Machu Picchu’s strange location may have finally been solved

The citadel of Machu Picchu is a man-made wonder, but it’s tough to access. Geologists may now know why the Incas built it in such an inaccessible location.

Nov 3, 2019 |
3 min read

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Any adventurer or student of human endeavor will hope to visit Machu Picchu someday. This citadel was built by Peru’s Incan natives back in the 15th century and has stood proudly ever since. As one of the new seven wonders of the world, it’s sure to take your breath away.

That’s assuming you have any breath left after accessing the citadel. Machu Picchu is famously hard to get to. Located almost 8,000-feet high in the Andes mountain range, it takes a stout body and confident tour guide to reach the destination.

This begs the question as to why it was built in such an inhospitable location. Obviously, the considerations of visiting tourists were never going to be taken into account while the citadel was built in 1450. Machu Picchu was designed to be a royal residence, unsullied by outsiders. Geologists now believe there was more to the location than simple privacy, however.

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Why was Machu Picchu built in this area?

Building a citadel in the mountains is a risky business. In fact, it would be impossible, but for one thing. Below the depths of the city, the meeting of tectonic plates created lengthy faults. Some of these were as wide as 109 miles.

These faults ensured that stone was available to the Incan people, which they could use to safely and emphatically assemble the citadel. The production of so much building material, and the quality of it meant that Machu Picchu stands apart as a masterpiece in construction.

Despite this, the citadel was comparatively simple to assemble. There are no gaps or holes in the joins of the stone, and there was no need to mix mortar. The Incans understood that a glorious opportunity presented itself to create something special in this location, and they grasped it with both hands.

It wasn’t just a coincidence or a happy accident that this picturesque spot provided building materials, though. Where the underground fractures meet, an X-shape is formed. It appears that the Incans were aware of this, as other major cities were built in the same territory.

Assembling homes and domiciles in such terrain meant that the Incans did not need to fear flooding or other natural issues. Like the Ancient Egyptians, it appears that Incans could be used as role models for contemporary builders and engineers.

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Why was Machu Picchu built?

There is a wide range of theories abounding as to the purpose of Machu Picchu. The most popular is that it was a location built for Emperor Pachacuti. It is believed that the Emperor would entertain guests at the citadel or treat it as a private retreat.

Other theories posit a more spiritual origin for Machu Picchu. One suggestion is that the citadel was designed to mirror the image of a landscape from a holy text. It is claimed that people would make pilgrimages to and from Machu Picchu, paying tribute to ancestors that undertook similarly challenging journeys.

A final belief is that Machu Picchu was built to reflect upon the Incan ideal of the sacred landscape. The citadel is surrounded by the Urubamba River, which was deemed sacred by the ancient Incans.

Besides, the location of the citadel also provides a particular alignment with the sun. Incans considering themselves descendants of the sun, and placed a great deal of emphasis upon it as a result. Equinoxes and solstices held a tremendous amount of significance for the Incan people.

How do I get to Machu Picchu?

If you feel that you’re hardy enough to make it to Machu Picchu, you could join the millions of tourists that visit each year. Plan ahead, though. Concerns over damage to this pivotal site have led to restricted access.

The best way to experience Machu Picchu is to take the Inca Trail. This is a four-day walking route that leads you into the citadel, offering pre-approved rest points along the way. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but you can rest assured that your visit will be above board and approved by the Peruvian authorities.

If walking isn’t your thing, take a train. You could hop on a train at Cusco and alight at Urubamba Valley, where a bus will drop you at the entrance of the citadel. Alternatively, get off the train at Aguas Calientes and take a two-hour hike.

Remember, you’ll need to seek permission to enter the site in advance. Only 2,500 visitors are permitted to enter Machu Picchu each day. If you arrive after that number is breached, you’re likely to be turned away.

The closest airport is Alejandro Velasco Astete International, but you’ll likely need to change at least once. This is an international airport, but it offers no direct flights to the United States.

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