Machu Picchu is one of the most iconic archaeological sites in the world, but it appears that we may be referring to it by the wrong name. According to recent research conducted by Peruvian historian Donato Amado Gonzalez and American archaeologist Brian Bauer, the ancient Incan city was actually called Huayna Picchu or simply Picchu.
The research cites several historical sources that refer to the once-thriving city by these forgotten names. Even Hiyam Bingham, the American explorer who first climbed up to the citadel in 1911, was initially told it was known as Huayna Picchu. But days later, he was told by a different guide that the site was called Machu Picchu, and that’s the name that stuck.
“We also have a clear reference to the ‘the ancient Inca town of Huayna Picchu’ from a 1715 document, and we are told in a much earlier 1588 document that various inhabitants of the Vilcabamba region wanted to return to the town of Huayna Picchu where they hoped to return to their own religion,” the report published in Ñawpa Pacha: Journal of the Institute of Andean Studies cites.
The research is based on centuries of documents, including some of the region’s first maps, land records, and even Bingham’s own notes and letters. An official Spanish record from 1539 referred to an area called Picchu, while another from 1568 mentions explicitly a town of the same name. An atlas published in 1904 also mentioned the ruins of an Inca town called Huayna Picchu.
The new evidence gives more credence to the Spanish chroniclers in the area that historians mainly discarded from Bingham’s time up until recently.
The Incas were truly amazing people that built an empire that encompassed Ecuador all the way to Chile.
What Is Machu Picchu
Nestled between the craggy cliffs northwest of Cuzco, Peru, lies Machu Picchu, a royal estate or sacred holy site for Inca rulers. Despite its mysteriousness and prestige amongst pre-Hispanic civilizations, its true identity was virtually forgotten by 16th-century Spanish conquistadors who had displaced their people entirely. It wasn’t until 1911 when American archaeologist Hiram Bingham made his remarkable discovery that this nostalgic resort town resurfaced–yet only to those peasants living in nearby towns who were privy to its whereabouts all along.
Spanning an awe-inspiring 5 miles, Machu Picchu captivates travelers with its 3000 stone steps that lead up to various levels of the site. No matter how many people visit each year, people always feel amazed when they see the sun slowly setting over this majestic ruin. Many come from all over the world to see its beauty.
Machu Picchu’s Past
Historians believe Machu Picchu was constructed during the peak of the Inca Empire’s reign over western South America in the 15th and 16th centuries. However, it is believed to have been abandoned approximately a century after its creation, likely around when Spanish forces began their conquest of this powerful pre-Columbian civilization in the mid-1530s. Although there is no proof that the Spanish conquerors ever came close to, let alone attacked, the mountaintop citadel, some historians have speculated that its inhabitants abandoned it due to an outbreak of smallpox. As we stated above the Spanish seemed to be aware of the city but never bothered to destroy.
Nowadays, many archaeologists are of the opinion that Machu Picchu was a lavish palace for Inca rulers and their court. However, other researchers have surmised that it might also be an ancient religious center due to its placement near mountains and natural landmarks sacred to the Incas. In the decades since Machu Picchu’s discovery, a variety of theories have been put forward to explain its purpose – ranging from an ancient prison and trading post to a research station for testing new crops or even a women’s retreat. Others suggested it was used as part of coronation ceremonies for kings. The possibilities are almost endless!
Machu Picchu’s “Discovery” By Hiram Bingham
Embarking on a journey in 1911, Hiram Bingham, an American archaeologist, and his small group of explorers went to Peru with one goal: locate the last Inca stronghold – Vilcabamba. With their mules, they traveled from Cuzco into the Urubamba Valley until a local farmer informed them about ruins located atop a nearby mountain.
Having set off without hesitation to find what might have been lost forever otherwise, this team was determined to uncover ancient secrets that could still be alive somewhere in those remote lands. The farmer dubbed the mountain Picchu, which directly translates to “old peak” in Quechua.
On a gloomy and chilly July 24th, Bingham conquered the arduous trek up to its ridge; when he arrived at his destination, an 11-year-old boy brought him closer still until he reached Machu Picchu’s entrance marked by intricate terraces of stone. With this sight before him, Bingham was finally able to witness with awe what lay hidden for centuries in these mountainside ruins.
The Site of Machu Picchu
Perched high atop the eastern slopes of the Peruvian Andes lies Machu Picchu’s majestic mountain sanctuary, surrounded by lush tropical forests. The site is a stunning testament to Inca civilization and their remarkable architectural abilities; its stonework marvelously blending with its natural landscape, decorated with terraced fields and sophisticated irrigation systems that showcase their engineering prowess. Utilizing an astonishingly apt masonry technique perfected by the Incas, Machu Picchu’s central buildings are constructed with stones that fit together perfectly without mortar. Archaeologists have outlined several different areas within the city boundaries, including a farming zone, residential quarter, royal district and sacred precinct. Among its most distinctive features is the Temple of the Sun and Intihuatana rock – a sculpted granite stone thought to be utilized as either a solar clock or calendar.
Machu Picchu Today
A UNESCO World Heritage Site and part of the New Seven Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu stands as Peru’s most popular attraction, drawing in hundreds of thousands to its ruins every single year. While it is a sight for sore eyes for many tourists worldwide, Machu Picchu continues to suffer from environmental degradation due to increased tourism and nearby urban growth.
Not only that but several endangered species call this place their home too – increasing our responsibility towards preserving such extraordinary places. Consequently, the Peruvian government has recently taken precautionary measures to preserve and uphold the ruins from destruction, in addition to maintaining the mountainside from further erosion.