Machu Picchu: its meaning and significance
21 October 2019
When the American explorer Hiram Bingham climbed to a high ridge top in the Peruvian cloud forest on July 24th, 1911, he witnessed a mysterious landscape- a large area of stone walls covered with thick vegetation.
He was one of the first outsiders to gaze upon an Inca citadel that had remained hidden to the outside world since the time of the great 15th-century Inca Empire . Bingham imagined that this was the last city of the Incas, lost to the world over time.
Location and archeological past
Machu Picchu is located at a remote site at almost 8,000 ft., and until fairly recently was difficult to access. But this was not the “last city of the Incas”, since other large archeological sites much further into the cloud forest were later found that are much more likely the last redoubts of the last Incas during the final days of the Empire.
Unveiling the citadel
To be clear, Bingham did not discover Machu Picchu. Some local farmers knew of its existence, but they were too busy feeding their families to give it much importance.
There is evidence that other explorers had already been there. Bingham probably also found a wealth of Inca relics. Some believe that both Bingham and prior explorers removed numerous Inca relics from Machu Picchu.
That momentous event, 108 years ago, began a rush to reach the “lost city” of the Andes , which was soon cleared of its vegetation cover.
From that time on, it became a magnet that has attracted archeologists, explorers, and curious travelers from around the world. Over time, a winding road was build to reach Machu Picchu, and by the 1950’s the citadel had become one of the most visited tourist destinations in Latin America.
Machu Picchu nowadays
Today, Machu Picchu is visited daily by hundreds of tourists, and for excellent reasons. It truly is a spectacular, magnificent and mysterious place – such words are hardly adequate to describe the sense of wonder one feels when walking through its stone passageways, seeing its unique archeological features and refined Inca architecture , and looking across the green wonderland of cloud forest-covered mountains that nestles the ancient site.
Yes, it is often crowded, as is every world-renowned wonder of the world. But the Peruvian authorities in charge of its care are actively attempting by means of new controls and regulations.
Actions were taken to limit the number of daily visitors, and to mitigate the impact that years of excessive, unregulated tourism has had on the physical integrity of the ancient structures.
And yes, do no doubt it- it must be visited, at least once, by anyone who is drawn to exploring amazing destinations that offer a privileged window into the history and architecture of ancient civilizations.
The meaning of the name
So, what exactly does Machu Picchu mean? In the Quechua language, Machu denotes “Old”. Picchu, appropriately, is defined as both “Pyramid” and “Chewed Coca Leaves”.
Old Pyramid of Chewed Coca? Maybe so. For many native Andeans, coca was and is a sacred plant. Likewise, the steep, imposing mountain that looms over the site in many photographs, Huayna Picchu, is the “Young Pyramid”.
But such simple names really do not convey its true significance, which is still debated today. It is known that Machu Picchu was built in the 15th century by the great Inca king Pachacutec, and most it likely it combined the functions of a religious site and a royal country estate for the Inca king’s visits.
Archeologists propose that Machu Picchu was built over ten years in the mid-1400s, and was occupied for 80 years, until the Spanish invasion and the accompanying diseases forced its abandonment.
Machu Picchu became a Peruvian National Historic Sanctuary in 1981, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. In 2007, it was declared one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. And that it is!
Come and visit
On your visit to Cusco, a trip to Machu Picchu is a must. You can easily do this in on a one-day or two-day tour, via rail service. You might have heard of the Inca Trail, and it is a wonderful trek, but it is expensive and relatively crowded.
The best combination might just be an acclimatization trip to Cusco and Machu Picchu, followed by an outstanding trek to majestic Mt. Ausangate with Andean Lodges, the most experienced trekking outfitter in the Cusco region. Contact us at andeanlodges.com, and we’ll be happy to discuss the best options for your trip of a lifetime to the amazing Andes mountains of southern Peru.