Tuesday, October 6, 2015

* Machu Picchu, one of the New Seven Wonders




Ruins of Machu Picchu, Perú.
Machu Picchu Ruins, Perú
Machu Picchu  (Old Peak in Quechua language), the most emblematic monument of Peru. Consisting of  archaeological ruins belonging to an ancient village of the Inca Empire, built at 2,500 meters above the sea in the valley of Urubamba River, Central Cordillera of southern Peru, being one, if not the most, desired tourist destination for travelers around the world. According to recent anthropological research, the location of the citadel was chosen to place it at the highest altitude possible so they can see the sky closer. The Inca civilization considered that a closer location respect to the sun would allow them a better and more suitable position for their astronomical studies as well as religious rituals.  In addition to its great historical and cultural value, Machu Picchu is considered a masterpiece of architecture and engineering. The formidable citadel, whose construction dates from the XVth. century, went unnoticed by the Spanish conquistadors and was almost forgotten until the XXth century.  

     The year 2007 Machu Picchu was chosen, along with other marvels, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World at an event organized by the New Open World Foundation in Lisbon, Portugal with the participation of one hundred million voters worldwide.  In 1983 Machu Picchu was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of an environmental and archaeological ensemble  known as Machu Picchu Historical Sanctuary.  Officially, it is said that Hiram Bingham, professor, explorer and politician of the Unites States was who rediscovered the ruins in 1911, but there is controversy about the issue because, on the other hand, there is information that would have been the Peruvian landowner Agustin Lizarraga who would have made the finding nine years before, in 1902.  Anyway, Bingham is credited the great merit of having been the first person to give to the archaeological ruins the importance they deserve.  Machu Picchu, one of the major archeological sites that remain from the rich Inca culture is one of the most incredible and mystical places on earth. Not for nothing the famous Chilean poet and Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda wrote one of his most famous poems based on the Sacred City of the Incas, "Alturas de Machu Picchu", work dedicated to the Inca ruins, the human drama of the servants who built the fortress and all the indigenous peoples of the Americas. 



* Climate and  recommendations.


          
As in many parts of the world, the weather in Machu Picchu is a little unpredictable. In general terms, the climate is benign, with subtropical characteristics, warm and humid in Summer, with sensation of heat during the day and cool at night.  By nature, the area is rainy, about 2000 mm per year, concentrated mainly from November through March, while generally during the months of April to November the sunny and dry season occurs. The maximum annual temperature ranges from 20.0 to 26.0 degrees Celsius.  In the months of May, June, and July  the temperature often reaches below zero. The most recommended months to visit Machu Picchu are May and June, since these are the mildest ones.

     The official currency of Peru is the Sol, in October 2015, the rate of exchange is 1 US$= 3.24 Soles.  You can find ATMs, Banks and Money Exchange in the main tourist places, but impossible to find in many remote areas and archaeological sites. It's a good idea to always have some cash for meals and for the purchase of things you could want. It is recommendable not to carry large amounts of cash. American dollars are accepted in many shops and restaurants, but not all, so it is better to change your money to Soles.  With respect to footwear, trekking shoes are ideal for a visit to Machu Picchu, especially if you plan to do any of the tours or walks around the Inca citadel.  Sunscreen and insect repellent are necessary, especially repellent since insect bites can ruin your visit. People especially sensitive to insect bites are not advised to use short clothes of any kind. The voltage used in Peru is 220 V AC, 60 Hz, plugs and sockets are types A, B and C. 

     There are multiple options to get to Machu Picchu, almost always starting from Cusco, one of the most interesting cities in Peru, known for having been the "Capital" of the Inca Empire, with a rather cold climate, as it is 3,360 above the sea. In the local agencies there are a variety of offers ranging from a tour of one day combining train and bus, up to several days sleeping in villages such as Aguas Calientes, also called Machu Picchu town, just 30 minutes away by bus, the place where tourists visiting the sacred Incan city arrive. In Aguas Calientes ("Hot Waters") you can also visit the thermal baths located 800 m from the village and to which are attributed medicinal properties.  Trains and services from Cusco to Aguas Calientes are not all equal and there are differences, depending on whether the trip (about 4 hours) takes place in economy class which can be very cheap but uncomfortable and on the other hand, if the trip is carried out in a first class service can be spectacular but very expensive.  A great choice for those with the proper physical condition is the four-day trek to Machu Pichu departing from Cusco and then through the Inca trail, accompanied by authorized guidesalthough it is also possible to make the travel in two days.  Note that to enter the historic sanctuary of Machu Picchu there is a maximum number of 2500 visits a day. 
  


