Machu Picchu often referred to as “The Lost City of the Incas”, is one of the most familiar symbols of the old Inca Empire in Peru. This magical city that is full of peace and mystical solemnity has been a witness to the remarkable life of the Inca people who are usually credited for introducing a civilised society and sophisticated culture to South America. Nowadays Machu Picchu is one of the seven wonders of the world.
Machu Picchu stands 2,430 m above sea-level, in the middle of a tropical mountain forest, in an extraordinarily beautiful setting. It was probably the most amazing urban creation of the Inca Empire at its height; its giant walls, terraces and ramps seem as if they have been cut naturally in the continuous rock escarpments. The natural setting, on the eastern slopes of the Andes, encompasses the upper Amazon basin with its rich diversity of flora and fauna.
Machu Picchu covers 32,500 ha in some of the scenically most attractive mountainous territory of the Peruvian Andes. As the last stronghold of the Incas and of superb architectural and archaeological importance, Machu Picchu is one of the most important cultural sites in Latin America; the stonework of the site remains as one of the world’s great examples of the use of a natural raw material to provide outstanding architecture which is totally appropriate to the surroundings. The surrounding valleys have been cultivated continuously for well over 1,000 years, providing one of the world’s greatest examples of a productive man-land relationship; the people living around Machu Picchu continue a way of life which closely resembles that of their Inca ancestors, being based on potatoes, maize and llamas. Machu Picchu also provides a secure habitat for several endangered species, notably the spectacled bear, one of the most interesting species in the area. Others animals include: dwarf brocket, the otter, long-tailed weasel, pampas cat and the vulnerable ocelot, boa, the Andean cock of the rock, and the Andean condor.
The natural vegetation is of humid and very humid lower montane forest of the subtropical region, mainly with genera and ferns of the Cyathea and palms.
Discovery of Machu Picchu
July 24 1911 is known as the date of the “discovery” of the famous Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, an architectural treasure that had remained hidden for over four centuries under the lush vegetation of the Urubamba canyon. This find was made by the controversial American anthropologist and historian with a penchant for archaeology, Professor Hiram Bingham of Yale University.
Although the discovery is attributed to Bingham, according to the Cusco researcher, Simone Waisbard, the find was a chance one, since its first discoverers were apparently Enrique Palma, Gabino Sanchez and Agustin Lizarraga, who left their names engraved on one of the rocks there on July 14, 1901. Moreover, the Anglo Saxon archaeologist was really looking for the city of Vitco, the last refuge of the Incas, and their last bastion against the Spaniards. Thus, the importance of Bingham’s discovery would lie in the scientific diffusion of the information. However, for the protagonist of this discovery, it was the crowning of an exhausting research effort, based on information obtained from local peasants, as well as on several years of traveling and exploring the area.
Before Machu Picchu was discovered, it probably formed part of the Qollapani and Kutija estates. Over the years, the Q`ente hacienda took possession of the property. The discoverers, Palma, Sanchez and Lizarraga found a local indian, Anacleto Alvarez, who had been paying a rent of twelve soles a year for farming rights on the property during the last eight years, living there.
The owners of the fundo would never have been able to explore the whole place, due to its sheer size, and especially because of its jagged topography. People had, in fact, been living in Machu Picchu without having an idea of its size nor of its importance, let alone being able to inform the world of these things.