Machu Picchu (“old peak” in Quechua) stands 2,430 meters above sea level (7,972 feet) and is perhaps the most important cultural site in all of Latin America. Recognizing this fact, it was voted one of the new Seven Wonders of the World in 2007. The quality of stonework on the site is a testament to the use of natural materials in creating an outstanding architecture. The large walls, terraces, and ramps appear to be a natural part of the mountain itself.
Machu Picchu‘s surrounding valleys have been cultivated for more than 1,000 years, providing one of the world’s greatest examples of a productive man-and-land relationship. In fact, people living in these valleys today still maintain a way of life which closely resembles that of their Inca ancestors, a life centered largely on potatoes, maize, and llamas.
Built as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438–1472) or perhaps as a sacred religious site, the lost city of the Incas was abandoned a century after its construction – at the time of the Spanish Conquest. Machu Picchu was unknown to the Spanish conquistadors and unknown to the outside world. But on July 24, 1911, the course of history changed. During his second exploratory trip to the Urubamba Valley, the explorer and professor Hiram Bingham finally came face to face with today’s world-famous ruins: Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu. The contribution of the peasant farmer Melchor Arteaga was critical in the unearthing of the Machu Picchu Sanctuary.
The discovery attracted the attention of the world, and in particular that of Yale University and the National Geographic Society. Both institutions agreed to assist Bingham in his exploration of the site between 1912 and 1915. According to the official 1916 Peruvian government report, Bingham took 74 boxes full of bones, mummies, ceramics, textiles, and metal and wooden objects back to Yale University following his various visits.
Recently, Yale University agreed to return to Peru some of the thousands of artefacts that Bingham removed from Machu Picchu. The first of those objects were returned in 2010, but the disagreements between Yale University and the Peruvian government continues today.
If you visit Peru, a tour to Machu Picchu is a must!