Sunday, March 22, 2009

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is a pre-Columbian Inca site located 2,430 metres (8,000 ft) above sea level. It is situated on a mountain ridge above the Urubamba Valley in Peru, which is 80 kilometres (50 mi) northwest of Cuzco and through which the Urubamba River flows. The river is a partially navigable headwater of the Amazon River. Often referred to as "The Lost City of the Incas", Machu Picchu is one of the most familiar symbols of the Inca Empire.

Machu Picchu is one of the few places left unscathed by the conquering Spaniards. Searching for more gold, Pizarro marched his men up the Urubamba River and around the horseshoe bend at the base of the mountain.
Serenely perched 1500 feet above the thundering waters, Machu Picchu escaped the fate of most of the Inca empire.
At some point, for reasons that elude us, life in the city ended and the forest took dominion. It was rediscovered in 1911 by a young American named Hiram Bingham.

It is now generally thought that at the time of the conquest, knowledge of Machu Picchu had been lost by the Incas themselves. This hasn't stopped modern historians from somehow attributing its construction to Pachacutec, the 9th Inca who reigned in the mid 15th century, and gets credit for much of the achievements of that civilization.

Hiram Bingham was told of a plant whose juices softened rock so that the surfaces would join perfectly. There are reports of such a plant, including this one by one of the early Spanish Chroniclers: While encamped by a rocky river, he watched a bird with a leaf in its beak light on a rock, lay down the leaf and peck at it. The next day the bird returned. By then there was a concavity where the leaf had been. By this method the bird created a drinking cup to catch the splashing waters of the river. Considering the fact that lichen softens stone to attach its roots, and considering the ongoing extinction of plant species, perhaps this isn't really such a far-fetched notion.

Eric Von Daniken, in his series of books beginning with Chariots of the Gods theorized that the Andean stoneworks were built by Alien/Gods who visited the earth long ago, bringing civilization to primative man. The scientific community simply snickered.
Whatever one thinks of his theories, he brought to the public an awareness of the many ancient monuments on earth that seem to defy rational explanation.
In his novel "Slapstick" Kurt Vonnegut quips:
"...there must have been days of light gravity in old times, when people could play tiddley winks with huge chunks of stone."

Pedro de Cieza de Leon wrote of an old Inca legend about the creator-god, Viracocha. Once to show his power he caused a huge fire, then extinguished it. As a result of having been burnt so, the stones were so light that even a large one could be picked up as though it were made of cork.

Because Machu Picchu was never discovered and ransacked by the Spanish Conquistadors, it is something of a time capsule. The stoneworks here show astonishing differences in quality of craftsmanship. In many places there are walls in the lower levels of the fine quality that is the hallmark of ancient Andean stoneworks. Then as the walls rise, the quality of work diminishes. The lower layers are always finer, always more precise, than those above. One gets the feeling that these are remnants of old walls that were discovered and built upon by later hands.

The structures at Machu Picchu are not as gigantic as those at Sacsahuaman, but some are surely finer. In a few cases, as in the "Temple of Three Windows" these walls stand among the most inspired structures created by man.

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