The young Yale archaeologist, Hiram Bingham III, left the camp with two other members of the expedition team at ten o’clock in the morning on July 24, 1911 to continue their search for ancient Inca ruins in the Andean Mountains of Peru. Machu Picchu was only hours away.
Amidst the slight drizzle of rain, they headed up stream, through the narrow valley, towards the top of the peak.
Into their hike for about an hour, they left the road and plunged down through the jungle to the river bank, where they came across a primitive bridge, made of four logs bound together by vines, stretching across the stream a few inches above the roaring rapids of the Urubamba River. Upon reaching the other side, they faced a fearfully hard climb for about an hour and a half, mostly done on all fours. The trail was like a crude stepladder, going through a jungle then up a very steep, grass covered slope. The men eventually come across a grass roofed hut, and two Indian men who tell them about more ruins farther up the mountain. Leaving the hut, they climbed still farther up the ridge until they suddenly find themselves in the middle of a jungle covered maze of large and small walls, the ruins of buildings made of blocks of white granite carefully cut and beautifully put together without the use of cement. Surprise followed surprise until they realized they were in the middle of a wonderful ruins as any ever found in Peru.
At that moment, they had no way of knowing their discovery would be one of the most spectacular archeological finds in history!
Machu Picchu stands approximately 7,970 feet above sea level, near the top of the Andean mountains, in an extremely beautiful setting. Brian Bauer, an expert in Andean civilization at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a National Geographic grantee, says Machu Picchu was built around 1450 A.D. It was probably the most amazing creation of the Inca Empire at its height. The architecture of the structures consist of giant walls, terraces and ramps that seem as if they have been cut naturally into the rock of the mountain. The stones are cut with such precision and fitted together so masterfully that the blade of a knife would not be able to pass through the spaces in between. The commanding view on the eastern slopes of the Andes encompasses the upper Amazon basin.
A SPIRITUAL PLACE
The city was forgotten for almost 400 years until the early 20th century when it was rediscovered by Hiram Bingham III. This was truly a spectacular find, because also within the ruins was the “intihuatana.” It was also known as the “hitching post to the sun.” The intihuatana is a pillar carved from rock whose four corners are oriented toward the four cardinal points. It was used by the Incas to predict the solstices. Research reveals that Machu Picchu was built in the center of a sacred landscape. This is because its location in relation to the Andean Mountains and the Urubamba River is in alignment with key astronomical events. Cosmic events appear to have been very important to the Incas. Some people also believed that its location is one of Earth’s magnetic focal points. This carries an inherent spiritual or metaphysical power.
THE MYSTERIES OF MACHU PICCHU
No one really knows why this ancient city was built, who built it, and for exactly what reason. Equally baffling is why it was abandoned 100 years later. In modern day, visitors to Machu Picchu resonate the feeling of a magical, higher power being present when they entered the site. As we continue to learn more about Machu Picchu, there is no doubt that the theories will change. However, the wonder and mystery is sure to endure well into the future.