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Published: August 26th 2019
Today was one of those days I'll remember for the rest of of my life.
The day started at 4.45am so we could be at Machu Picchu when it opened at 6am. I didn't feel the least bit tired all day: so much adrenaline from such an amazing day. I'm really glad we came on a guided tour because Claudio knew exactly how to make the most of this remarkable site.
Machu Picchu was built around 1450, primarily as a religious centre by Pachacuti, the Alexander the Great of the Incas. It was functional for less than a century because in 1539 the Spanish invaded and destroyed the Inca Empire. They never found Machu Picchu but they brought smallpox which runners from Cusco carried to Machu Picchu. The population was decimated and the site was abandoned. The Incas covered over the trails so the Spanish didn't know anything was there and the jungle reclaimed them. It was only known to locals until the 1860s when a German explorer Augusto Berns found it and drew a map but it wasn't really known in the West until 1911 when the American Hiram Bingham 'discovered' the 'Lost City of the Incas'. Substantial structures remained but the only gold found was a bracelet which had been embedded in a wall as a sacrifice. (Berns is suspected but no-one knows what happened to it.)
Our guide Claudio took us first to a high path from which we could see the whole site: the classic image of Machu Picchu nestled among the high mountains. The view was breathtaking and every angle better than the last. It will take me months to sort the photos! The brochure for our trip featured this view with a llama in the foreground. I was sure it was Photoshopped (and it may have been) but while we were on the path half a dozen llamas came past and calmly walked alongside us so I got the photo for real! It was such perfect timing that Danny and I wondered if there was a director behind the scenes given the llamas their cues.
The site itself is composed of a series of temples and sacred objects. The most important structure, at the tallest point, was a pointed rock which acted as a kind of sun dial to determine times for agricultural and religious purposes. The buildings were designed for maximum light (like our house) as well as stability in an area of frequent seismic activity. Among them is the Temple of the Sun (of course), which was designed do at the summer solstice it was flooded with light (Danny's favourite spot inside) . My favourite was the Temple of the Condor, which has two massive rocks positioned to look like a condor's wings, with the body and beak represented by rocks on the floor. Machu Picchu was built in the shape of a condor, the totem of the heavenly realms in Inca cosmology. The inner earth occupied by earth gods like Pachamama (Earth Mother) is represented by a snake, and the outer world (where humans live) by a puma.
We spent about five hours exploring the site which is filled with fascinating buildings and magnificent views. When we were tired, we sat looking at the terraces and watched a baby llama gambolling across the terraces. I keep thinking of phrases from Hallel : 'The mountains skip like lambs' and 'The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone'.
Afterwards Danny and I stopped at the small museum at the foot of the hill where we saw interesting objects found at the site including needles, pottery, tools and stones used in building. The single gold bracelet not stolen was a highlight- for the symbolism rather than the work. We were also interested in the water mirrors, bowls made with reflective minerals so that, when filled with water, they captured the reflections of moon and stars.
After a break, we took the train back all the way to Cusco - and the views were just as amazing the second time, though the was a need for a little siesta en route!
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