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10 lesser-known secrets about Machu Picchu and Inca culture

Even though Machu Picchu was discovered over a century ago, many things about it are still unknown.

Woman Machu Picchu

Even though Machu Picchu was discovered over a century ago, many things about it are still unknown. Here are some lesser-known secrets about it, that even professional guides from, for example, Kandoo won’t tell you.

  • Machu Picchu can’t fall

The Incas were masters when it comes to stone masonry – the proof lies in the way their buildings were built. If it wasn’t for the ashlar technique they used, the construction that we know as Machu Picchu would have collapsed years, if not centuries ago – especially since Peru is a country known for earthquakes.

Machu Picchu

So what is this technique? Basically, the blocks of stones are cut in a way that makes them fit together perfectly that the mortar was unnecessary. Some say that it is impossible to even put an object as small as a needle or as thin as a sheet of paper in between the blocks.

What is also worth mentioning is that all the blocks that were used to build it, were transported by being pushed up the side of the mountain, as it is very probable that there were no means of transport with wheels at the time.

Machu Picchu bricks
  • Its purpose is unknown

Nobody really knows exactly why Machu Picchu was built and what purpose it served. There are several theories, though. Some historians claim that Machu Picchu was used as a royal retreat for the emperor Pachacuti and his royal court. Some, on the other hand, think that its purpose was religious – it was supposed to be a sanctuary, a sacred place.

The Incas didn’t separate church and state, so it wouldn’t be unusual if the building served both a royal and religious purpose – since the emperor was sacred, wherever he lived was also sacred. It is very probable that both theories are correct and Machu Picchu was a multi-purpose construction.

Some less known theories claim that Machu Picchu was a prison, a trade hub or a women’s retreat.

  • No folkloric attire

If you wanted to visit this place in your country’s folkloric attire, then, unfortunately, you can’t. That means no kimonos, no kilts and no lederhosen. The decision of the Peruvian government aims to preserve the sanctity of this famous monument.

  • The Name

In the Quechua language, which was the native language of the Incas, Machu means “old”, while Picchu can mean either “a pyramid”, “a portion of coca being chewed” or “a peak”. It is possible that the name means “Old Mountain”.

The language is still spoken in some parts of Peru.

  • Machu Picchu is not the ‘Lost City of the Inca’

For several years there has been a wrong belief that Machu Picchu was the ‘Lost City of the Inca’. When Hiram Bingham III was looking for Vilcabamba (the real “Lost City of the Inca’) in 1911, he incorrectly assumed that Machu Picchu was what he was looking for.

It was proven to be wrong in 1964 when another explorer – Gene Savoy – discovered the real lost city named Espiritu Pampa (the modern name for Vilcabamba), located west of Machu Picchu.

  • There is more under the ground

It is understood, that what the visible part of Machu Picchu is only 40% of the whole construction – the rest, which is a combination of tunnels, foundational elements and rooms is set underground.

The perfect example is the secret door discovered by David Crespy in February of 2010. When nobody in Peru paid him attention, he decided to contact Thierry Jasmin – a french explorer. He and his group decided to look into it, and in 2012 discovered a staircase, that leads to a room, that leads to several cavities of human size. Apart from that, they discovered large portions of what possibly could be gold or silver. In 2013, Jasmin presented a new project, whose aim was to open the secret door. However, the government did everything in their power to prevent it, and up till this day, the door remains closed.

Machu Picchu underground entry door
  • Who lived there?

Machu Picchu is sometimes called the ‘melting pot of many South Americans’. There is evidence proving that the Inca were not the only ones living there. Archaeologists have discovered a variety of ceramics and textiles from all around the country; however, the city didn’t have a marketplace. It might suggest that people from all kinds of backgrounds have lived there or at least visited regularly.

  • Hidden figures of Machu Picchu

Not very obvious to the naked eye, Machu Picchu is full of hidden figures, like the Face of Life and Death. If you look at it from one side, you will see a happy face, with a dimple and a crown – Face of Life. If you look from the other, you will see a sad, almost dying face – Face of Death. What is interesting is that the locals don’t step on the figure’s head as they believe that it’s disrespectful.

Since the Inca were all about duality, and the Face of Life and Death presents a male, there is also a figure of a woman. She is sleeping and you can distinguish her face and breast.

There is evidence showing that these figures were done on purpose – like carved eyes in The Face of Life and Death, and traces of gold on the figure of a sleeping woman.

Machu Picchu
  • Houses and rocks shaped like mountains

Mountains were worshiped during the Inca times, but because of dense fog that was quite frequent, it was very difficult to see them every day. To make the worship possible, they carved the rocks and houses in a way that makes them resemble the mountain that is behind them.

  • The Llama

At first glance, it might seem as if the shapes of rocks used in the construction process of Machu Picchu have no meaning. It turns out that they actually were carefully chosen and placed. The locals believe that Machu Picchu was constructed as a collection of symbols – hundreds (if not thousands) of them.

You can see that on one of the walls where the rocks are arranged in a way that resembles a llama. Since the Inca didn’t have any means of transport with wheels, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they used animals to transport things, especially the llamas.

Conclusion

Machu Picchu is a place that you will discover better if you come without any itinerary. Apart from being a perfect place for trekking, it is also a good place to embrace your inner historian and travel back in time to the 15th century. It will definitely be an unforgettable adventure.

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