Machu Picchu (Quechua: Machu Pikchu, "Old Peak") is a pre-Columbian Inka site located 2,430 metres (8,000 ft) above sea level. It is situated on a mountain ridge above the Urubamba Valley in Peru, which is 80 kilometres (50 miles) northwest of Cuzco and through which the Urubamba River flows. Often referred to as "The Lost City of the Inkas", Machu Picchu is one of the most familiar symbols of the Inka Empire. The Inkas started building Machu Picchu around AD 1430 but was abandoned as an official site for the Inka rulers a hundred years later at the time of the Spanish conquest of the Inka Empire. Although known locally, it was largely unknown to the outside world before being brought to international attention in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, an American historian. Since then, Machu Picchu has become an important tourist attraction. Machu Picchu was declared a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary in 1981 and an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. Since it was not plundered by the Spanish when they conquered the Inkas, it is especially important as a cultural site and is considered a sacred place and lastly recognized as a new seven wonder of the world.
Machu Picchu is located 80 kilometers northwest of Cusco, on the crest of the mountain Machu Picchu, located about 2,430 meters (8,000 feet) above sea level, that is around 1,000m lower than Cusco. As such, had a milder climate than the Inka capital. It is one of the most important archaeological sites in South America and the most visited tourist attraction in Peru. It is above Urubamba Valley. From on top of the cliff of Machu Picchu, there is a vertical rock face of 600 meters rising from the Urubamba River at the foot of the cliff. The location of the city was a military secret, and its deep precipices and mountains provided excellent natural defenses. The Inka Bridge, an Inka rope bridge, across the Urubamba River in the Pongo de Mainique, provided a secret entrance for the Inka army. Another Inka bridge to the west of Machu Picchu, the tree-trunk bridge, at a location where a gap occurs in the cliff that measures 6 metres (20 ft), could be bridged by two tree trunks. If the trees were removed, it would leave a 570 metres (1,900 ft) fall to the base of the cliffs, also discouraging invaders.
The central buildings of Machu Picchu use the classical Inca architectural style of polished dry-stone walls of regular shape. The Incas were masters of this technique, called ashlar, in which blocks of stone are cut to fit together tightly without mortar. The Incas were among the best stone masons the world has seen, and many junctions in the central city are so perfect that it is said not even a blade of grass fits between the stones. Some Inca buildings were constructed using mortar, but by Inca standards this was quick, shoddy construction and was not used in the building of important structures. Peru is a highly seismic land, and mortar-free construction was more earthquake-resistant than using mortar. The stones of the dry-stone walls built by the Incas can move slightly and resettle without the walls collapsing. Inca walls show numerous design details that also help protect them from collapsing in an earthquake. Doors and windows are trapezoidal and tilt inward from bottom to top; corners usually are rounded; inside corners often incline slightly into the rooms; and "L" shaped blocks often were used to tie outside corners of the structure together. These walls do not rise straight from bottom to top but are offset slightly from row to row. The space is composed of 140 structures or features, including temples, sanctuaries, parks, and residences that include houses with thatched roofs. There are more than one hundred flights of stone steps, often completely carved from a single block of granite, and a great number of water fountains that are interconnected by channels. There are also water-drains perforated in the rock that were designed for the original irrigation system. Evidence has been found to suggest that the irrigation system was used to carry water from a holy spring to each of the houses in turn. According to archaeologists, the urban sector of Machu Picchu was divided into three great districts: the Sacred District, the Popular District to the south, and the District of the Priests and the Nobility. Located in the first zone are the primary archaeological treasures: the Intihuatana, the Temple of the Sun and the Room of the Three Windows. These were dedicated to Inti, their sun god and greatest deity. The Popular District, or Residential District, is the place where the lower class people lived. It includes storage buildings and simple houses. In the royalty area, a sector that existed for the nobility, includes a group of houses located in rows over a slope, the residence of the Amautas (wise persons) was characterized by its reddish walls, and the zone of the Ñustas (princesses) had trapezoid-shaped rooms. The Monumental Mausoleum is a carved statue with a vaulted interior and carved drawings. It was used for rites or sacrifices. As part of their road system, the Incas built a road to the Machu Picchu region. Today, tens of thousands of tourists walk the Inca Trail to visit Machu Picchu each year, acclimatising at Cusco before starting on a two to four day journey on foot from the Urubamba valley up through the Andes mountain range to the isolated city.
TOURISM IN MACHU PICCHU
Machu Picchu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As Peru's most visited tourist attraction and major revenue generator, it is continually threatened by economic and commercial forces. In the late 1990s, the Peruvian government granted concessions to allow the construction of a cable car and development of a luxury hotel, including a tourist complex with boutiques and restaurants. These plans were met with protests from scientists, academics, and the Peruvian public all worried that the greater numbers of visitors would pose tremendous physical burdens on the ruins. A growing number of people visit Machu Picchu each year (400,000 in 2003). For this reason, there were protests against a plan to build a bridge to the site as well. A no-fly zone exists above the area. UNESCO is considering putting Machu Picchu on its List of World Heritage Sites in Danger. During the 1980s a large rock from Machu Picchu's central plaza was moved out of its alignment to a different location in order to create a helicopter landing zone. Helicopter landings were forbidden in the 1990s. In 2006 a Cusco based company, Helicusco, sought to have tourist flights over Machu Picchu, but the decision was quickly overturned.