Places to visit in Machu Picchu

  
Ruins of Machu Picchu, Peru.
   One of the things that most attracts the attention of the visitors is the level of technological development achieved by its builders, in some places the joints of the stones are so air tight that not even a pin could be inserted. Given that the Incas never knew the use of iron, one can imagine the immense difficulties and the time this work took. All within a remote geography, abrupt and of so difficult access. The complex consists of an agricultural area, several temples and a residential or urban area besides a large network of aqueducts that still work today, which brought and distributed water from rain and snowmelt. The agricultural and urban sectors in turn are divided into two sub-sections: The Upper side or  Hanan and Lower side or Urin.   

* The agricultural area, occupies the entire south eastern part   of the citadel, it had an extensive network of platforms, part of them   currently covered by thick vegetation but served a vital function          during Inca times, it is made up of a series of barns and large terraces, structures formed by a stone wall and a filling of different layers of material, connected by means of stairs and aqueducts. Its function was to produce food for the population and to grow plants for ritual use such as corn and coca. In the upper part of the agricultural sector there is a small construction that permits the observation of the accesses of the city's south side,  the "Puesto de Vigilancia" (Sentry Post), which was probably its purpose. It is a three wall building, situated opposite the cemetery, also known as "Huayrana", has windows on each side, from this building a general view of the two major sectors is observed , besides the landscape environment. 

* Upper Cemetery and Ritual Rock  (Cementerio Superior y Roca Ritual), in Machu Picchu, as in all Incan villages (and just as in modern cities), burials were made in peripheral areas. In this part of the Holy City were found skeletal remains next to what is known as the "Ritual Rock", where ceremonies were held for the dead before being buried in the surroundings. In the ritual granite rock, with steps carved, fits one person in the supine position.  

* The urban area, this sector situated is at the north end of the citadel, consisting of a series of buildings, which had different purposes such as barns, homes, temples, astronomical observatories, etc. This sector holds the major architectural elements of the Inca city, where you can appreciate the great care and accuracy put by the prehispanic builders, as they are entirely of granite, extremely hard rock.  Among the main points to visit in the urban area are:



* The Temple of the Sun (El Templo del Sol)


Templo del Sol (Temple of the Sun), Machu Picchu, Peru.
Temple of the Sun, Machu Picchu
     Semicircular building built on a solid rock of granite, located in the religious area of the Incan Holy City. Of the buildings for housing this is the finest, largest and best distributed of Machu Picchu. The main building is known as "Torreon" (Turret), constructed on a granite rock of the mountain, taking advantage of the natural layout of the range, the enclosure has a curvature of ten and a half meters, with irregular stone blocks, polished manually. This part of the building was used for religious ceremonies, especially during the months of June and December, dates related to the Winter and Summer Solstices.  Under the Temple of the Sun there is a small cave known as the "Royal Tomb" (Mausoleo Real), exquisitely worked, with altars carved into the natural rock and covered with fine masonry, of which it is said that could have been the mausoleum of Pachacutec, the ninth Inca ruler, real organizer and creator of the Empire. It is supposed that the Inca was buried under the house of his father sun. It is also assumed that the small cave must have related to Uku Pacha, defined as the underground world, which was the world of the dead, unborn and all that was under the ground or water surface. On the side wall there are two large trapezoidal niches and two small niches on the deeper wall. On the floor there is a engraving, representing the three levels of the Andean religious World. Within the Temple of the Sun complex, there are other two buildings, one of them called the "Claustro de la Ñusta (Cloister of the Princess), which due to its location must have had some relationship with the Temple and possibly was the dwelling of the Willaq Uma or High Priest.


