Don’t go to Machu Picchu

On Monday, the site of Machu Picchu was mentioned briefly as an estate built by the Pachacuti Inca (1438-1471). I had never known the exact use of Machu Picchu or that it was at one point thought to be the last refuge of the Inca during the Spanish invasion. After looking into the history of Machu Picchu, I have learned that though it is considered a royal estate, it was also used for religious purposes. There is lots of evidence to suggest that half the city was used for religious ceremonies and worship. The god that seems to be worshiped the most at this site was the sun god, Inti (who was also discussed Monday). It would make sense that a royal estate would include quite a bit of religious imagery related to this particular deity because the first “great Inca” was considered the son of Inti. This would have made Pachacuti related to that God as well. Because it was typical in this society to treat past rulers as still living, it makes even more sense that a large portion of the royal estate would be devoted to Inti (a relative to each “still living” ruler of the Inca.). The complex also included a residential section for the non-elites who worked in the city. There was a certain amount of agriculture to be cared for as well as all the other activities required for the maintenance and continual care required of a royal estate.

The city was only in use for about 100 years. It is thought that environmental factors might have contributed to the abandonment of the city (this area is very prone to earth quakes), but it is also theorized that the population at Machu Picchu was decimated by small pox brought over by the Spanish. This is interesting considering that Machu Picchu never actually seemed to be visited by the Spanish (it was never looted or defaced in the way the Spanish did to other Incan sites). This suggests that people who had come into contact with the Spanish then infected the population at Machu Picchi without ever informing the Spanish of the city’s existence.

Though the site was said to be discovered in the early 1900’s, there is evidence suggesting that the site was discovered in the late 1800’s and had been visited by non-native Peruvians multiple times before its “discovery” by Bingham. Bingham discovered the site by being led there by a Quechua boy. Actually, Machu Picchu was still being inhabited partially by some of the Quechua people at this time. He then stole many artifacts across the Bolivian border which he then took to Yale university. A long drawn out battle took place over Yale’s right to keep these artifacts and this only ended in the 2000’s when Yale agreed to give back the artifacts under the condition that they could still study them.

The current threat to Machu Picchu is not so much environmental anymore. The main threat is tourism. It is the most popular tourist destination in Peru. Though heavy restrictions have been placed on visitation, Machu Picchu continues to be one of the most threatened historical sites.

The moral of the story: Machu Picchu is an important site because it was overlooked by non-natives for so long. Now that people are going there in the thousands every year, the site is once again threatened. Don’t go to Machu Picchu.