dances and animal sacrifices, which were performed at the altar. The temple has a special window designed to capture the sunlight and shine it onto a ritualistic rock for the June solstice festival of Inti-raymi.
There is also a subterranean cave under the temple, which the first visitors to the site believed was a tomb. However, it seems to have served some other religious function.
The Fall of Machu Picchu
The Spanish Empire brought on the demise of the Incan Empire. This occurred partly through warfare and partly by exposing them to diseases which their immune system was unacquainted with.
In 1533 the Spanish executed Atahualpa, the last Incan emperor. By then little was left of its power. Machu Picchu was simply abandoned and it appears the Spanish were barely aware of its existence.
However, today the magnificent site far outshines anything the Spanish left in their wake in Peru, attracting over one million tourists a year.