The history of Machu Picchu has fascinated and mystified both archeologists and historians since Hiram Bingham brought the site back into the global consciousness in 1911. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007, the Lost City of the Incas continues to captivate today. Here are some interesting Machu Picchu facts and figures.
Who Discovered Machu Picchu?
The discovery of Machu Picchu is a contentious issue. Hiram Bingham commonly receives credit for the discovery of the Lost City of the Incas, but his 1911 expedition is subject to much debate. The local indigenous population knew of the site’s existence before Bingham’s arrival, while other outsiders may have reached the site before 1911, albeit with less than scientific intentions.
When Was Machu Picchu Built – And Why?
The exact age of Machu Picchu is unknown. However, it is thought to have been built sometime during the mid 1400s, probably during the reign of Inca Yupanqui, also known as Pachacuti or Pachacutec. The reason why Machu Picchu was built has been the subject of much debate, and Hiram Bingham’s Machu Picchu theories have not stood the test of time. According to historian and archeologist Nicholas J. Saunders, Machu Picchu was built by Pachacuti “first as a fortress then redesigned as a royal estate.”
Interesting Facts about Machu Picchu Construction
The high quality of Inca stonework can clearly be seen in the construction of Machu Picchu. Rather than use cement to bind the stones used in their building projects, the Incas cut each stone so that it would fit precisely with the next. A number of interesting Machu Picchu facts can be highlighted in regards to the construction of the site:
Machu Picchu is separated into two distinct areas, the agricultural zone and the urban zone.
The visible area of Machu Picchu accounts for less than half of the construction effort. According to Ruth M. Wright and Alfredo Valencia Zegarra, “Some 60 percent of the construction at Machu Picchu lies underground, providing foundations and drainage for the buildings and walls.”
Many of the stones used in the site construction weigh in excess of 50 tons.
Hundreds of agricultural terraces helped to feed the population of Machu Picchu. These were farmed using Inca tools that are still used in Peru today.
The residential area contains over 170 buildings of various sizes and functions.
More than 100 stone stairways connect the upper and lower levels of the site.
A 749 meter long water canal, 12 cm deep and 13 cm wide, channels water from springs on Machu Picchu Mountain into the city’s residential and agricultural areas.
The construction of Machu Picchu was never fully completed. The site was abandoned during the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire, leaving many buildings unfinished.
What Was the Population of Machu Picchu?
Machu Picchu population estimates vary, but it is generally considered that the permanent population was not large. As historian Brian Haughton states, “It has been estimated that only about 1,000 people lived in and around Machu Picchu at any one time, which, along with its isolated position, indicates that it cannot really have been a conventional city.”
Where is Machu Picchu Located?
Machu Picchu is located on the eastern slopes of the Vilcanota mountain range above the Urubamba Valley, approximately 75 km northwest of Cusco, the former Inca capital. The site sits at an altitude of 2,430 meters (7,970 feet) above sea level.