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PHOTO/ Anniversary of the discovery of Machu Picchu

The city of Machu Picchu, Peru, was “lost” for centuries, a secret known only to a few, before being rediscovered on July 24, 1911 by Hiram Bingham. See photos of the important site here

Machu Picchu in the mist   (Rtype909) Machu Picchu in the mist (Rtype909)

On July 24 1911, the lost city of the Incas was found by Hiram Bingham, an American archeologist. Machu Picchu, “Old Peak”, had been a secret since the collapse of its civilization in the 16th century. Now, the site is one of the most important tourist destinations in the world.

The Incas started building the city around the year 1400. It was used by the Inca rulers until the Spanish Conquest a century later, when the ancient civilization was wiped out, possibly by smallpox. The Spanish never found the city, and the sacred rocks that had been defaced by the Spanish in other locations, are intact in Machu Picchu. Few outsiders knew that it existed until Hiram Bingham arrived there in 1911. The place became famous after National Geographic dedicated a whole issue to it in 1913.

Though the exact purpose of the city remains unknown, it is speculated that it was a summer estate for the rulers, as well as being a sacred spot. The location was also easily defensible, with a mountain behind it, and terraced agricultural land in front, making the slope even steeper for invaders.

The central building of the city are extremely well built in the classic Inca style, called ashlar, where the stones are polished and made to fit together tightly without the use of mortar. Exactly how they were able to move the huge stones remains unknown. The slight spaces between the stones allow them to be more resistant to earthquakes, as do the trapezoidal doors and windows and the rounded corners of the buildings.

There are 140 structures in the complex, including the Temple of the Sun, dedicated to Inti, the sun god. One important landmark is the Intihuatana stone, a ritual stone that points toward the sun during the winter solstice. Known as “the hitching post of the sun”, the Inca believed that it help the sun in place in the sky.

Machu Picchu became a World Heritage site in 1983 as “an absolute masterpiece of architecture and a unique testimony to the Inca civilization”. The site is now endangered because of uncontrolled tourism, and the development of the area around the site to include huge hotels and industries.

See photos of the site starting on the next page.