* The Sacred Rock (La Roca Sagrada) 


      It is a large carved stone of 3 meters high and 7 meters wide, located within the Inca city.  The rock was worked and seems to represent the silhouette of Mount Pumasillo, also known as Yanantin, which is located at the back of the rock. According to the studies, it is also believed that the Sacred Rock seems to have a geographical purpose as its location exactly coincides with the northern part of the city, the point where begins the road to the Huayna Picchu Mount, which ahead turns into a narrow path that goes into the mountain. The road also has a detour towards the urban area where the Main Plaza is located. For these reasons, scholars have strongly supported the idea that the Sacred Rock represents a geographical landmark that marked the way from Machu Picchu to Huayna Picchu mountain. 

     Huayna Picchu ("Young Peak") is the characteristic backdrop of almost all the panoramic photos taken in Machu Picchu, also housing important archaeological remains belonging to the pre-Hispanic civilization. It should be pointed out that the climb to this mountain requires a proper physical condition but especially not to suffer from vertigo.


* The "Intiwatana" Stone

      
     So far partially unveiled, it is still one of the greatest mysteries of the Inca culture. Consisiting of a big stone mass, irregularly carved on a single rock, it has two meters in diameter, polygonal base with several small levels and on its center a tower of four corners indicating the four Cardinal Points. The re-discoverer of Machu Picchu, Hiram Bingham, considered that this was an observatory of the Incas, to study the movements of the Sun and Moon, so this monolithic sculpture is considered a Sundial, as it is also known.  The Intiwatana (or Intihuatana) that in Quechua language means "where the sun is tied up" served two specific functions, measurement of solstices and equinoxes by means of the effect of light and shade and as an altar.  It is located on top of the Colina Sagrada ("Sacred Hill"), surrounded by several terraces and platforms. The year 2000 took place an anecdotal event at Intiwatana. An advertising company that filmed a beer TV commercial partially damaged the centenary granite block, of great significance for the Incas. The strong impact of the metal boom of a crane produced a rupture of the south ridge of the Intihuatana, of 8 cm high, 6 wide and 3 deep. The incident brought legal consequences to several of the involved. 


* Temple of the Three Windows (Templo de las Tres Ventanas)

     
Temple of the three Windows, Machu Picchu Ruins, Peru.
     It owes its name to the fact that in the main facade are located 3 perfectly framed windows, which makes easy to understand the reason of its name. The building, one of the most sophisticated constructions of the citadel, consists of only three walls on a rectangular base, built from large blocks of finely carved solid rock, especially in the area corresponding to the windows. It is assumed that the place was roofed and that the wall that today has three windows, probably had five. In the area were carried out some excavations, where many liturgical objects and pottery were discovered, so it is deduced that many religious ceremonies took place here. In the place there are also other buildings of ceremonial use.


* The Main Temple (Templo Principal)

     
     Situated on the highest part of the city, because of its location, size, and fine finishings on the rock, anthropologists assume that this was the main ceremonial center of Machu Picchu, along with the Temple of the Three Windows, besides other buildings that are located around the Plaza Sagrada (Sacred Plaza), all destined to religious ceremonies and rites. On the central wall there are seven niches and five on each sidewall, each niche with a typical trapezoidal shape, very common in the Incan architecture. Behind the Main Temple there is a small room today known as Casa de los Ornamentos (House of Ornaments), this should keep a close relationship with the Temple. In the lowest part of the back wall there is a low platform like a stone seat or bed, which could be a "Sacristy" belonging to the ceremonial site. Its main wall shows major deterioration due to the passage of time, adverse weather conditions in the area and the geological fault that according to the studies runs through the area.


* The Central Plaza (Plaza Principal)

     
     There are four Plazas at different levels, all with one thing in common: the classic rectangular Inca style, interconnected by steps built in the form of terraces. The Central Plaza of Machu Picchu was the largest public space where occurred the most important celebrations in Inca times, it is believed that it was ornamented with ceremonial altars. At the north end of the square there is a sacred stone, today the displacement of persons is prohibited, only llamas grazing which are allowed to touch the sacred soil.  The surrounding platforms were not intended for cultivation but served simply to level the completely irregular terrain of Machu Picchu.



