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Machu Picchu: Sacred Place of the Incas

Do you know what materials your house is made of?

© Getty Images Known as the lost city of the Incas, Machu Pichhu is a World heritage site. One of the preferred way to reach the site is Inca Trail trek.

By Carly Schuna, Cricket Media

Do you know what materials your house is made of? Bricks? Wood? Steel?

How about why it was built on your street? Maybe it’s a convenient location, with lots of other houses around — or it’s near grocery stores, schools, and gas stations.

Machu Picchu is an ancient and isolated Incan village near Cusco, Peru. It took a lot of effort to build, and it seems to be in the middle of nowhere. All of the buildings at Machu Picchu are made entirely of stone. When modern-day builders use stone to make buildings, they glue the stone pieces together with mortar. But at Machu Picchu, Incas built all of the structures in the village with a dry stone technique. In each building, the stones were selected and cut to fit perfectly together — so snugly that there’s not even room to slide a dime between any two stones.

It’s not easy to get to Machu Picchu, either. The village is about 50 miles away from the much bigger city of Cusco, high in the Andes mountain range. We know the Incas must have walked back and forth from Cusco to Machu Picchu regularly, because there are several trails through the mountains that connect the two.


© coopermoisse/iStock/Getty Images Plus

To build Machu Picchu, the Incas may have brought some stones all the way from Cusco. Others came from the mountains surrounding the village. Some of those stones weigh tens of thousands of pounds, but the Incas managed to build the entire village with no construction cranes, drills, or trucks. It may have taken them almost 100 years to complete the city.

Machu Picchu is a great mystery of both history and architecture. No one is sure why it was built. One theory is that it served as a military site for an Inca army. Others think it was a luxury retreat for the Inca king, Pachacuti. Many scholars, however, feel that Machu Picchu was a sacred site for ceremonies and worship.

Miguel Alata agrees. Alata is a native of Cusco who works as a hiking guide for an adventure company. His job involves leading hundreds of visitors on multi-day hikes to Machu Picchu every year. Alata has walked to Machu Picchu from outside of Cusco more than 200 times – that’s more than 9,000 miles of hiking!

Alata believes that Machu Picchu is in a sacred spot within the Andes mountains and that the Incas built it there to honor their gods and goddesses. Out in nature on top of a mountain, Alata said that the Incas must have felt close to Pachamama, or their “Mother Earth.” Near the base of Machu Picchu is a river that Peruvians now call the Urubamba. Back when the Incas lived, however, they called the river the Willcamayo. In Quechua, the Inca language, willcamayo means, “sacred river.”


© Getty Machu Picchu, a 15th-century Inca citadel situated on a mountain ridge 2,430 metres (7,970 ft) above sea level in the Cusco Region.

One of the best-known buildings in the ruins is the Temple of the Sun, a tall, curved structure that was a solar observatory as well as a ceremonial site. Astronomical events such as the solstice were very important to the Incas because one of their most revered gods was Inti, the god of the sun. A small window in the Temple of the Sun aligns directly with the sunrise during the winter solstice in June, when the sun is at its highest point in the sky. On that day, the sunbeams pierce through the window, casting a bright white light directly into the center of the temple.

Another unique structure at Machu Picchu, Inti Watana, is a large stone that the Incas used as a calendar. By looking at where the sun cast its shadow on Inti Watana every day, the Incas could tell what time it was, and by measuring the length of the shadow, they could tell what time of year it was. Inti Watana, just like the Temple of the Sun, is lined up with the sun’s position during the winter solstice.

Alata always takes special care to show his visiting groups the Temple of the Sun and Inti Watana. He believes that the Incas held worship ceremonies at those structures where religious officials made sacrifices to the god Inti.

It’s Alata’s job to know the history of Machu Picchu and to share it with visitors. As he leads groups through the ruins, he spreads out his arms to emphasize the majesty of the mountaintops. As he has made his treks to Machu Picchu so many hundreds of times, I asked him if he ever gets sick of the village. He smiled and shook his head.

“No,” he said simply. “This is the place of my people.”




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Kids Magazine: Machu Picchu: Sacred Place of the Incas
Machu Picchu: Sacred Place of the Incas
Do you know what materials your house is made of?
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