A virtual journey through the cult sites of Machu Picchu
In total, Machu Picchu occupies a total area of approximately 13 square kilometers and was inhabited by 750 to 1,200 people. Architecturally speaking, Machu Picchu is divided into four sections, depending on the activities carried out there.
The first urban sector was dedicated to housing. It is characterized by single-story residential homes with trapezoidal doors and window openings covered with thatched roofs. The stones used for them are smaller and irregularly carved than the sacred buildings.
The buildings in which the ship was located, as well as the factories and production, can also be found here. Archaeologists summarize this as the second zone of the industrial or manufacturing section of Machu Picchu. There are also stores here. The number and size of the windows can often be used: buildings with multiple larger recesses must be well ventilated so that the stored good is not spoiled; They also provided enough light for indoor activities. Smaller windows indicate places to sleep, of which heat should not escape even in the coldest months.
Behind a dividing line naturally formed and reinforced by the masonry, it extends as a third zone of the agricultural portion of Machu Picchu, distributed in planted terraces and crowned by a guardhouse. This also houses the cemetery.
Fourth, the various spiritual and representative buildings stand out for special purposes, mostly religious or spiritual. Together they form the sacred and real sector of the city. However, some buildings that serve religious purposes also extend through the urban sector of Machu Picchu.
According to the importance of the buildings, the inhabited part of Machu Picchu is divided again into two zones.
To the west is ‘Hanan’, the highest plain that houses the palace of the regent, the sacred sites, reserved by the priests and the Intihuatana pyramid. To the east lies the underlying “urine” sector, which includes the tomb of the condor, the Palace of the Three Windows, the Oriental Mausoleum and most of the residences. Separated both sectors are from the main square, but always connected by narrow stone paths and paths, as well as the 3,000 steps in which Machu Picchu is crossed.
These are places of worship scattered around Machu Picchu, to which we will refer below. They have contributed significantly to the current understanding of Machu Picchu, because they tell us a lot about the meaning and history of the entire system. In addition, they are the ones who enrich Machu Picchu with their own spiritual energy, which is felt immediately upon entering the site.
Travel tips Machu Picchu: Experience the Inca site as its inhabitants
Machu Picchu is not signposted, which astonishes many visitors and, at times, desperate. But there are also clear advantages: without signs and too many barriers, the impression of a city that was once animated, homogeneous and at the same time mysterious is much more immediate.
If you have time, enjoy the luxury of intuitively experiencing the different urban areas as designed by your builders, before embarking on a tour with one of the most distinguished local guides who will provide you with additional and historical information. Especially places of worship display an almost mystical attraction, which increases continuously with the leisure of vision.
The first look is not in the later buildings, but in the Huayna Picchu that rises behind it at a distance. The newcomer was reminded of the omnipresence of the mountain gods who were supposed to protect Machu Picchu.
This view, directed through the entrance, is a recurring theme in Inca architecture. At the same time, the first step of the visitor or inhabitant who returns to Machu Picchu becomes a ritual act; The profane and the religious merged with the simple act of entering.
This simultaneity of simple actions of everyday life and a constant perceptibility of the divine presence through careful urban planning and the layout of buildings and symbols is an element of design absolutely dominant in Machu Picchu, which remains as intense today as it is. It was when it was built.
A city like Machu Picchu was not only a home and an area of representation, but it represented an earthly parallel to the cosmos. At the same time, this component reinforced the status of priests and shamans, who regularly brought their horizon of meaning through life through ceremonies and rites. When passing through the main door, the visitor surrendered to the power of the gods and their urban interpreters.
Behind the gate, after a short walk that leads to the urban part of the complex, the first religious buildings appear on the right.
The sun played a similar role in the belief system of the Incas as the mountains. The Temple of the Sun, therefore, is located in the urban core of Machu Picchu. Immediately adjacent is the residence of the Inca-Herschers builder Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, which is also located in the southwestern part of Machu Picchu and is therefore separated from the other residential buildings of the social elite. Incidentally, the ruler was not only a generous private garden, but also the only private sanitary facilities of Machu Picchu available.
However, despite the luxury of this set, the importance of Machu Picchu was also placed on the supremacy of the gods over the people: the stone works on the ruler’s walls are obviously less detailed and executed with more luxury than those of the temple complex.
