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The imposing citadel of Machu Picchu would have been built by the Incas in the middle of the fifteenth century by order of Emperor Pachacutec, during the period of expansion of the Inca Empire.


The empire of the Incas, or Inkas, as they are also known, was established in Cuzco, about the year 1200 A.C. There are two famous legends about the origin of the empire; one is the legend of Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo, and another is that of the four brothers Ayar. Both legends point to Manco Capac as the founder and first governor of the dynasty. However, the empire does not constitute as such until the time of Pachacutec, probably the most important Inca emperor. Pachacutec then achieve the expansion of Inca dominion, managing to establish the mighty empire of Tahuantinsuyo, which come to cover about 2 million square kilometers. It would be under his reign that the citadel of Machu Picchu was built.

After the fall of the Inca Empire at the hands of the Spanish conquistadors, the citadel would have been uninhabited. Specialists have not agreed with respect to the situation of Machu Picchu during the colonial era. While some claim that the Spanish were aware of the citadel, others argue that it was never found. The truth is that its existence would be known only to the locals until the year in which the American historian Hiram Bingham found them and expose to the world. With the help of Yale University, the National Geographic Society and the Peruvian government, Bingham begin archaeological work in the area from 1912 until 1915, a period in which the thick undergrowth covering the ruins retire and discover numerous tombs of the habitants of the citadel.

Since then, Machu Picchu has become the most tourist destination in Peru and one of the most important worldwide. Declared Cultural Heritage by UNESCO and voted by millions of people as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu is without doubt the greatest heritage left by the ancient Incas.

Inca Empire


Before the imposing citadel of Machu Picchu is erected, the gorge of Picchu was habited by people from the regions of Vilcabamba and the Sacred Valley, seeking to expand its land borders. After the expansion of the Inca dominion, these lands became part of the then growing empire of Tahuantinsuyo.

Historians agree that Machu Picchu was built in the mid-fifteenth century under the orders of Emperor Pachacutec, responsible for the expansion of the Inca domain and its transformation from a simple manor to the magnificent empire that today we know it was.

The story goes that during the government of Inca Viracocha, the Inca dominion was constantly threatened by their western neighbors, the Chancas. Before a possible invasion, Inca Viracocha, with his son Inca Urco heir to the throne, fled the city, leaving the Inca people left at the mercy of the invaders. Cusi Yupanqui, son of the Viracocha and Mama Runto, decided to face the threat Chanca, and in partnership with local ethnic groups, achieve overcome, thus saving the Inca Empire. After this victory, the Inca Wiracocha recognized him as his successor. Thus, Cusi Yupanqui took over the manor and was renamed Capac Yupanqui Pachacutec Intichuri, which means “son of the sun that changes the course of the earth.”

Under the rule of Pachacutec, the Inca domain underwent a major expansion and ceased to be a dominion to become the great empire of Tahuantinsuyo. During this period of splendor and prosperity, large buildings were erected, the most important being the magnificent and imposing citadel of Machu Picchu.

On the occasion of its construction, first it was believed that Machu Picchu was built as a military fortress or even a retreat for Pachacutec, but both hypotheses were gradually losing weight. After extensive studies, some experts have concluded that Machu Picchu was used as a religious shrine, mainly due to the ceremonious character that accompanies some of its structures. There is also speculation that has served as a monastery where girls to serve the Inca and the high priest prepared this because of the 135 bodies found, 109 were found to be women. However, does not rule out its use as a palace.

During its heyday, it is believed that Machu Picchu housed between 300 and 1000 people. Studies indicate that agricultural strength of the citadel would have been shaped by settlers, also called mitimaes, from different corners of the empire.

Colonial and republican time

It is believed that the citadel had been abandoned between 1534 and 1570, in the period of Inca resistance. After the Spanish invasion, the mitimaes or settlers have used the crisis faced by the Inca Empire to flee towards their hometowns.

No traces that indicate that Machu Picchu would have been occupied at some time by Spanish settlers or data to verify that these were aware of its existence. Historians who support this hypothesis point out that the Spanish chroniclers never mentioned the citadel in his writings, so they will probably never arrived to meet it. Other specialists argue otherwise, based on studies showing that the Spanish would have used the citadel as the first stage of its extirpation of idolatry, having found evidence of fires in some of its structures. It is also believed that extirpators of idolatry would have taken the treasures that were in the citadel.

Another fact which strengthens these beliefs is that in the excavations conducted by Hiram Bingham and his expedition, were found in some tombs specific objects to the post-arrival time of the Incas such as a rusty iron knife, a cow bone, peach seeds and the remains of a piece of green glass. It should be noted that these findings were not made by archaeologists, which can detract validity to these findings.

Whether they knew the citadel or not, it seems that the Spanish did not appreciate the importance of the citadel in the past, that they did not settle or buildings erected nearby. Gradually, the place would be forgotten by Spanish settlers but not by locals.

During the Republican era, it is believed to archaeologists and historians famous have visited the place, but would not have noticed the presence of the ancient citadel, as in the case of the famous researcher, geographer, writer and professor Antonio Raimodi. There are sources that indicate that in 1867, the ruins have been visited by a German adventurer Augusto Berns, who would then be the true “discoverer” of the ancient Inca citadel.


While the rediscovery of the citadel is attributed to American historian Hiram Bingham, there are sources that indicate that Agustín Lizárraga, a tenant of land from Cuzco, would come to the ruins nine years before the historian. As indicated, Lizarraga would have left an inscription on one of the walls of the Temple of the Three Windows. This registration would have been subsequently deleted.

Lizárraga history and visits to the ancient Inca ruins have take the attention of Hiram Bingham, who was in the area investigating the last Incan strongholds in Vilcabamba. Bingham, very interested in these rumors, begin the search for these ruins, reaching Machu Picchu in company of Melchor Arriaga a lessee from Cuzco and a sergeant of the Peruvian Civil Guard in July 1911. There, the American historian found two families the Recharte and Alvarez, who had settled on the platforms south of the ruins. Finally was a child of the Recharte family who would guide to Bingham towards the “urban area” of the ruins, which was covered by thick undergrowth.

Immediately, Bingham understood the huge historical value of the ruins discovered and communicated with Yale University, the National Geographic Society and the Peruvian government, requesting auspices to start with studies of the Inca archaeological site. The archaeological work was carried out from 1912 to 1915. During this period, he managed to clear the undergrowth thronging the citadel and the Inca tombs found beyond the city walls were excavated.

In 1913, the National Geographic published in its magazine an extensive article about Machu Picchu and jobs that there were carried out, revealing the citadel to the whole world. With the passing of the years, the tourism importance of Machu Picchu would grow, first nationally and then internationally, becoming proclaimed World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1983. On 7 July 2007, following a vote on the internet where millions of people around the world participated, Machu Picchu were declared one of the new seven wonders of the world.

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