Machu Picchu was declared a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary in 1981, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. In 2007, it officially made it big: Machu Picchu was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in a worldwide Internet poll. Only 30 years after UNESCO added Machu Picchu to their World Heritage Site, it is seeing over 1 million visitors annually. It is the most-visited destination in Peru, as well as in all of South America. Now that’s nothing short of impressive. So why is it such an interesting site? Let us share a starter kit of facts with you to give you an idea …
- This 15th century civilization of Machu Picchu was a sacred site to the Incas that is believed to have been built around the height of the empire in 1450, but was abandoned a century later at the time of the Spanish Conquest. Architectural touches range over 50 years, so we don’t known for sure exactly when it was built or for how long construction continued. It remained “hidden” to the outside world for many years though, and was unknown to the Spanish during the colonial period even though many believe the Incas left as a result of their arrival in Peru.
- Machu Picchu was only brought to the attention of the international community in 1911 by American Hiram Bingham, a professor and historian at Yale University. Bingham thought he had discovered the famed “Lost City of the Incas”, but further discoveries have shown the real lost city is about 50 miles west and into the jungle.
- Machu Picchu is only 80 km (50 miles) from Cusco, Peru (the Inca Capital), but because the Spanish did not find it, it was not destroyed by them as were many other relevant Inca sites which leads it to serve such an important role in our knowledge of the Incas.
- What’s most interesting about Machu Picchu though, is that despite an international awareness of its impressive architecture, connection to the land and cultural significance, nobody knows for certain what it’s purpose actually was. We don’t know exactly how long it took to build, we don’t know why it was built, and we don’t even know for sure who was the first outsider to discover Machu Picchu.
- What we do know largely comes from what we can see today, and those facts are more than impressive enough.
- The site covers an impressive span of 5 miles², hosts more than 3,000 stone steps between the various terraces and levels, contains almost 200 unique structures in classic Inca architectural style, and connects nature, astrology, religion and architecture in a way that no other site we’ve seen has. Large stones were brought onto the mountain to build these structures by a culture that used no draft animals, iron tools, or wheels. Despite lying on a major fault line, none of the structures have been comprised by earthquakes due to the perfect architectural support. Almost 600 hundred years later, we are unable to accomplish this.
- Most simply put: In order to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site, locations must demonstrate outstanding international value, and meet at one of ten criteria. Machu Picchu meets four (You can read more about them here).
If those facts can’t convince you of what a marvel Machu Picchu is and why it’s so famous, we think you’ll need to go see for yourself!