City in the sky

by NICHOLE L REBER on Oct 21, 2011 in Architecture
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This year marks the centennial of the discovery by American explorer Hiram Bingham of the Incan city of Machu Picchu, about which precious little is still known

According to a National Geographic special called The Inca Rebellion, the Inca were ‘the Romans of the New World. Incomparable builders and engineers, they created Machu Picchu, (and) the most sophisticated road system of the Americas’.

A newly classified wonder of the world and a Unesco World Heritage site, Machu Picchu offers more than breath-taking beauty; it also serves up wonder for scientists, architects and urban planners, much like Stonehenge and the great pyramids of Giza. The Incas may have held power in Peru and surrounding areas for 3,000 years, but their abandonment of Machu Picchu coincides with the arrival of the Spanish, who, as far as it known, never found it.

Many archaeologists and other scientists agree that it served from 1450 to 1540 as the royal retreat for Pachacuti, an extraordinary builder and ruler of the Incas, a people who ruled for about a century. Others believe it was built as a means of preserving the culture that had spread to encompass most of South America’s west coast. It may also have been the centre of Incan politics, religion, and commerce, especially given the scale and seemingly perfect coordination of several access routes leading to it. It didn’t likely serve, though, as centre of the Incan empire; that was Cuzco, a city on flat land located about a week’s walk from Machu Picchu.

“They were sufficiently civilised to practice intensive agriculture, sufficiently skilful to equal the best masonry the world has ever seen… and sufficiently advanced in art to realise the beauty of simplicity,” Bingham wrote in his book Inca Land: Explorations in the Highlands of Peru (available as a free download from

 Read the full story in the November 2011 issue of Perspective magazine!

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