The temple of the sun could only be entered through a large entrance door. In addition to ornaments and, most likely, gold ornaments (whose slits are still visible today), several rigorous safety mechanisms were provided during its useful life. However, these did not serve as much as historians now believe in the defense of strangers. Rather, it should prevent the citizens of Machu Picchu from disturbing the sacred and secret rituals of the Sun priests of the INTI cult. In contrast, worship rituals accessible to all residents were held in the main square.
The elliptical form of the Temple of the Sun of Machu Pichu is similar to that of the Inca capital, Cuzco. The carved stone inside the Temple of the Sun (also called Torreón) could have served as an altar. Its size would have allowed the ritual sacrifice of living sacrifices that the Inca proved to be proven.
Underneath the temple there is a cave with natural form, in whose entrance there is a rock carved in the staircase (see below “The royal tomb of Machu Picchu”). While the scientific discoverer of Machu Picchu, Hiram Bingham, and with him many scientists who investigate today, see in him a real mausoleum, other experts consider that it is more likely to be used in the context of sun worship.
The Temple of the Sun, more precisely its altarpiece, is another perfect example of the naturalness with which the builders of Machu Picchu have organically incorporated foundations and structures “donated” by nature in their planning of construction.
Strategically, the Temple of the Sun within Machu Picchu has positioned itself as high as possible. The proximity to the sky and its stars was essential for the rituals: not only to be closer to the gods, but also to include fixed astronomical points.
In fact, the night sky over Machu Picchu has a clear view of the almost mystical splendor; Throughout the Milky Way clearly visible, the stars are easy to map with the naked eye. However, only those who approach the mystic site on the Inca Trail or spend the night on the site will really enjoy it. The corresponding advice during the night has been compiled in another place of our Special of Machu Picchu (Link).
Also a magical experience at Machu Picchu: The Solstice in June. Because just during this day, the rising sun shines directly through one of the temple’s windows on the stone; an alignment too perfect to be a coincidence, as many archaeologists say. In such moments, the mystical atmosphere of this place is almost palpable.
What some guides call the “Intihuatana Pyramid” was not originally planned as a pyramid. Rather, the builders of Machu Picchu have selected one of the existing hills in the Hanan-Sekor of Machu Picchu as a subsoil and have provided it on all sides with ascending terraces, so that it turned out to be a polygonal structure. Decisive was the elevated and exposed place, the sky as close as possible.
The Intihuatana pyramid (often referred to as the “Intiwatana pyramid”) can be reached through two long opposite staircases: one from the north and the other from the south. Visitors can choose the path from the main square or the ascent behind the main temple. Originally, at least one of the stairs was seventy-eight steps long, an impressive mason’s performance, as each step was chiseled into the hard stone of the hill.
The pyramid is crowned by a natural rock with a chisel, Granite pillar from 40 to 46 cm high, the Intihuatana stone. Astrohistoriker assumes that it is a sundial or, to put it more accurately, a gyroscope. It could have served the inhabitants of Machu Picchu to determine the course of the sun during the year and thus align agriculture along with planting and harvesting times to the position of the sun, because exactly at the beginning of spring and autumn, the stone it does not cast shadow It may also have earned its name “Intihuatana”, which means “the place where the sun is chained”.
The times of the ritual feasts in honor of the natural gods, especially Inti, the sun god, could be determined thus. The data collected may have been transported by messengers through the Ika Trail well beyond Machu Picchu. For some historians, the intihuatana is, therefore, an indication that Machu Picchu was more than a summer residence or a retreat of the ruler. Rather, the exposed location could have turned it into an astronomical and calendrical research center in the kingdom of the Incas, a kind of celestial university that attracted researchers from all over the empire.
Near the shadow thrower there are three small shelters that have probably served as shelters for the guardians of the stone. By the way, in September 2000, the Intihuatana stone was irreparably damaged during an unlicensed session for a beer commercial when an arm of the crane crashed into it. Its majestic and mystical aura, however, does not diminish, although it may have limited its astronomical precision.
The Incas are famous for their shamanic culture, which still shapes the healing power of Peru today. Structures such as the Stone of Intihuatana were not just tools for astronomical calculations or spiritual rituals. They contained a divine power that they were free to give.
