Machu Picchu, Peru: Wonder of the World

A famous view over the iconic lost city of Machu Picchu

Gina Carey

At an altitude of about 8000 feet, Machu Picchu, now one of the 7 wonders of the world, is a small city in the Andes, about 44 miles northwest of Cuzco, Peru, which was once the political heart of the Inca Empire.. and about 3000 feet above the Urubamba Valley. It covers 80,000 acres and means "Old Peak" in the indigenous Quechua.

History of the Lost City

Inca ruler Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui (or Sapa Inca Pachacuti) built Machu Picchu in the mid-15th century. It appears to have been a royal estate or sacred, ceremonial city with an astronomical observatory. The largest peak in Machu Picchu, called Huayna Picchu, is known as "hitching post of the sun."

The city was probably occupied for fewer than 150 years. Smallpox devastated Machu Picchu before the conqueror of the Inca, the Spaniard Francisco Pizarro, arrived. Yale archaeologist Hiram Bingham discovered the ruins of the city in 1911.

Most of the roughly 150 buildings in Machu Picchu were built of granite so their ruins look like part of the mountains. The Inca made regular blocks of granite fit so tightly together (without mortar) that there are areas where a knife cannot fit between the stones. Many buildings had trapezoidal doors and thatched roofs. They used irrigation to grow corn and potatoes.

Today, Machu Picchu is an iconic mountain top tourist destination.