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    Machu Picchu

    A fifteenth century Inca site, Machu Picchu rests 7,970 feet above sea level on top of the Andes ridge above the Sacred Valley. Surrounded on three sides by the Urubamba River and protected by the mountain peak and tropical forest, the city remained unknown to the rest of the world until the twentieth century. It is situated in the centre of the network of Inca sites and trails, some 50 miles northwest of Cusco in Peru.

    Historians show references of Machu Picchu dating from 1867, but it wasn't until 1911, when Hiram Bingham, American historian from Yale University, brought the site into international attention. The scholar found the city with the help of local farmers during his search for Vitcos, the last capital of the Incas.

    Machu Picchu was established around 1450, at the time when the Inca Empire flourished, and it was abandoned only 100 years later, during the Spanish Conquest. It is believed tat the Incas could have died of smallpox brought by the travellers. Due to its location, Machu Picchu was never discovered by Spanish conquistadors; only the local people knew of its existence. Today, it is the largest tourist attraction in South America. Machu Picchu was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 and in 2007 it was declared one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. The buildings in the city have been reconstructed for visiting tourists to have an image of what it used to look like centuries ago.The city was built in what is called the classical Inca style, characterised by dry, polished stones. The stone walls were built using highly sophisticated techniques. The architecture of the city fits in the mountainous terrain, showing how Inca culture remained in harmony with nature. Two parts of the town, the residential and agricultural area, are divided by a large square. Was this a retreat city for the royal family, or was it a place where the common Inca people used to live as well? Scholars still debate the purpose Machu Picchu served. The irrigation canals, water system and the network of roads and trails, agricultural terraces as well as religious sites indicate the place was used in many ways and was inhabited by various people.

    Inti Watana, a religious carved rock that used to serve as an astronomical tool to predict solstices, rests in the highest place in the city, the Sacred Discrict of Machu Picchu. Inti Watana is the only Inca stone of its kind that was not destroyed by the Spanish invaders. Together with the city's other religious sites such as the Temple of the Sun and the Room of the Three Windows, they were dedicated to the sun god Inti, the most important Inca god.Many mysteries surround Machu Picchu: what was the purpose of the city, why was it abandoned only one hundred years after its creation?

    Today, the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu is protected by the Peruvian government. Only a set number of tourists can visit the site per day, therefore, if you are going to visit the place, it's best to do some research and make preparations first.

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