Machu Picchu history

The site of Machu Picchu was constructed around 1450 and abandoned about a hundred years later. The site itself in contrary to other (smaller) sites, never discovered by the Spanish and hence a huge source of information about the Inca civilization.

The known Machu Picchu history starts with the discovery of Machu Picchu by Hiram Bingham the American Yale professor leading several expeditions deep into the Inca heartland. Hiram Bingham arrived at Machu Picchu in 1911 in search for the Lost City of the Inca’s, the place where the last Inca’s retreated. This place got known by the testimonies left behind by the rebel Inca’s captured by the Spanish conquistadores who led a ferocious guerrilla resistance in the first decades of the conquest. These were lead from the so called Lost City of the Inca’s. This is and was a mythic place as the Spaniards and so many after them looked for this city who supposedly (in accordance with the findings at other sites) held great quantities of gold and even became known as “El Dorado”, The Golden. Nowadays with quite some certainty we know that the last refuge of the Inca’s is located in the Vilcabamba area, a site called Espiritu Pampa. Ironically Hiram Bingham discovered this site before he discovered Machu Picchu and discarded it as being the last stronghold of the Inca. On a second expedition in 1911, Bingham came back and with the help of a local historicist from Cusco and a local farmer living in what is now known as the Santa Teresa Area, he located Machu Picchu. Due to its location against the side of a mountain, Bingham immediately valued the sheer size of the site. With small efforts of excavations and freeing the site of the overgrowing jungle, he got more and more convinced that this was the “Lost City of the Inca’s”. 

The discovery was immediately world news and National Geographic magazine wrote a large article about it and declared it one of the most important discoveries of the century. The theory that this was the last refuge of the Inca’s did hold up for some years until more and more discoveries were made and Espiritu Pampa was valued for its importance.

Machu Picchu history was born and the site became more and more famous up to the point of today, being one of the most historical sites of South America. After Hiram Bingham, many archeologists came to the site and made more and more discoveries, reconstructing the history of Machu Picchu as far as possible.

The reason for Machu Picchu is still one of the most debated topics when it deals about its historic importance. The main theories are that it was a royal retreat for high placed and religious leaders, that it was a centre for agricultural testing and experimentation, and that it was a trade centre on the crossing of several Inca pathways and controlling a large part of the economic production from this part of the Inca Empire. For all we know it could have been all three of these functions together as there have been found evidence to support all of these theories. Seeing the location of the site and the effort that went in constructing such a citadel on such an amazing place, it must have served a high purpose in the Inca society. One thing most scholars do agree on is the fact that the site was never discovered and abandoned more or less around the time the Spaniards arrived in the Cusco area. One theory says that the population died of a smallpox epidemic brought over by people who have been in contact with the Spaniards in Cusco or other areas. Some bodies were found in Machu Picchu some mummified. Nevertheless the number of bodies found was quite small compared with the sheer size of the site. This helps the theory that the site was abandoned for serious reasons. The most serious reasons at this time looking at the Machu Picchu history would have to do with the Spaniards arriving to their land. The threat of soon to be discovered by the plundering Spaniards together with the fact of being confronted with new illnesses, makes up for the most probable reason that this site was abandoned.

When Hiram Bingham rediscovered the site, he started large excavations and clearing work. He found a great quantity of pottery, tools and even some mummies. Nevertheless the quantity was not that big as one would expect from a site of this size. This maintains the theory that the site was discovered and eve partially plundered before the arrival of Hiram Bingham. The majority of the items found during the excavations lead by Hiram Bingham and the Yale University, ended up in boxes in the Yale University for decades. After long law suits, the Peruvian Government got their justice and an agreement with Yale was signed to return the artifacts to Peru. This year the first 30 (!!) boxes of artifacts arrived in Peru.

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 Also want to read about the weather in Machu Picchu? 

Also want to read about the weather in Machu Picchu?