Photographer's Note


Machu Picchu (literally, "old peak"; and frequently dubbed the "Lost City of the Incas";), is a ruined ancient Incan town high on a mountain ridge in Peru. It is located at an elevation of about 6,750 feet above the Urubamba Valley, and is probably the most familiar symbol of the Inca Empire.

Machu Picchu has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is the end point of the most popular hike in South America: the Inca Trail.


The story of Machu Picchu is quite a remarkable one and it is still unknown exactly what role the site played in Incan life. One thing that is clear is that it was a remarkably well hidden place, and well protected.

Located far up in the mountains of Peru, visitors had to travel up long valleys littered with Incan check points and watch towers.

Remarkably, the Spanish conquistadors missed the site, and Bingham only discovered the site by chance. On a wet day in 1911, he travelled up the slopes with a few companions from his expedition. On meeting local peasants, they told him about ancient ruins that covered the area. To Bingham's amazement, he had found the lost Incan city of Machu Picchu.

In 1913, the site received a significant amount of publicity after the National Geographic Society devoted their entire April 1913 issue to Machu Picchu. Bingham made several more trips and conducted excavations on the site through 1915. He wrote a number of books and articles about Machu Picchu; his account, Lost City of the Incas, became a bestseller.

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It is generally thought that the city was built by the Sapa Inca Pachacuti starting in about 1440 and was inhabited until the Spanish conquest of Peru in 1532. Archeological evidence (together with recent work on early colonial documents) shows that Machu Picchu was not a conventional city, but a country retreat town for Incan nobility (similar to the Roman villas).

The site has a large palace and temples to Incan deities around a courtyard, with other buildings for support staff. It is estimated that a maximum of only about 750 people resided in Machu Picchu at any one time, and probably only a small fraction of that number lived in the town during the rainy season and when no nobility were visiting.

The site was probably chosen for its unique location and geological features. It is said that the silhouette of the mountain range behind Machu Picchu represents the face of the Inca looking upward towards the sky, with the largest peak, Waynapicchu, representing his nose.

The Inca believed that the solid rock of the Earth should not be cut and so built this city from rock quarried from loose boulders found in the area. Some of the stone architecture uses no mortar, but rather relied on extremely precise cutting of blocks that results in walls with cracks between stones through which a credit card will not pass.

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