Shamanic legends say that the Intihuatana Stone can connect with the spirit world in every human being. The touch of the sacred stone with the forehead should evoke visions of the spirits. Therefore, the stones of Intihuatana were a special thorn in the eye of the Spanish Christians and were systematically destroyed by them. The Intihuatana stone of Machu Picchu also has no rival in all of Peru because it was the only one that survived the Spanish invasion and subsequent missionary efforts. If you have shamanic interests or would like to perform that ritual once, Machu Picchu has the unique opportunity to do so.
This architectural and hydraulic masterpiece has many names: “Fountain ladder” or “Liturgical fountain”. This refers to a sequence of 16 carefully chiselled basins, which the Incas called “paqchas”. Its function is much more than simply decorative or practical, even though the swimming pools have played a central role in the national water supply of Machu Picchu.
Historically, the sophisticated and elegant structure of the fountain system has not really been considered for a long time; the ponds were dry, the tributaries were clogged or damaged. For twenty years, the American hydraulic engineer Kenneth R. Wright, together with his wife Ruth, requested permission from the Peruvian government to study and possibly restore the water supply of Machu Picchu. In 1994, the moment finally arrived. Since then, the couple and their team of volunteers have been working on a free and budget-based search to explore all the paleohydrological aspects of Machu Picchu: water extraction, controlled drainage and supply and drainage.
Above all, Wright and his team have taken the 16 wells of Machu Picchu at their own pace through careful restoration (and some modern spare parts) (if you want to get more involved in the matter, you can stick to Wright’s highly readable book) . : Machu Picchu A Civil Engineering Marvel / ASCE Press, 2000 or visit their website, which awakens the desire to travel:
The source system of the basin was fed by gutters that transported fresh water to the city from the springs of rainwater about 800 meters from Machu Picchu. There, the Inca engineers had built a permeable wall 14 meters long that led filtered water directly to the canals; To this was added the water from a smaller second spring. Today, water is conducted through a water pipeline from the source to the well system.
This canal system was routed below the outer city wall, crossed and fed the agricultural zone and then led under the separation wall to the urban zone.
There he began to run in the famous sequence of 16 pools in which he was able to meet. The result: a controlled, highly reliable and continuous water supply that also helped protect the structure of the hill from erosion.
The basins form quite large and poorly considered chambers, in which several vessels could easily be placed next to one another for filling. The stone fountains of each fountain seem to be the perfect size to fill the typical clay jars used in the Andes during the Inca period. At the same time, they also provide an intimate retreat that allows unobserved ablution or a private ritual, not reminiscent of “outdoor shower cubicles.”
The wells are connected by a channel 55 meters long, which is accompanied by a staircase. The first well is located next to the Pachacuti manor house, to give the Inca king the first access to the freshest water. All subsequent wells were accessible to each inhabitant and visitor of Machu Picchu, with the exception of the last one, which is inside the temple of the condor.
In each of the wells are small, embedded in the niches of stone walls, which were obviously intended for offerings. While some of the sources are functionally designed, others of a more ceremonial nature, such as Source # 3, located near the Temple of the Sun, have been carefully designed with four sacrificial sites. It is also the only well that can be “flooded” by directing water directly from Well # 2 to Well # 4.
Such architectural details make it clear what sacred position the natural elements had, including water, for the Incas, in whose mythology they were worshiped as gods. Pariacaca, which represents the water god, could be worshiped in each of the 16 wells daily and as a regular part of the daily routine.
Located in the north of the sacred plaza, the partial displacement of the main temple stones contrasts with the amazing precision and craftsmanship with which this building was built. In comparison, its huge cuboids are among the best and most accurate made in Machu Picchu.
While, for example, the stones of the Temple of the Three Windows were allowed to maintain their irregular shape and were simply selected and worked in such a way that they interlocked stably, the main temple stones are rectangular and form linear patterns. They are up to one meter deep, which gives the temple additional strength and connection to earth.
