Machu Picchu: Complete History of the Forgotten Inca City

Machu Picchu is an ancient Inca city found in Peru. Its name derives from the Quechua language and means ‘old mountain’, and it was built before the 15th century.

In this city is the best-preserved set of buildings from the Inca Empire, one of the most powerful pre-Columbian civilizations in South America, which occupied extensive territories between Colombia and Chile.

Machu Picchu is located in a mountainous and jungle area on the eastern side of the Andes Mountains, at 2,430 m above sea level, in the province of Urubamba, department of Cusco or Cuzco, Peru.

In the image you can see different constructions, among them the terraces for agriculture, an important activity for the livelihood of the Inca population.

The ancient city has an imposing architectural complex made up of houses, terraces, squares, stairways and temples. It stands out for its design and the prowess of its construction for being located on top of a mountain.

In 1981 the place where the Inca constructions are located was declared a Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu. In 1983 UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site, and in July 2007 it was nominated as one of the seven wonders of the modern world.

Machu Picchu century by century

Image of the remains that are still standing of the house, steps and open spaces of Machu Picchu.

The ancient city of Machu Picchu was inhabited, approximately, from the 9th century by indigenous populations from the surroundings of Vilcabamba and the Sacred Valley.

Despite the fact that Machu Picchu is located in a mountainous and jungle area, the first settlers managed to carry out agricultural work, which led to the settlement of its first settlers, until the construction of the city on top of the mountain. This is how its history, struggles, oblivion and its rediscovery began to take shape.

Conquest of Pachacutec

Machu Picchu reached its importance and notoriety in the 15th century when it was conquered by Pachacutec in 1430, the ninth ruler of the Inca or Tahuantinsuyo empire. Pachacutec was recognized for transforming the curacazgo, the ancient state of Peru, into the recognized Inca Empire.

The domain of Pachacutec included the mountains of Machu Picchu, Huyana Picchu, its ravines and valleys. Under his mandate, important administrative centers, religious sanctuaries, terraces for agriculture were built, and there was a noticeable increase in the population.

Years of transition and conquest of Peru

Pachacutec was succeeded by his son Tupac Yupanqui between the years 1470 and 1493, and this in turn by his son Huayna Capac, who ruled between the years 1493 and 1527.

Huayna Capac, was characterized by concentrating the political and religious power of the empire in order to maintain the territories conquered by his father and control the constant resistance that existed in the northern zone.

After dying of smallpox, his son Huascar Inca took power of the empire between 1527 and 1532. During his tenure there were constant confrontations and conspiracies against him, especially by his brother Atahualpa.

Thus a civil war arose for the throne of the empire between the years 1529 and 1532, with Atahualpa being victorious.

During these confrontations the conquest of Peru also occurred. The Spanish led by Francisco Pizarro arrived in Cuzco, took Atahualpa hostage and executed him.

Incas of Vicabamba

After the Spanish conquest, Machu Picchu lost, to a large extent, the importance it had achieved. Atahualpa’s legitimate successors and heirs went into exile in Vilcabamba, where the resistance against the new conquerors was maintained.

Machu Picchu remained inhabited, to a lesser extent, and was considered a city that had to pay tribute to the new Spanish settlers, who rarely visited this town.

The Inca empire existed until the death of the last Inca of Vilcabamba, Tupac Amaru, who was executed by the Spanish in 1572. This fact meant the official conquest of Peru.

Machu Picchu between the 17th and 19th centuries

With the death of the last Inca of Vilcabamaba, the Inca empire was in total decline. The Spanish settlers did not make important settlements in that area and Machu Picchu gradually lost its importance, although it was not totally uninhabited.

After many years, in 1865 Antonio Raimondi, an Italian naturalist, passed near the Inca buildings without knowing it. In 1867, a German businessman named Augusto Berns founded a mining company in the area, which he put Machu Picchu back on the map.

It was not until 1880 that Charles Wiener, a French explorer, confirmed the existence of the forgotten city of Machu Picchu. He did not actually go, but he deduced it from various archaeological evidence that he had been told about.

Discovery of Machu Picchu 1911

In 1911, the American professor Hiram Bingham carried out an expedition in the area, together with other guides, and arrived at Machu Picchu on July 24, 1911. In this way, the Inca city was rediscovered.

Bingham found two families that lived in the surrounding area and one of them led him to the Inca ruins that were hidden by the undergrowth.

After such a finding, Bingham requested the support of Yale University and permission from the Peruvian government to begin the study of the archaeological zone. In 1913, National Geographic magazine published an article about Machu Picchu. Since then, this archaeological zone stood out for its cultural and historical value.

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