* Temple of the Condor


Temple of the Condor, Machu Picchu, Peru.
     The Temple of the Condor is located in the south east of the urban area, more than just a temple, this is a sector or group of buildings in the neighborhood of Hurin, whose architecture is very singular. In its main part, what at first glance appears to be a very asymmetrical construction,  observing the whole, with the sculpture of the body at ground level, you can see clearly that it is the representation of an Andean Condor in full flight. The two large rocks above symbolize the wings. It is a sacred place, built with purpose to worship the "Apu Kuntur" or Condor God, one of the three sacred animals of the Inca society along with the Puma and the Snake.



* The Street of the Fountains

     
     To the south, between the Temple of the Sun and the Royal Palace, are situated the main water ponds or fountains of Machu Picchu, called Paqchas. The group of sixteen fountains are fed from numerous springs located in the vicinity or even kilometers away, through aqueducts was achieved that the water flows through different levels.  Today the water no longer flows through these canals because it is necessary to supply the great tourist flow that is housed in hotel facilities of the area. The location of these ponds, also called Liturgical Fountains was strategically studied, being located between two of the most-important buildings of the city, the Temple of the Sun and the Royal Palace. This led to the formation of the "Street of the Fountains" located just between the two buildings.


* Machu Picchu Main Gate 


       It is a striking access portal, in the Upper Town (Hanan), southeast of the urban area, at the top of a wall of about 400 meters long dividing the agricultural and urban parts of the citadel. Until today, it is in perfect state of preservation, formed by white granite blocks, a slightly trapezoidal shape and a large 3 tons monolithic lintel. Due to details in its construction, it is deduced that the door was used to control people who came to the Sacred City, as it had a security system to close and lock it. On both sides and at medium height, there are curious slits that would have served as a support for a horizontal beam to seal it. Also, protruding from the top of the doorway there is  a ring of stone suggesting that a vertical beam would have secured the system even more. 


* The Gate of the Sun

      
     Its name in Quechua is Intipunku, located 1 km. South of Machu Picchu, in the highest part of the Cerro Arequipa (Arequipa Hill). You reach this small architectural complex by steep stone steps some of which are original and other restored. Inside walls show the presence of the typical Inca trapezoidal niches, the ground presents some rock outcrops. The relic has a rectangular shape, on a platform there is a stairway that goes to the East, it is believed that the facility  was used as an observatory or for military or religious use. Its name "Gate of the Sun" (Spanish: Puerta del Sol) is based on the fact that during certain times of the year it seems that the sun rises through the centenary gate. 


* The Inca Trail in the area of Machu Picchu  (Sendero del Inca)

    
     The Inca road system covered enormous distances, especially considering the period in which it was built (by several generations between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries), almost 40,000 km. covering an area of what are now Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina and Chile, linking the major villages along the coast and mountains.  All these roads were connected to Cusco, the capital of the Inca Empire.  The system was built based on two longitudinal axes, the Andean area and the coastal plain and it is noteworthy that many of the stretches, after more than 400 years, are still in good conditions.  The famous trail connecting the city of Cusco to Machu Picchu archeological site is only a small part (43 km.) of the gigantic network of Inca roads.  There are actually three different routes to travel on foot to the Inca ruins: the Classic Inca Trail or hiking of four days, the Sacred or Real Trail or two day tour, and the alternative route known as Salkantay Trail, the longest of the three tours and usually ends in Aguas Calientes instead of Machu Picchu, this expedition is an option for those who can not find a reservation for the Classic Inca trek, its name comes from the mountain Salkantay (Wild Mountain in Quechua language), of 6,271 mts. 
nicely framed      During the peak season, May to September, it is important to book with four or five months in advance to secure a place on the date you want.  You can contact via Internet one of the numerous local Tourist Agencies or also check online the Machu Picchu Official Website for information on the different routes and ticket purchase.  Currently, the Inca Trail is one of the most requested trekking routes in the world, to preserve the circuit conditions and minimize the impact of tourism on the archaeological treasures, the Peruvian government has applied certain limitations:

- The trekking can not be performed independently, you must hire the services of a licensed guide.
- Only a maximum of 500 people a day are admitted to start the tour so it is advisable to make reservations well in advance.
-  The trail is closed in February each year for cleaning and maintenance tasks.


Besides, you must also take into account that climbing higher than 4,200 meters above sea level entails the risk of altitude sickness, so it is highly recommended a stop for a couple of days in Cusco for acclimatization.