The modern man might well be proud of his technical prowess, but that does not change the fact that thousands of years before him indigenous civilizations achieved great things in harmony with nature using the crudest tools there is. Machu Pichchu is one such architectural marvel conjured by the Incan Empire; a marvel that depicts the perfectly harmonious relationship between man and nature. That it survived the Spanish infiltration and retained its cultural integrity intact is one of the most alluring attractions about this wonder.
Situated in the middle of a tropical mountain forest at a height of 2430 m above sea level, Machu Pichchu was one of the most notable urban settlements of the Incan empire. The stone walls, imposing terraces and impressive architecture blend in perfectly with the surrounding Amazon ambiance and it appears as if Machu Pichchu had been carved out of the mountain itself. Located in the valley of the river Urubamba (Rio Urubamba), the historic sanctuary of Machu Pichchu is one of the most important of the tangible pieces of Inca legacy left behind the civilization. It comprises of mountain peaks, valleys and settlements in a picturesque location and architectural marvels like the Citadel “La Ciudadela” constructed more than 2000 m above sea level by indigenous ingenuity. The place was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in the 1980s.
The Incan Legacy
Where the Peruvian Andes meets the Amazon basin, rises the imposing structure of Machu Pichchu. One of the most picturesque stretches of mountainous lands in the region, it was home to some of the most compelling architectural and art creations of the Incas. Most historians believe that the settlement was built as an estate for Emperor Parachuti of the Incas. The site was well known to be a seat for astrological and astronomical studies as well. The land was abandoned by the Incas during Spanish invasion and remained lost to the world for a greater part of time ever since. Machu Pichchu has been rediscovered by the outer world only in 1911.
There are more than 200 structures built on steep ridges inter spaced with stone terraces and squares. The Incas were deeply knowledgeable about taming of wild plant species and the astronomical wizardry. It is not clear how Machu Pichchu was used as an educational center but it is unanimous that the different structures discovered here have great religious, sentimental and religious values. The city was well planned and had been divided into agricultural and residential areas separated by a square. The Incas successfully cultivated the steep ridges of the Peruvian Andes.
Virgins of the Suns
The famous archaeologist Hiram Bingham theorized that the land of Machu Pichchu was meant for teh Incan Virgins of the Suns. Researchers have also opined that the Incas chose the location of Machu Pichchu because the position of the mountain was in alignment with different astronomical events held in reverence by them. The mountains surrounding Machu Pichchu were of religious importance to the Inca culture and at the top of the mountain several ritual platforms have been foun. Thus it is quite possible that Machu Pichchu was a sacred religious site.
Researchers also have several other conflicting opinions regarding the probable functions of the place. Some say that it w as built as an llaqta, a settlement from where to look after the economy of conquered regions. Some say that it was a prison built for those who committed unspeakable crimes against the Inca society. Yet many others think that Machu Pichchu had been an agricultural testing centre.
In the Quecha language ‘Intihuatana’ literally means ‘to tie up the sun’. The Intihuatana stone is one of the most astounding of the many ritual stones that have been discovered in South America. These stones were so placed such that they pointed directly at the sun during solstices. The Incas believed that the stone held the Sun in its position across the sky throughout the year. On equinoxes, the Sun stands directly above the pillar, casting no shadow at all. Such beautifully constructed astronomical clocks are awe inducing, to say the least.
Intimachay and the Royal Feast of the Sun
The Royal Feast of the Sun was observed in Machu Pichchu in a specially designed cave called the Intimachay. The festival was celebrated by the Incan nobility in the month of Capac Raymi following the Winter Solstice. It was also a coming of age ritual, when the Incan boys were initiated into manhood by a ear piercing ritual as they watched the Sun rise over the horizon from the Intimachay cave.
The architecture of Intimachay is quite striking. Intricately designed stones had always held special significance for the Incas and here in the Intimachay, it is no different. The walls, steps, windows and entrances are covered in beautiful works of stone masonry. The cave includes a unique tunnel like window from where perhaps the Sun was observed and worshiped. The window was strategically constructed to let in sunlight only during the December solstice.
The Intimachay was located just north of the ‘Condor Stone’ and the caves surrounding might have been extensively used as tombs. However no evidence has been unearthed to suggest that the Intimachay too had been used as a burial ground.