You’ve all heard of Machu Picchu, even my cats have probably heard of it. The fabled “Lost City of the Incas” had been sitting there on my travel itinerary throbbing with a celebrity value that rivals the pyramids (the Egyptian ones that is; the Mayan ones aren’t quite in the same league although some of them deserve to be).
The site is undeniably spectacular, set on a saddle-shaped ridge between mountain peaks, high above an Andean river valley at an altitude of 2430m. Although the Incas only abandoned the site around the time of the Spanish conquest, the invaders did not know of it (and so could never deface or christianise it) and it was only ‘discovered’ by Europeans in the early 20th century.
The UNESCO website describes Machu Picchu as “probably the most amazing urban creation of the Inca Empire at its height”. Built in the fifteenth century it covers 32,500 hectares and includes large areas of land terraced to provide space for growing crops.
The site opens at 6am and I arrived around 6.45am, just as the sun was coming over the surrounding mountains. The aim of getting there early is two-fold. To see the site at dawn and to miss the press of coach parties who arrive later in the day. In the event, I spent nine hours there, leaving shortly before it closed at 4pm, the big groups having long since departed. I spent a fair bit of that time sitting (and indeed dozing) on a high grassy terrace overlooking the site, enjoying the view and the sunshine.
Many buildings on site have been restored and a few have been given new thatched roofs to give an idea of how they might have looked. Although the exact purpose of the site is not known archaeologists have identified religious, residential and work areas within it. The main buildings are in the wonderfully precise dry-stone wall constructed of very closely fitting blocks that the Incas are known for.
I got fascinated by the architectural details. The window and door apertures are not rectangular, but lean in slightly towards the top (a strengthening measure for earthquakes according to Wikipedia). and the gable ends often have a protruding stones which on the buildings with restored roofs are used to tie down the wood roof frame.
There are two Inca-era access routes to the site, the one taken by all the Inca trail groups and another, no longer passable. This later one includes the Inca Bridge, a gap in the narrow ledge traversing a high cliff face, that is bridged by tree trunks, rather like a drawbridge. The route to see this part of the site is not easily found and to go beyond a certain point you have to sign in with a man at a little hut. I’m not entirely sure if this is so they know at the end of the day (you have to sign back out again) if anyone has fallen off the high narrowish path or because they are restricting numbers.
This is actually a mixed world heritage site, listed not just for the Inca remains, but for its natural weath as well. On the wildlife front I didn’t see any of the rare species but I did encounter a chinchilla, sitting on a pile of stones in a little visited room in one of the many buildings.
When the time came to build a Lego model for Machu Picchu I was struck by builders block. First I made a frankly rubbish model of the agricultural terracing. Later I made one of the Inca bridge and finally, after another week had gone by, I built the model below: