Hiram Bingham was not a trained archaeologist. But he was fascinated by lost towns and hidden treasures of ancient kingdoms around the world. As a Professor of Yale University, on his way home from a conference, he stopped in Peru to visit some historical sites. His local guides who were the indigenous people of the region led him to a place that turned out to be the most beautiful and mysterious site of the ancient world. In 1911, Bingham stumbled upon the Quechua citadel of Machu Picchu. The site was the ruins of the ancient kingdom of the Incas and is located on the Andean mountain in South America at a height of about 10,000 feet.
The word Macchu Pichhu means ‘Old Peak’ in the Quechua language and was revered as a sacred space for the Inca civilisation. This spectacular civilisation appears to date from the period of the two great Incas, Pachacutec Inca Yupanqui (1438-71) and Tupac Inca Yupanqui (1472-93). What is fascinating about the city is the extraordinary location of the site. Historians believe that its secret location was a strategic plan to escape from the invading Spaniards. The city is invisible from below, but is a complete self contained secret city with agricultural terraces, sacred altars, baths, store houses and shelters for people to live in. Located at about two thousand feet above a rumbling river, the structures carved from granite in the mountains are considered both an aesthetic and architectural marvel. Archaeologists are amazed by the fact that one of the most important functions and locations of Machu Picchu was that it served as an astronomical observatory. The Intihuatana stone (meaning ‘Hitching Post of the Sun’) has been shown to be a precise indicator of the date of the two equinoxes and other significant celestial periods. The Intihuatana (also called the Saywa or Sukhanka stone) is designed to hitch the sun at the two equinoxes, and not at the solstices. The shrine is primarily equinotically designed. The Incas worshipped the Sun as their supreme deity and the site is cleverly built in order to reinforce this spiritual belief.
Set in the middle of a tropical mountain forest, the site is rich in biodiversity. Machu Picchu provides a secure habitat for several endangered species, notably the spectacled bear, one of the most interesting species in the area. Others animals include the dwarf brocket, the otter, long-tailed weasel, pampas cat and the vulnerable ocelot, boa, the Andean cock of the rock, and the Andean condor.
July 2011 marked the 100th anniversary of the discovery of Machu Picchu. The historic sanctuary of Machu Picchu was inscribed on UNESCO World Heritage List in 1983 for both its cultural and natural values. The site is monitored by the World Heritage Committee and the Peruvian government in order to ensure its protection as one of the most beautiful historical sites in the world. Now put that down as a must see in your travel wish list!