This unique feature of Masu Picchu Masia indicates that the main temple began very late in the construction process or was given outstanding importance. The latter would speak for a significant function of the temple in the spiritual life of the inhabitants of Machu Picchu. However, there are also several unfinished structures in the building; Under certain circumstances, the temple was never finished. However, its lost wall is not in any way a sign of demolition, but a special architectural feature of the Incas, called “Waynona”. It allowed the priests to work in a protected room, but still be observed by as many people as possible.
Already at the time of Bingham’s discovery of the erosion of Machu Picchu it had become evident on the ground beneath the main temple. The result is the clearly visible relaxation and displacement of the wall.
Next to the main hall of the temple there is another enclosure that could have served as a residence or, at least, residence of the priest. A small podium erected directly on the wall could have been used by him as a bed; therefore, this small sacristy is also called the “house of the priest”.
In front of the temple there is a relatively smaller chiselled stone that could have represented the ‘Southern Cross’. This constellation of the southern sky with its four brilliantly shining stars has played a central role in all astronomically oriented cultures for centuries and has always been used for southward orientation.
The royal tomb is located just below the Temple of the Sun. It is another example of the elegant fusion of organic formations found everywhere in Machu Picchu, in this case a natural cave, and the adjoining stone works.
Most archaeologists agree that this mausoleum served to accommodate the deceased members of the Machu Picchu aristocracy. If the ruler himself was buried there is unknown. Not least, due to Hiram Bingham and his team, mummies and human bones were found in the tomb; but it is no longer understandable if these include those of the royal family. Three man-power niches embedded in the walls are still visible today, as well as a smaller one with its own altar. The Incas did not bury their high-ranking dead, but mummified them to worship the mummies and sacrifice them.
Along the walls of the royal tomb there are elaborate engravings in the form of sacred symbols. What looks like a staircase at the entrance is, in fact, an Inca cross that symbolizes the three worlds of the Inca being: the first level represents the underworld of the dead and is symbolized by the serpent. The second stage represents the presence of human life and is represented by the figure of the jaguar. The upper level symbolizes the spiritual world of the gods, represented by the condor. In the three levels, the offerings could be made to the gods.
The ūusta palace is part of the so-called royal part of Machu Picchu; For a long time it was not classified as a separate building because of its connection to the Temple of the Sun.
However, its elaborate and refined architecture clearly shows that this structure must have been dedicated to a high-ranking personal purpose, which, however, is remarkably far-reaching from the point of view of historians.
Some ethnologists suggest that this building may have been a refuge for the virgins who played key roles in the religious rituals of the gods of the sun or water. Other researchers say that they may have been homes for women of the highest social class, the so-called Panacas. The panacas were direct descendants or relatives of the kings, including their wives or engaged brides and their unmarried children, the urbas or princesses.
However, the “ustustas” were also called virgins of the sun: young virgins from all over the Inca state who were to serve the king. The thesis of Hiram Bingham was that the virgins of the Sun were brought to Machu Picchu to better protect them from the Spanish conquerors. Therefore, the complex was also often called “monastery of Ñustas”. However, Bingham based his theory on the assumption that 80% of the pieces of bone he found around him were of women. Now it is known that the Incas were so slender and lightweight that Bingham’s team mistakenly classified them as female. But the High Priestess, who also occupied an important place in the ritual community of Machu Picchu, could well have resided here.
The Holy Place was designed as the social center of the sacred sector of Machu Picchu. It consists of the main temple, the Temple of the Three Windows and the Intihuatana. Terraced terraces probably did not serve to grow food plants, but rather as tiers to complement the plaza: during the festivals and rites of the city, they provided enough space for all participants who would otherwise be absent from the slopes.
There is much that suggests that Holy Place was the center of the social and spiritual life of Machu Picchu. It is architecturally exceptionally well located near the quarry, as the more sophisticated and labor-intensive buildings of the complex have been there. Due to its elevated position, it was probably also used for various astronomical calculations and the worship of the sun and the moon.
The Temple of the Three Windows was one of the first structures in Machu Picchu that Hiram Bingham, the scientist who discovered the place of worship, could see from afar. It was Bingham who gave the building its current name.
Located in the lower part of the urine sector of Machu Picchu, the temple consists of only three walls; He is open to the plaza. It could not be conclusively clarified if this was intentional or not.
Its three trapezoidal windows offer an impressive view of the landscape and are perfectly aligned with the sunrise.
