Originally Published: July 5, 2007 7:12 p.m.
Machu Picchu is not easy to reach. One can't suggest, "I'll meet you for coffee at Machu Picchu," or go to your friendly travel agent and say, "Book me a non-stop flight tomorrow from Phoenix to Machu Picchu." As are all things valuable, arriving at such a priceless sanctuary is hard work.
The ancient Incas had the same problem. It wasn't just around the corner from their capital city of Cusco and building something in such a remote and mountainous area must have been a little tricky. It shows what wealth and control the Inca hierarchy must have commanded to focus their resources on such a monumental task.
Machu Picchu was constructed around 1450 AD, at the height of the Inca Empire and was abandoned less than 100 years later, as the empire collapsed under Spanish conquest. Although the citadel is located only about 50 miles from Cusco, the Inca capital, it was never found and destroyed by the Spanish as were many other Inca sites. Over the centuries, the surrounding jungle grew to enshroud the site so that few knew of its existence. Well, OK, the locals knew it was there. But they certainly weren't telling anybody. You know what happens once people start finding out how wonderful your area is. They all move in and suddenly you have to find more water, more schools, more stores and everybody argues about roundabouts.
Anyway, the Lost City of the Incas stayed lost until 1911 when the Yale historian and explorer, Hiram Bingham, rediscovered it for the outside world. I picture him with a pince-nez and a pith helmet slashing his way through the jungle dressed in Bermuda shorts.
There are many theories as to the original intent of the citadel. Bingham's notion was that the city was the traditional birthplace of the Inca people or the spiritual center of the "virgins of the sun" - those Yalies have vivid imaginations. Although all the temples and other spiritual buildings indicate a religious significance, there is some recent speculation that it may have been built as a royal retreat. My favorite hypothesis is that the site was chosen for the geologic features of the surrounding mountains, similar to Egypt's Valley of the Kings. The silhouette of the mountain range behind Machu Picchu may be seen as the face of the Inca looking upward toward the sky and many of the mountains are in alignment with important astronomical events. At any rate, whatever the cause, it must have been an important reason to lug all those enormous limestone blocks into such pristine alignment.
Leslie and Mike Ross have owned Kachina Travel since 1975.