A Brief History of Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu translates into ‘Old Peak’ and is an impressive record of time, place and history. The citadel sits almost naturally above on the slopes and ridges of the Andes, exemplifying an incredible example of ancient architecture. Whilst Machu Picchu itself is stand out, we encourage visitors to also enjoy and support the local communities in the area. You can see these villages for yourself on one of our Peru tours. Here is a brief history of Machu Picchu to help you get a sense of its historical significance before you go!

1400s – Machu Picchu is built

Thought to be created for Inca Emperor Pachacuti, when exactly Machu Picchu was built in this century remains a mystery. Though highly debated, researchers believe the Inca civilisation built the citadel around the mid-15th century, with more recent studies suggesting between 1420-1530.

What we do know is that the city is a result of the Inca’s ingenious engineering. Machu Picchu was made without the use of horses, wheels or any sophisticated equipment. The stones that form Machu Picchu were cut to perfectly slot next to each other. This prepares the structure when an earthquake visits the area. The stones will only tremble before falling back into place. Constructed 2,430 m above sea level, the designers would have also needed to navigate the mountain slopes in their design. When visiting yourself, the grandiosity and sublime mountain views of the site are undoubtedly a stand-out.

1532 – Spanish conquistadors arrive in Peru

The Inca were said to have fled the Spanish by hiding in the ancient and mysterious city of Vilacambera. No one knows for sure where this city is located. Explorer Hiram Bingham III theorised it was Machu Picchu and took this theory to his death, but it was disproven in 1956. There are several reasons but one argument is the fact that Machu Picchu is not a ‘lost’ city and has been known about by local villages for centuries.

1500s – For reasons unknown, Machu Picchu is abandoned

1911 – A Peruvian farmer reveals Machu Picchu to the world

Local villages have long known about Machu Picchu’s existence, but for the first time the citadel is revealed to the outside world. Yale lecturer Hiram Bingham was originally searching for the Inca Capital (remember that lost city we mentioned?) and asked around the Cusco area for information on nearby ruins. Using the guidance of local farmer Melchor Arteaga, a team of Yale University excavators were led to the site and subsequently its wider significance would become unearthed. At the mountain site, local farmers were still using the Machu Picchu terraces for agricultural purposes, mirroring the Inca from hundreds of years ago.

1983 – Machu Picchu becomes a World Heritage Site

This year, the World Heritage Organisation recognises Machu Picchu for the engineering and artistry pioneered by the Inca Civilisation. The structure is no doubt inventive but fascinates visitors for its combination of culture, sublime natural significance and architectural brilliance. Llamas roam the steep mountainside whilst billows of thick clouds pass behind the complex Machu Picchu structure. Machu Picchu is an exceptional combination of man-made orchestration and natural wonders of the world.

2011 – New terraces are open to the public

Machu Picchu still remains a mystery and new information is constantly becoming unveiled. This partially what draws the citadel so much attention. Exactly hundred years after its debut to the world, you now can discover it from different angles and perspectives.

2021 – Machu Picchu today

Though experiencing some rain damage and requires a degree of maintenance, Machu Picchu stands today as one of the greatest wonders of the world. The pathway Bingham’s took to the ruins still exists and many walk the same path. Hundreds of years forward from its original purpose, Machu Picchu is on the bucket list of millions across the world. In 2017 it was estimated that half a million people visit every year.

Experience this ancient wonder of the world yourself on one of our Peru tours. Discover the best highlights of Machu Picchu and learn more through our expert guides.

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