It was with great excitement and anticipation that many months ago we planned our trip, joined by several friends and other residents of the ship, to Machu Picchu from Cuzco. While many of us think of Machu Picchu as the “City in the Clouds” in the Peruvian Andes Mountains above the Amazonian jungle and forests or as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, the complex whose ruins we can visit today was home to nearly 1,000 Incas who looked after the site which may have been both a royal residence (palace) and an important Incan Temple, frequently visited by Incan “pilgrims”.
For the Incan pilgrims, the journey from the Incan capital city, Qosqo (Cuzco), to Machu Picchu via the so called “Inca Trail” may have taken three or four days over several mountains and quite a lot of vertical ascents and descents, notwithstanding the fact that Machu Picchu (elevation 7,972 feet or 2,430 meters) is 3,180 feet or 969 meters lower than Qosqo (Cuzco) at an elevation of 11,152 feet or 3,399 meters. [Note that the Incas constructed hundreds of miles of “Inca Trails” leading out of the capital city of Qosqo (Cuzco), as well as trails connecting various Incan Temples and royal residences in that area. In the 21st century, “Inca Trail” usually refers to the hikers trail from Cuzco to Machu Picchu, entering the sanctuary via the Sun Gate.]
The so-called “Sun Gate” (The Incas called it “Inti Punku”) is the Inca Trail entry into the valley and plateau of Machu Picchu, which sits about 1,000 feet (305 meters) below the portal (see the photograph above, and two photographs, below).
“Inti Punku or Intipunku (Quechua: inti sun, punku door, “sun door”) is an archaeological site in the Cusco Region of Peru that was once a fortress of the sacred city, Machu Picchu… It is one of the most important archeological constructions. Inti Punku was once the main entrance to Machu Picchu. This site was the main entry point from the South, and the gate would have been protected by its military. Inti Punku is dedicated to the cult of the Inti, the Sun god. The sun would come out from this site… [Incan pilgrims 500 years ago and] tourists are able to see the sun rise over the whole mountains by Machu Picchu.” — Wikipedia
According to the local guide, Saydi Maria Negron Romero, “Machupicchu is a complex Quechua [the language of the local native inhabitants] word which means ‘Old’, ‘Ancient’ or ‘Elder Mountain’, and thus is called the mountain on which stands the archaeological complex of the same name.”
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“Machu Picchu revealed itself in front of me, like the reason’s existence, above delirium and its inhabitants’ absence and that of its creators. The mystery of its origin and silent tenaciousness, unwound for me the lesson of order the human being can establish through the centuries, with his or her joint will power…” — Pablo Neruda
Machu Picchu was constructed from a period estimated to be between the 1450s to 1470s until, unfinished, it was abandoned by the Incans shortly before the Spanish Conquest of Cuzco in 1533 by Spanish Conquistador Francisco Pizarro. It is regarded as a masterpiece of Incan architecture and construction, with the quality of the stonework indicating that it was a royal residence and significant temple. The choice of location, overall architectural planning and initial construction of the sanctuary are credited to Pachacuti, the Inca “Emperor” (or “King”) who was responsible for the great geographic expansion of the Inca Empire in the mid-1400s. [Note that the name “Inca” was used by the Native Americans, before the Spanish Conquest, as their name for their leader; it was the Spanish who misunderstood this and named all the people in that society “Incas” – that general usage continues today.]
Because of its location so high above Aguas Calientes and the winding Urubamba River, the site was never discovered by the conquering Spaniards. Very quickly, the forest and jungle grew back over Machu Picchu and hid it for centuries, until local farmers discovered the site in the late 1800s and cleared some land to reinstate farming on the plateau. Credit for the so called “scientific” discovery of the site in 1911, and subsequent publicity about the amazing ruins, goes to the Yale University professor Hiram Bingham, who was told about the site by the local farmer, Melchor Artega, who leased the site to other farmers – who, in turn, lead Bingham up the mountain to the plateau and sanctuary.