Why was Machu Picchu built?
There must have been a good reason to justify the laborious construction of this magic city in such a challenging land. Since the Incas did not have a written language the real purpose for the building of Machu Picchu is not clear, it remains a mystery and is open to speculation. There are many theories but few among the most plausible. The most common conclusion from experts on Inca history and archeologists is that it was built first and foremost as a sacred center to worship natural resources, deities and specially the Sun.
In reality things do not have one single purpose and Machu Picchu had a multiplicity of uses and significance. In addition to being a holy place it was also used as a retreat by Pachacuti and his family who lived in the city and the location of the citadel provided many natural resources that the Incas valued.
There is no doubt that religion played an important part in Pachacuti’s decision to build Machu Picchu. Its location was planned around natural religious traits as the landscape surrounding it was unusually holy.
The Urubamba River surrounds the ridge and most of the sacred snow capped mountains could be seen from the citadel. The location was also rich in huacas or sacred places such as rock formations and springs. Priests and architects observed the movement of the sun, moon and stars and noticed how huacas lined together during astronomical events such as solstice sunrises and other events that would have been important to Inca religion. These observations were taken into account when deciding the location of buildings and the direction the doors and windows would face. Understanding the Inca religion helps us comprehend a little about the mystery of this magical city.
Source of Exotic Products
In the Andes animals and plants grow at different time periods at different elevations so another advantage was its proximity to the rain forest. The rain forest was the only source of rare products that were prized by the Incas such as colorful bird feathers, butterflies, coca leaves, exotic fruits and vegetables and healing herbs among other products. Most of these products were used in religious ceremonies and were distributed through the empire.
Machu Picchu is also known as the “City within the clouds” because it is located high in the Andes. Its location provided unobstructed view of astronomical phenomenon. The Intihuatana, the Temple of the Sun and the Room of the Three Windows are three structures in the citadel of Machu Picchu that the Incas built in order to observe celestial events. These structures were dedicated to the greatest deity, the Sun or Inti. Buildings and windows were strategically placed in order to observe astronomical events of importance to the Incas. These observations served to predict changes of season and were used as an agricultural calendar. For survival these events had to be carefully tracked.
Machu Picchu was completely self-contained. Its residents hardly went hungry, it produced enough food in its terraces to feed the entire community and had uninterrupted water supply from natural sources. To be able to develop agriculture and feed the residents of the citadel the Incas needed reliable water supply, they could not count on rain alone. The Incas were expert aqueduct engineers and were able to channel natural sources of water to the city through subterranean and open canals for agriculture and human consumption. Water was a sacred element to the Incas, it represented fertility. At the south end of the city the Incas built numerous artificial terraces where they developed its local agriculture.
According to Inca custom, virgin girls of remarkable beauty were chosen to become priestesses to serve the Sapa Inca and the gods. Some of them became concubines and others were sacrificed to the Gods. It is believed that Machu Picchu housed a large number of them since 174 skeletons were found buried in caves of which 150 were women.
The inaccessibility of Machu Picchu makes for a natural hide out to protect the Sapa Inca and his family from invaders. To protect the city the Incas built a 6meter high by 1.8 wide wall that surrounded the city.
The end of Machu Picchu
The city was inhabited for just over one hundred years and no one knows for sure why the Incas abandoned such a magnificent city. It is believed that the civil war between the brothers Atahualpa and Huascar had interrupted the food supply to Machu Picchu. Another possibility is that it was affected by an epidemic that killed its residents. Whatever the reason, its residents deserted Machu Picchu before the Spaniards arrived in the Andes. It was forgotten for 400 years until the American explorer Hiram Bingham rediscovered it in 1911.
Interesting Information about Machu Picchu and the Incas
The Inca citadel is located 80 km northwest the city of Cusco, it sits majestically between the mountains of Machu Picchu and Wuayna Picchu in the most unreachable area of the Urubamba River.
Inca architecture is most known for its polygonal stones used in many religious buildings. One stone found in a temple wall in Machu Picchu is estimated to have at least 33 corners.
There must have been a good reason to justify the laborious construction of this magic city in such a challenging land.
There are two sectors in Machu Picchu, each sector was constructed on a natural division due to a geological fault.
A no-fly zone restriction exists above the area.
The most significant archeology sites are the Temple of the Sun, Intihuatana stone, the Room of the Three Windows, water fountains or pools, Royal Mausoleum, the Residence of the Priest.