Peru is home to several intriguing sites of historical prominence, including the mysterious Nazca lines in Ica and Spanish colonial architecture in most major cities. Yet, the UNESCO World Heritage Site that earned itself a place on the New Seven Wonders of the World list is the wondrous feat of human engineering that is Machu Picchu.
There are not very many archaeological sites anywhere in the world that many of us would instantly recognize; one of the few that has earned itself a permanent place in the fascination of so many is this ancient Inca mountain city.
Built in the middle of the fifteenth century, its sits 2,000 feet (600 meters) atop a mountain ridge surrounded by prominent peaks overlooking what the Incas called the Sacred Valley. Important features of the structure are aligned with extraordinary precision to these peaks so celestial bodies like the sun line up exactly with them on significant days like the winter solstice.
Machu Picchu is a vast complex of buildings and terraces that houses a palace, temples and homes, ceremonial sites and farming land built to be largely self-sufficient. Some of the Inca’s finest accomplishments go unnoticed in that they are underground – deep foundations to protect against the frequent earthquakes and a subterranean drainage system had to cope with the torrential seasonal downpours.
One of the unique things about Machu Picchu today is that so much is yet undiscovered and so much of what already has been is still not understood. Architectural and religious aspects of prominent features like the Inti Watana stone which is believed to have functioned as an astronomic calendar, the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon still baffle archaeologists.
Visitors may choose to hike the renowned Inca Trail which first led to the discovery of Machu Picchu. The picturesque journey of the lush green shades of the fields below and the lovely blue sky and immaculately white clouds above combine with the crisp, clear mountain air for a trek that perhaps no other can replicate. Trains from Cusco may deprive you of that experience but will allow the time-conscious sightseer to cover the distance in hours instead of days.
A plethora factors makes the Inca’s accomplishments at Machu Picchu especially astounding: they had no written language, no wheels and no iron or steel. The first of these has unfortunately also thrown a veil of mystery over the methodology with which the city was so flawlessly crafted so long ago.
Together, these make Machu Picchu a site of wonder and a testament to the innovation and perseverance of the human spirit, and an excellent site to visit for the entire family.