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Peru : Machu Picchu

Monday 27th August – Machu Picchu

We woke very early (it was still dark!) from a NICER hotel room to take our taxi. It drove us to Poroy train station. We went in and presented our tickets so we could access the platform. As the tickets are all numbered we had to find the right carriage, present our ticket again to the conductor and then we could board. It was dawn now as we found our seats, which were not next to each other. Luckily another couple had been split up too, so we did a change around and everyone ended up where they wanted. As the train left we were served breakfast of mainly croissant, fruit and yoghurt, but just what we wanted. The train started by going along the Vilcanota River Valley until we reached Urubamba town (where we stopped briefly) and then Ollantaytambo (again a brief stop and coffee/ tea). From here we headed up into the hills using a zig-zag rack and pinion to climb quite steeply and quite quickly. It took 3 hours to reach Aguas Calientes (which is inaccessible by road), our arrival point.
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We disembarked the train and the platform led almost directly into a colourful market. We went right through the market into the edge of the town, across a small bridge, then a road to the ranks of buses waiting. As we had a ticket already we could get on the next bus, but it seemed that anyone without a pre-existing ticket might well have quite a wait. The bus was quite creaky and definitely the wrong side of luxury! It went down the hill a little to cross a small wooden bridge, then snaked (at some speed relative to the road) up a thin, windy road/track high into the cloud forest. We could see glimpses of Machu Picchu as we went up and I made a point of not looking down (although Steve was quite happy to relay the height to me!). The terraces and aqueducts were visible from quite a way. On the right, going down, were the buildings of the lower urban area- these were the dwellings of the lower classes- farmers, artisans, educators, lower priests and the like. We arrived at the top in a large bus depot area and were met by our guide (Manuel) and a second couple. Again we luckily had tickets already as the number of visitors/ tickets are limited by the authorities (quite sensibly IMO). We walked through the turnstiles and into the site. The nice thing about this entrance is you come in via the terraces and pretty much the whole site is laid out in front of you, which is amazing as a view. A cheeky couple tried to join our tour for free until the guide sent them away!
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As with all Inca towns, Machu Picchu is in three distinct areas- urban, ceremonial and agricultural. The town is high on a granite rock face, so the Inca excavated the central area and backfilled to make the farming terraces. There is a fault line that separates the terraces from the town. Due to the nature of the terrain, much of the natural rock was incorporated into the structures (e.g. The Temple of the Condor, the Sacred Rock).
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We climbed up some steep, long stairs, passing by waterways clearly designed to bring running water to the city and arrived at the main City or Control Gate. This was a 3-walled room with windows giving a commanding view of the entrance and the city itself. Our guide pointed out the beautiful door- typically Incan (trapezoid). This one still had the holes for the locking rings and beams.
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City Gate left and aqueducts right

Moving from here we went to the Royal/ Ñusta’s Bedroom, which is a 2-storey room attached to the Temple of the Sun. A window linked directly to the Temple’s 2nd floor. Since Nusta means princesses or maidens this may have been the priestesses lodging or maybe an Acllahuasi (Maidens house- often linked to virginal sacrifice).
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We went straight on into the top part of the Sun Temple- remarkable for its polished polyhedron rocks creating a smooth semi-circular building. Like much of the site, it has been partially built into the rock. The top floor has two windows and a northern door with bored holes. Evidence suggests the door was originally covered in gold leaf. The room corners had knobs protruding. Next to it was a small rectangular courtyard with nine doors alternating with studs. This was clearly a religious area.
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We around and down a long stone staircase, below the temple to the Royal Tombs, which are in a rock crack directly under the temple. An Inca Cross (a series of steps representative of the three realms). There were over 100 mummies found in the tomb (80% female, 20% male) and the doorway has a carved symbol of the earth goddess, Pachamama, so the suggestion is that rather than a royal tomb, it was a priestess’ tomb. In front was an offering bowl, as we saw later in other parts of the site.

On our left were sixteen baths, presumably ceremonial, linked by an aqueduct with the watershed hut above. The Paqcha, (first three fountains) were carved. We crossed over a quarry to the high Sacred Plaza. This is one of four in Machu Picchu, all at different levels, all connected by sunken staircases.
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The Sacred Plaza gave a wonderful view down to the towering tree tops in the Sacred Valley, thousands of feet below us. It was probably one of the most commanding views in the whole city, as befits the religious importance of the area. The plaza houses the most important structures in Machu Picchu- the Main or Principal Temple, Temple of the Three Windows and the Intihuatana.
The Principal Temple was a three walled room with niches. The stones would originally have fitted perfectly, but the earth has moved and so have the stones. The supports for the roof, now gone, are clearly visible. To the right of this is the Temple of the Three Windows (Wayrana). Looking out of these windows gave a brilliant view of the main plaza below. There were two side bays and a central column (now just a foundation stone). Look at the picture for a wonderful example of male/ female joints by the window. Next to the door was a polished lithograph. We could have gone down to the Main Plaza via some steps here, but instead went on across the higher ridge of the site to the Intihuatana area.
sacred-plaza_48880847836_o.jpg Sacred Plaza
principal-temple_48881037122_o.jpgPrincipal Temple

temple-of-the-three-windows_48880902431_o.jpgTemple of the Three Windows
intihuatana-machu-picchu_48880843711_o.jpgIntihuatana

The Intihautana was on a double platform at the top of several terraces. There were three carved steps to access the carved pillar whose corners faced the four compass points. This would have helped the priest to identify the winter solistice (21st June as it is below the Equator). At this time the high priest would “hitch” the sun with a golden disc on a rope to the altar (intihuatana) to catch it and ensure another year of good crops. Inti= sun, hauta/wata= year.

