Machu Picchu is undoubtedly a popular South American destination – and with good reason. Set atop the Andes Mountains, this archaeological site was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 and is also considered one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. But how much do you know about Machu Picchu? Here’s 10 interesting facts you may not have heard before.
1. The Inca Empire was the largest empire in pre-Columbian America. The Incas lacked the aid of wheels or animals to transport heavy rocks, yet built one of the most impressive kingdoms in history. They used a technique known as ashlar – meaning that the rocks were shaped to fit together. And their workmanship was of such a high standard that even a knife blade can’t fit between two stones.
2. Due to its mountain setting, Machu Picchu can’t be seen from below. Consequently, it was one of the only cities built during the Inca civilisation that survived the Spanish conquest. And this archaeological site is still well-preserved today.
3. The name Machu Picchu translates to ‘old peak’ or ‘old mountain’ and the complex consists of over 100 flights of stairs carved from stone.
4. It’s mostly believed that the Incas built Machu Picchu for the emperor around 1450. However, they abandoned the site after the Spanish conquest a century later. Locals of the region were the only ones to know of Machu Picchu’s existence until 1911, when it was made famous to the outside world by an American historian called Hiram Bingham.
5. There are several other interpretations as to why Machu Picchu was built and its purpose. These include it being a trade hub, a prison, a women’s retreat, a testing station for new crops or a city devoted to the coronation of kings.
6. Machu Picchu is South America’s most famous ruin and Peru’s most visited attraction. As a result, there’s a no-fly zone above the site, a visitor limit of 2,500 per day and visitors must obtain a permit and a guide to hike the Inca Trail.
7. In January of 2010, the site was closed for about three months after heavy rain caused flooding. Approximately 4,000 locals and visitors had to be rescued by airlift.
8. There was a longstanding debate between Peru and Yale University over numerous artefacts taken by Hiram Bingham – who was a professor at the college. They argued that the objects were only a loan and, after Peru took legal action, all of the pieces (including jewellery, ceramics, silver statues and human bones) were returned by 2012.
9. Peru is no stranger to earthquakes and Machu Picchu sits on top of two fault lines. However, its intelligent design allows the stones to ‘bounce’ through tremors, before falling safely back into place. Without the ashlar technique, it’s believed that the site would have collapsed a long time ago.
10. There’s more to Machu Picchu than we see in most photos. Visitors who have done their research line up early in the morning, with hopes of being one of the 400 people permitted to climb Huayna Picchu. This is the small green peak, shaped like a rhino’s horn, which often appears in the background of photos of Machu Picchu. Here, visitors can also find a secret temple.
Fancy visiting this ancient citadel? Machu Picchu is included on all of our group tours to Peru.