After the atmospheric foggy morning of our 2nd day at Machu Picchu Bonnie and I climbed to the top of Mount Machu Picchu, a grueling steep climb up that afforded us some nice views over the area. Then, when we got back down to the city the sun was out in full glory for the rest of the afternoon with puffy white thunderheads piling up around the horizon. It was the perfect weather to explore the details of the city and take some photos.
I’d like to show some you some of the sites we saw and explain some of the details we learned.
Below in the Temple of the Condor you can see a good example of how the Incas incorporated existing rock formations into their architecture. This large granite rock evokes the shape of a condor in flight so they left it and built it into the temple complex. It is an interesting temple to explore because it has many levels with tunnels you can walk through.
The Temple of the 3 Windows is built of large blocks of finely carved white granite. It has a megalithic feel to it because of the beefiness of the construction. This temple was located on the east facing side of the main religious plaza on an elevated hill location in the center of the city. It is part of a larger religious complex that was under construction when the city was abandoned.
We can see that this temple complex was still under construction due to the fact that some of the large blocks of stone making up this area were not completely cut down to final size. You can today see the marks from where the stone mason was working cutting the blocks down to size. Most likely, construction at the site was halted when the Incan Empire was thrown into Civil War when an outbreak of smallpox killed 3 of the 12 million people in the Incan Empire including the emperor and his son next in line for the throne. A brutal war of succession broke out among rivals that lasted 2 years, and then in 1532 Pizzaro and 168 conquistadors arrived and were able to surprisingly conquer the now fragile Incan Empire. The Incans placed absolute power in the hands of their emperor and when he died without a known successor the entire complex empire fell to pieces and the Spanish walked in to exploit that situation at the perfect time. Overall, the Incas seemed to have a very sophisticated civilization, yet it wasn’t robust enough to handle the unsettling events of plague and invasion by the militarily superior Spanish. With only 168 men armed with swords, 62 horses, some crude canons and firearms Pizzaro led a sneak attack on the 8,000 strong (though mostly unarmed) royal party accompanying the Inca emperor. Pizzaro took the emperor hostage and killed 2,000 Incas to incite terror, while the Spanish lost not one man. It was the single greatest clash of civilizations that has ever occurred. The Incan empire fell apart at the seams in a matter of 5 years.
Back to Machu Picchu. One of the neatest parts is this below carved cave that was dedicated as a Temple to Pachamama (mother earth).
Directly above this Temple to Mother Earth is the Temple of the Sun, where on the southern summer solstice a beam of light came through the window and illuminated a golden idol.
The Incas called themselves the “Children of the Sun”, for their mythology stated that they were directly descended from the their father the sun and mother the moon. This is fairly common of ancient civilizations, for example the Egyptians had similar beliefs. Due to the importance of the sun (and by association the weather) to growing crops that made their empire possible, there was a lot of respect and worship to the sun.
On top of a pyramidal shaped hill there is a rock carved into what is called in Quechua as Intihuatana, or “hitching post of the sun”.
This carved rock was used to track the sun’s progress towards the solstice and therefore make decisions about when to plant and harvest crops based on the seasons. Religiously, it was thought that this hitching post kept the sun from dropping any further in the sky or rising to far. In essence, it was both a sun dial and a cultural belief that the Incas were masters of nature, and could tie down the sun.
Below is the pyramid atop which the Intihuatana sits.
One of my favorite things about Incan architecture is the organic way they fit the stones together in such an assortment of shapes and sizes.
The trapezoidal shape of the windows, doors and niches allow the walls to absorb the energy of the many earthquakes that Peru experiences and still remain standing.
The original buildings had thatch roofs.
Here are some final views of the city of Machu Picchu that speak for themselves.
We learned from our guide that there was a huge rockslide from Mount Machu Picchu that covered the site in large chunks of white granite, thus making it very convenient to quarry rock right from the site and making it easy to build quickly. Whereas at other Incan sites, we saw that quarries could be up to 3 miles away. Also, Machu Picchu’s location was very auspicious since it was surrounded by the sacred Urubamba River below and had views to many sacred mountains in all directions, not to mention that it commands absolutely stunning views.
This picture shows how the site may have looked prior to construction, with large chunks of granite all over the place.
I imagine that if the Incans where able to continue building Machu Picchu to their final design, this quarry area would be turned into beautifully worked stone architecture as well as the rest of the site was.
This rock that Bonnie is holding was carved to match the profile of sacred Huana Picchu peak just behind. By the way Machu means ‘old’ and Picchu means ‘peak’, whereas Huana Picchu means ‘young peak’. This was the name that the local farmers called the site when Hiram Bingham discovered it, yet since the Incans had no written records and the Spanish never knew of this site, it’s name during Incan times is a complete mystery. It truly was a lost city for nearly 400 years.
It is cool how the precise stone masonry is built right around the existing granite rock outcrops below.
There were quite a lot of llamas around to keep the grass cut short.
Check out this cute baby llama.
Yeah, we were happy this day. It was one of the most memorable places we’ve ever visited. Enough reason to jump for joy.