Machu Picchu: city in the clouds
Machu Picchu is a world-famous 15th-century palace complex, at an elevation of 2,430 metres (7,970 feet), built by the Incas. During its heyday it was ruled over by long-reigning king Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui. It is located between the two large mountain peaks of Machu Picchu – which translates as ‘Old Peak’ – and Huayna Picchu – or ‘New Peak’ – in the Cuzco region of Peru.
Despite the complex – which consists of over 300 buildings, terraces, plazas and a cemetery – being constructed in the mid-15th to early-16th centuries and well known to the local population, it only gained global fame in 1911, when American archaeologist Hiram Bingham stumbled across it while searching for Vilcabamba – the ‘lost city of the Incas’.
Since its ‘discovery’ the complex has been extensively excavated as it was in a ruinous and overgrown state and today it is Peru’s number one tourist attraction in terms of money generated. While excavations have unearthed lots of unique art, sculpture and architecture, as yet archaeologists are still to determine why the settlement was abandoned. The presence of an extensive aqueduct system throughout the site has led some scholars to believe a climate change-induced lack of water could have been a major factor.