Friday, April 28, 2006

Lovely Images, Part VI: Machu Picchu

Three friends recently took a trip to Peru and spent some time hiking to and visiting Machu Picchu, an ancient Incan city built at 8,000 feet altitude in the Andes Mountains. I have to admit that I've seen lots of photos of the place -- as my architecture professors made sure of that -- but there's something extra eye-opening about seeing a place like this with your own eyes, or in my case, seeing it through the eyes of friends. Click on any of the photos to see slightly larger versions, of course.

Machu Picchu, which means "manly peak", was built as a royal estate and religious retreat between 1460 and 1470 AD by
Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, an Incan ruler. There are approximately 200 masonry buildings, most being residences, although there are temples, storage structures and other public buildings. About 1,200 people lived in and around Machu Picchu, most of them women, children, and priests.

The buildings were planned and built under the supervision of professional Inca architects. Most of the structures are built of granite blocks cut with bronze or stone tools, and smoothed with sand. The blocks fit together perfectly without mortar, although none of the blocks are the same size and have many irregular faces; some with as many as 30 corners. And my architecture profs made sure to emphasize that the joints are so tight
that even the thinnest of knife blades can't be forced between the stones. For some reason, everyone always uses knife blades as the gauge for tight joints. Machu Picchu's got 'em.

The Incans planted crops such as potatoes and maize at Machu Picchu. To get the highest yield possible, they used advanced terracing and irrigation methods to reduce erosion and increase the area available for cultivation. The photos of this terracing are some of the most remarkable and dramatic that my friends sent. How Incans managed to cut such huge terraces so squarely, leaving plenty of topsoil to grow in, while avoiding tumbling to their doom is a puzzle to me.

Invading Spanish conquistadors never encountered Machu Picchu, but they DID manage to devastate the rest of the Empire with smallpox. 50% of the Incan population, including Machu Picchu, was killed by smallpox by 1527. The resulting loss of "institutional memory" rendered Machu Picchu forgotten, barren, and desolate. Doing the math, the useful life of Machu Picchu lasted only about 60 years! All that work to build a city for 1,200 people that only lasted 60 years...

By 1532, when Pizzaro invaded South America, Machu Picchu was completely forgotten by all but a few local natives. It wasn't rediscovered again until 1911 as a professor from Yale came across it while looking for another Incan stronghold whose legend had managed to survive. Machu Picchu was a complete mystery and surprise!

By the way, in the interests of full disclosure, these friends of mine are really friends (and groomsmen) of my oldest son. I coached them at baseball when they were in high school. But since they sent the photos directly to me, they have officially been upgraded to MY friends as well. Keep the photos (and stories of adventure) coming guys!


Blogger Cara Lietuva said...

These are stunning photos. I ascribe to the Romantic notion, probably misguided, that people living in such beauty would live in peace and harmony, that the beauty of their surroundings would enhance the best of their humanity. As an opposite confirmation of this, look at Soviet-style block housing from the 1950s to 1980s: hideous, spirit-killing surroundings....

12:50 PM, April 28, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, they are stunning pics. The place looks so mystical, orderly and serene... I wonder what future generations -- 3 or 4 hundred years from now -- will make of our architecture?


9:55 PM, April 28, 2006  
Anonymous Salkantay Trek said...

Salkantay trek is the alternative to the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was recently named among the 25 best Treks in the World, by National Geographic Adventure Travel Magazine.

3:55 PM, June 13, 2017  
Anonymous Tierras Vivas said...

He who has not been to Machu Picchu wants to know him and he who already knows him wants to return, and for a very good reason; the visit to the Inca city of Machu Picchu can be one of the best experiences of life, and with more reason to have many alternatives to reach the wonder of Cusco

9:37 AM, June 22, 2018  

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