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Published: June 16th 2017
Geo: -13.1628, -72.5158
It's something we never thought we'd see. It's up there with the Great Wall and the Pyramids, but really, we think it's the most unbelievable of all.
It's built on the top and down the straight sides of a mountain by people with no tools, no iron, and no horses but with tremendous talent for planning and ingenuity.
Hype aside, Machu Picchu is not the lost city of the Incas. There's so much misinformation out there about it, like it was the center of the Inca world etc., but that's simply not true and it doesn't diminish the grandeur of the place one whit.
The center of the universe was Cusco. Machu Picchu was either a resort complex, halfway house or a spiritual center----or all three. The Incas had a network of trails snaking through these impossibly steep mountains connecting them all to each other and to Cusco. The Inca Trail you hear about that hikers do the four day trek on is just one section of one of many trails.
These trails connected their expanding empire and allowed them to transport food, news, etc., from one village to the next. For instance, runners could bring the king fresh fish from the
coast 700 km away, in 24 hours.
So here's Machu Picchu, a place the Spanish didn't know existed or would have destroyed it as they did everything else they found, and it's absolutely glorious.
It boggles the mind to see this massive series of structures and terraced gardens and the amazing technicality of the stonework. You've heard before about stones fitting so closely they don't need mortar, but we learned that besides that marvel, another way they kept everything intact was to fit them together with pegs. They made the stone peg. They drilled a hole in two stones and fit them together with the peg. Sometimes the pegs were round--sometimes they were square.
This, together with the trapazoidal shape of the windows and doorways, made for nearly earthquake proof austerely beautiful buildings.
I love this quote: The essence of Inka architecture cannot be distilled into a single word. Three themes demand recognition: precision, functionality, and austerity. The Inka stonefitters worked stone with a precision unparalleled in human history; their architects clearly esteemed functionality above decoration; yet their constructions achieved breathtaking beauty through austerity of line and juxtaposition of masses.
When you see it, you understand.
The fact that all this was done on
the top and down the steep slopes of a jungle mountain -- even today the first impression is that it would be impossible to re-create. You could not build a Machu Picchu today. And that doesn't even touch the astronomical perfection and precision of the place. Things like how the buildings are situated so they don't cast a shadow on each other--they made the most use of the sunshine they had.
And how it lines up perfectly with their other mountaintop lodges and at equinox the sun shoots through to a target Indiana Jones style.
I tell you, it boggles the mind.
To get here is no easy matter either. No roads connect nearby towns to Machu Picchu. From Cusco you take a bus to Ollantaytambo where you board a train that takes you through steep narrow canyons to the pueblo of Aguas Calientes, at the foot of Machu Picchu. There you board another bus which takes you up the narrow mountain road to the entrance, unless you're a stout soul and want to hike it.
Once inside the gate you immediately begin climbing staircase after staircase--remember, this complex is on a mountaintop and there's not much that's flat. It's ALL stairs.
We were pretty tuckered out by the time we slogged back to the bus.
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