Hiram Bingham saw in them a correspondence of the three mythical windows of Pacaritambo, a cave that plays a crucial role in one of the original myths of the Inla culture. From one of the windows of the Cave of Pacaritambo have arisen the ancestors of the Inca, the Ayar brothers. However, there are traces of two more windows, apparently planned or later buried in the temple, which would be in contradiction with this thesis.
In addition, Bingham was partial in his interpretation. After all, before its discovery of Machu Picchu, it had originally proposed to find the birthplace of the Incas, who, according to tradition, are on the hill of Tamputoco and would house a cave with three windows.
Ironically, it was the Temple of the Three Windows that informed Bingham that perhaps he was the scientist, but by no means the first explorer of Machu Picchu. Already in his first visit he found on his wall the name “Lizárraga” and the year 1902, which are still visible today. The inscription referred to the Peruvian farmer Agustín Lizárraga and three of his companions, Gabino Sánchez, Enrique Palma and Justo Ochoa, who had discovered the large Inca site in search of higher ground almost ten years before Bingham’s first visit. .
The open side of the temple of the three windows in Machu Picchu is delineated by a stone formation that represents the three worlds of the Inca cosmology. It represents the transcendence of the heavens and the upper world with its gods (Hanan-Pacha); the surface of the earth or the local with humans, animals, plants and spirits (Kay-Pacha); and the underground with its dead, but also the seed and the life of the soul (Ukju-Pacha).
Under the temple, archaeologists found ceramic patches that may indicate ritual acts.
The Temple of the Condor in the southeast of the urban sector of Machu Picchu is one of the impressive examples of the fusion of natural stone formations with the fascinating skills of the stonecutters of the Incas. Unlike the modernist architecture, which seeks to create something from nothing, it was for the builders of Machu Picchu, of course, and was not born out of necessity, to consider the conditions of Machu Picchu as gifts of nature, which should be symbolically improved and accessible only in its purpose and use.
In this case, the formation of organic stone is a piece of wind and water cut in millions of years, which the Incas artistically designed to be a flying condor. In Inca mythology, the condor represents the mind and the higher states of consciousness.
On the floor, in front of the temple, there is a reclining stone sculpture that reproduces the feathers of the head and neck of the condor and thus completes the three-dimensional image. Historians suspect that the head was used as an altar of sacrifice.
Below the temple there is a narrow cave in which a mummy was found. Directly behind the temple of the Condor is the prison complex of Machu Picchu. However, the stay there was not intended as a long-term punishment; the Inca probably did not take any prisoners.
The human-sized niches and underground dungeons were probably used for the temporary detention of the accused, while their final fate was decided – which often included the death penalty in cases such as theft. The proximity of the dungeons to the temple has led some archaeologists to the (rather morbid) assumption that the death sentences could have been carried out at the same time as ritual sacrifices on the altar stone – however, there is no further scientifically reliable evidence for this thesis.
The so-called “Central Plaza” is not only an excellent place, because it is covered with green grass, to get to know the Lamas grazing peacefully in Machu Picchu – or to get a wonderful impression of the Huayna Picchu. On the main square you can also get an impression of the community life in Machu Picchu. It is surrounded by smaller houses and divided into gently descending terraces; both structures give a vivid impression of the daily life of the Inca site.
The main square seems to have been deliberately placed between the places of worship of the Holy Place, the Intiwatana Pyramid and the urban zone. It acts as a transition from the spiritual Machu Picchu to the daily life of its inhabitants. On one side is the high sector of the city known as Hanan, with its buildings reserved for the aristocracy; on the other the lower Hurin, home to the rest of Machu Picchu’s inhabitants.
For them it was most likely a place for meetings and holy feasts in honour of the gods. It was also the sphere in which the various social classes of Machu Picchu mingled. While some places of worship were strictly reserved for the aristocracy and priests, the ritual celebrations open to all represented an extremely important structuring element of the Incan society and the annual calendar, for which the main square provided an excellent stage.
Travel tips Machu Picchu: The panoramic view from Central Plaza
Do you love panoramic pictures? Then finish your tour through Machu Picchu with a return to the guard house. From here you have an excellent 360° all-round view of the entire complex and can take wonderful last pictures.
Here are our tips