Machu Picchu is famous for being the “Lost City of the Incas”, a name that was given to it by explorer Hiram Bingham when he had found it back in 1911. However, Bingham was on a quest to find a different city known as Vilcabamba (a secret mountain bastion where the Incas hid from Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century) when he encountered the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu. He mistakenly assumed that Machu Picchu was Vilcabamba, the refuge of the last Inca emperor, and shared the existence of the mysterious place with the modern world in 1913. It was only after Bingham's death that it was discovered that Vilcabamba was a different city built in the jungle about 50 miles (80 km) west of Machu Picchu.
2. The city was built to withstand earthquakes
Peru is prone to earthquakes as the country is located in a seismic zone. In fact, major earthquakes have been a part of its history, and even the capital city of Lima was once completely wrecked in a powerful earthquake in 1746. This is why the construction of Machu Picchu is quite remarkable. It appears as if the city was built to withstand earthquakes and included numerous design features that protected its buildings and other structures from completely collapsing in the event of one.
For instance, the city had precisely fitting and mortar-free stone walls that would “dance” or move during an earthquake and resettle as they were after the event.
Despite the seismic-resistant features of the city, however, several structures at Machu Picchu suffered through at least two earthquakes while they were being constructed. These temblors are said to have damaged many walls in the city while also forcing the designers to make a sudden change in the construction techniques.
3. It has secret temples
Huayna Picchu is a large mountain that sits directly behind Machu Picchu. For many tourists, climbing this breathtaking mountain is one of the highlights of visiting Machu Picchu. However, not many know that there is a secret temple hidden on the far side of the mountain called the Temple of the Moon. It is believed to have been an Incan ceremonial temple that is beautifully carved into a cave and is decorated with stunning stonework. One can even find shallow recesses in this secret temple that were believed to hold mummies that were of great religious value to the Incan people.
The beautiful temple is easy to miss since it's tucked away neatly into the walls of the cliff.
4. More than half of the city is still underground
While we have seen so much of the majestic beauty of Machu Picchu and its surrounding valley today, there is a lot that remains invisible to us. In fact, archeologists believe that as much as 60 percent of the city’s architectural wonders remain underground. A maze of walls and canals lie underneath terraced hills that serve as drainage to the city. It is also believed that deep building foundations can be found below which are likely to hold many more architectural secrets given the fact that the Incas were known for their advanced civil engineering projects.
5. Its construction remains a mystery
While we have learned quite a bit about Machu Picchu’s history, its incredible construction still remains shrouded in mystery. The ancient Incan sanctuary is built atop a narrow ridge high above a precipitous river canyon. So, why did the Incas build a city in a place as inaccessible as this? And how did they manage to achieve such amazing details with the stones while constructing it?
While many believe that the city was built in 1532 as a serene resort town for the royal family, a few archeologists argue that the site might have been the final destination of a long pilgrimage. The truth, however, is that no one really knows for sure yet.
As for its curious location, researchers may have found some answers recently. A study conducted by the scientists from the Geological Society of America indicates that the Incas deliberately built the site in such a location. “In addition to helping individual shape stones, the fault network at Machu Picchu likely offered the Incas other advantages,” says Rualdo Menegat, a geologist at Brazil’s Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul. “Chief among these was a ready source of water. The area’s tectonic faults channeled meltwater and rainwater straight to the site. The construction of the sanctuary in such a high perch also had the benefit of isolating the site from avalanches and landslides, all-too-common hazards in this alpine environment.”
6. The secret chamber
There are still archeological discoveries being made at Machu Picchu. In 2014, French explorer Thierry Jamin found a previously undiscovered door at the site. Initially, Jamin thought that it was a funeral site with a hidden funeral chamber inside. However, after conducting some research, he observed that it was a hidden chamber built around the year 1450 and most likely housed the tomb of Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, the Inca ruler in whose honor this city is believed to have been built. Jamin added that the crypt could also contain a treasury filled with precious metals and could be the largest discovery ever made at the famed site.
Unfortunately, the government of Peru has denied permission to complete the excavation as they believe that it could cause permanent damage to the site. Hopefully, someday the real secret of this hidden chamber concealed behind the walls of Machu Picchu will be revealed.
7. The sleeping woman
Throughout Machu Picchu, you will find various mysterious faces and symbols that have hidden meanings. One of the best known hidden symbols of the city is the famous ‘Sleeping Woman’. The all-natural formation appears to depict the nose, mouth, and forehead of a person looking at the sky. If you look closely, you can see that the carving resembles the facial profile of a sleeping woman.
Interestingly, scientists have actually taken samples of the rock and found traces of gold in them. This indicates that the rock formation may once have been a huge resplendent gold statue of a sleeping woman that has eroded over the centuries. Can you imagine what this original statue may have looked like?
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