Standing 2,430m above sea level, in the midst of tropical cloud forests, in an extraordinarily beautiful setting lies Machupicchu.
Machupicchu was 'rediscovered' in 1911 and has since become one of the worlds foremost tourist destinations. That said, I thought that the site still retained an air of mystery and serenity, as we wandered between the 150 plus buildings, ranging from baths and houses to temples and sanctuaries, it was impossible not to get caught up in the manmade wonder of it all.
We'd seen pictures of the famous Machupicchu, but what they didn't convey was the stunning landscape that surrounds these ruins. In the midst of tropical mountainous forests on the eastern slopes of the Peruvian Andes, Machupicchu’s walls, terraces, stairways and ramps blend seamlessly into its natural setting. The Urubamba River meanders and forms a turn before getting to Machupicchu mountain which, together with the Huayna (young) Picchu (mountain), comprises a C-shape, facing the Sachapata and Putucusi hills. These mountains form a majestic landscape and an insurmountable barrier at the same time. This was our first glimpse of the upper Amazon basin with its rich diversity of flora and fauna.
Armed with our recently purchased guide books, Fraser took on the role of tour guide and showed us around the site with admirable prowess. Machupicchu stretches over an impressive 5 square miles, featuring more than 3,000 stone steps that link its many different levels. Archaeologists have identified several distinct sectors that together comprise the city, including a farming zone, a residential or schooling neighbourhood, a royal district and a sacred area. Machupicchu’s most distinct and famous structures include the Temple of the Sun and the Intihuatana stone, a sculpted granite rock that is believed to have functioned as a solar clock or calendar. We learnt how this stone was damaged in 2000 when a crane fell on it filming a beer commercial.
The site’s finely crafted stonework, terraced fields and sophisticated irrigation system bear witness to the Inca civilisation’s architectural, agricultural and engineering skill level.
Machupicchu is an amazing urban creation from the height of the Inca Empire. Its central buildings demonstrate masonry techniques mastered by the Incas in which granite stones were carved to fit exactly together without the use of mortar. The basic module of the rectangular and gabled kancha (basically a large stone brick) is repeated, varying according to the topography and the required functions. The stone walls have a slight inclination that gives them earthquake-resistant properties. The typical doors, windows and niches are in trapezoidal shape.
Much is speculated regarding the religious significance or utilisation of the site, the real truth is that the reason for its construction has been lost in the mists of time, as it was never discovered and chronicled by the Spanish. It is believed that the entire site was planned in detail before it was built. This urban complex is thought to mimic the shape of a condor. The leader who ordered the construction of the urban complex in this very difficult site was definitely visionary. Its giant walls, terraces and ramps seem as if they have been cut naturally in the continuous rock escarpments. In fact, the buildings are made from the pinnacle on which the site stands. At least the construction workers didn't have to carry too many blocks up the hill, just dig them out of the onsite quarry (without the use of steel and iron chisels) and assemble them perfectly together.
We spent a full day at Machupicchu and took hundreds of photos. The place got quieter as the day went on and it was good to sit down and soak it all up. As the sun set behind the western pinnacles we turned to home, waving goodbye to this stone enigma and feeling somehow enriched at witnessing one of the seven wonders of the World.
The iconic view that has adorned thousands of pictures, postcards and magazine articles truly is a breathtaking site
The early morning train from Olantaytambo winds its way up the sacred valley
A short bus ride or a 1.5 hour walk brings you to the infamous ruins. Here we're stood in the terraced fields of the agricultural sector looking towards the city.
As we arrived the early morning clouds (well it is a cloud forest after all) began to part and reveal a fantastic vista of mountains, forests and ruins
Standing in the remains of the temple of water
The Temple of the Sun, set atop a giant boulder displays some of the finest quality blockwork on the whole site
The main door to the Royal Palace, the holes halfway up the sides and the protruding block at the top formed part of a locking mechanism for the original wooden doors. The trapezoidal shape is standard amongst all doors and windows providing extra ear quake resistance. In addition all walls taper in from the outside providing the same function.
Impressive mortar-less joins between the blocks, all processed using bronze, copper and stone tools
Temple of the Sun with the Urubamba river far below
Much more rough and ready blockwork for the less important buildings and outer walls
Temple of the 5 niches with a giant alter
This small stone alter is perfectly aligned north-south, east-west and used as a type of solar clock
The back side of Machupicchu looking down to the Urubamba river. These terraces were used for herbs and precious crops used in the religious ceremonies
The boulder in the foreground is a miniature representation of the Machupicchu site with Hayan Picchu mountain in the background
This is the most sacred part of the Machupicchu site, the alter is known as The Hitching Post of the Sun and is aligned for the summer and winter solstices and the two equinoxes. It is believed it was used for the most important Inca ceremonies
Niches are found in every building, probably used for candles and offerings
Looking back towards Machupicchu mountain and the terraced agricultural sector
The main temple of the site with The Hitching Post of the Sun atop
Grabbing some chill time and soaking up the atmosphere
Although you can never be alone in this place
Maybe this lama is a reincarnation of an Inca Llama
Or maybe they're just here to trim the grass
The cloud forests truly live up to their name
The main entrance to the site where the Inca trail finishes
The great gully that separates the agricultural sector from the city is actually an inactive fault line that plunges to the valley floor