Manuel now led us down 78 steps to the Central Plaza. This grassy plaza is the largest in the site and has the Sacred Plaza to the left and the roofless residential area to the right. Behind is the Sacred Rock and the peak of Huayna Picchu. As at Pachacamac, the local fauna (here llamas) were very evident.
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We did not spend time in the plaza, heading straight to the area of the Sacred Rock at the rear of the plaza. A sacred rock would be erected/ dedicated at every new Inca village or town and Machu Picchu was no exception, apart from its size- 3m high. The rock matches precisely Huayna Picchu (Little Peak), the mountain behind. We could see the climb from it to the top of Huayna and the Gatekeepers Hut, but we did not have two spare hours, sadly. The buildings around the rock, pilgrims rest houses, had had their roofs restored.
wanka-sacred-rock-machu-picchu_48881029722_o.jpgwanka-sacred-rock-machu-picchu_48881030277_o.jpgLook at how the Sacred Rock matches the peak of Huayna Picchu
We set off round the Factory/ Industrial zone. Each house had its own small terraced garden and upper windows connected to a higher path to lower down goods. The area even had its own temple with two water filled basins (for astronomical observations). We went down and round to arrive at the famous Temple of the Condor. This was a spectacular example of Inca architecture. A natural rock formation was skilfully worked by them into the shape of a condor’s wings while the floor in front has a carved rock to make the head and neck. There was a very recently coca leaf offering by the eye, which is interesting as some people believe that this was used as an altar. We went on under the temple to an underground room.
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Behind the temple we went down to the Prison Complex- a maze of dungeon like rooms. If accused a prisoner would be locked away for 3 days before being killed or set free.
machu-picchu_48880428558_o.jpgdetail-machu-picchu_48880327113_o.jpgPrison Complex (right) and
machu-picchu_48880908031_o.jpgGuardians House (below)

When Manuel had completed his tour at the Prisoners Area it was lunchtime, so he said goodbye and left us to explore in our own time. We sat on a ledge overlooking the forest and valley to eat our sandwiches and have a drink, before we set off to look at some parts in more detail. Our first move was back towards the Central Plaza, from where we went up the main staircase back to the residential area. We explored the area, seeing various wildlife such as lizards, down and through the labyrinthine passages. From the top we could see over to the cemetery area. On our way out we climbed up the cemetery, past the ceremonial carved stones and an odd boulder (with steps, ring and a body shaped depression). At the top was the Guardians House (Funerary Rock Hut) where the elite were possibly mummified. The llamas were mainly up here where it was less busy.
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At around late afternoon we decided to head back down, so left Machu Picchu and went back to the bus depot. The return bus had less of a queue and we were back in Aguas Calientes fairly quickly. We wanted to have a quick look around the town before we left, so walked up the main street looking in some shops (mainly Machu Picchu souvenirs). We found an OK café with a large upstairs covered balcony area, so we sat there and had some corn soup and beer before going back to the market for a quick browse (obviously buying a small souvenir) and catching our train back.
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The return journey was, hmmm, an interesting one. Firstly we were relaxing after our day when a feathered jester (for want of a better description) came bounding down the train making a huge amount of noise (no, NOT music). Then, as dusk fell, there was a concerted effort by train? management to sell us (the passengers) something- especially if it had the words “overpriced” and “alpaca” involved. Yes, we know quality alpaca products are pricey, but there is pricey (sensible Arequipa or Cusco prices) and there is pricey (we have you on this train and by Jove you’ll look at our 100% marked up prices). Amazingly, they actually SOLD a few things after their fashion show. No, not to us- we bought in Arequipa and Cusco instead. By the time we reached the last train station it was definitely dark, but we found our taxi easily and returned to Cusco. As it happened we were not particularly hungry, so we went on a walk around the historic area and their shops (which all open until really late).... until we felt peckish. We returned to the main plaza and found an upstairs restaurant offering a set menu. Not, as it happens, a good choice as they first tried to cut the deal they’d offered (by pretending the drink was extra) and then the food was ordinary to say the least. Thank goodness we had not wanted too much to eat! After that we had a drink in the bar below, then headed back to the hotel to pack.
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History of Machu Picchu
The city, 7000ft above sea level in the Andes, high above the Urubamba, was probably an imperial fortress-town-religious centre. The Inca did not differentiate between functions and all three would have been seen as essential in any town. Although it is unclear which ruler founded Machu Picchu, it was certainly in use by 1200AD.
temple-of-sun--sacred-plaza-right_48881145292_o.jpgtemple-of-the-three-windows_48880892291_o.jpgroyal-tomb_48880322303_o.jpgmachu-picchu_48880416908_o.jpgIts relative isolation and the difficulty of travelling to it means this is often referred to as an Imperial retreat. Some retreat! Up to 1,200 people may have lived there!The periods of occupation/construction are generally dated c1200-1300AD, c1300-1400AD, c1400-1533AD, 1533-72AD. The city was “rediscovered” by Hiram Bingham in 1911 (obviously locals always knew of it, but ‘Lost Cities’ rarely take account of this). However, Bingham’s discovery did bring it to the attention of the outside world. Originally Bingham divided the city into the four compass points, but this has changed to distinguishing it by date.
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Posted by PetersF 18:13 Archived in Peru Tagged temple peru train machu_picchu sacred cusco condor inca intihuatana Comments (0)

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