Machu Picchu History Through Time

Machu Picchu Citadel History Through Time

The Inca citadel of Machu Picchu was built by the last and most powerful civilization on the American continent.  The Inca dynasty built a powerful citadel, on top of a mountain in the Peruvian Andes. Machu Picchu represents the greatness of the Inca empire; following we will detail you the Machu Picchu History Through Time:


Machu Picchu citadel before the Incas.

Archaeological investigations show, that the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu was not inhabited by any type of kingdom, before the arrival of the Incas. It is true that ceramic remains from other chiefdoms were found; However they are not in the surroundings of the citadel itself.

The findings made in the vicinity of Machu Picchu are too few to conclude; that the lost city of the Incas was inhabited by another chiefdom, 3 thousand years ago. This group known, as the “Marcavalle” were nomads who were in a sedentary process, so we concluded that they should be passing through this region, while searching for more fertile land.

It is important to mention, that Peruvian archaeologists found a lot of archaeological evidence of the Wari chiefdom (chiefdom that developed in Peru between the 8th and 13th centuries); In Vilcabamba, specifically in Espiritu Pampa. It should be noted, that Espiritu Pampa was the most important city in the Machu Picchu region, in the 15th century; so we believe that the Wari may have been in Machu Picchu as well.

What we are clear about, is that the Machu Picchu region was massively populated; once the Inca empire arrived in the area.

Machu Picchu citadel in the Inca period.


All the archaeological, historical, and other science analyzes, show that Machu Picchu in the time of the Incas, was an important urbanistic and religious site.

According to the number of houses registered in the citadel, we can conclude that between 400 and 500 people permanently lived there.

A large part of the population of Machu Picchu was mainly dedicated to agriculture, a few to the manufacture of ceramics, textiles and practical and religious metal objects. In addition, a small part of the Inca nobility was dedicated to perform magical religious rites.

To feed the population of Machu Picchu; this people, built agricultural platforms within the Inca citadel, as well as in the surrounding sectors. (The places currently known as: Mandor, Hidroeléctrica, Aguas Calientes, Patallacta, Intipata, Wiñaywayna, etc).

The enormous network of Inca trails built to communicate Machu Picchu, with the surrounding towns, favored trade with the rest of the empire. However, after the death of Pachacútec, the ninth Inca emperor: as well as the construction of other citadels and trails; Machu Picchu lost prominence little by little.

Machu Picchu history through time.


Machu Picchu citadel during the wars in Vilcabamba 1537-1572.

Due to the geographical location of the Inca citadel, between the Andean foothills and within the Amazon jungle. Machu Picchu was a strategic point, during the wars waged by Manco Inca and the other rebel Incas in the Vilcabamba region between 1537 and 1572.

According to archaeological and historical investigations. We can conclude that the inhabitants of the Vilcabamba and Machu Picchu region; were recruited for the Manco Inca army between 1537 and 1572.

The few inhabitants who remained in the citadel of Machu Picchu, continued to cultivate the land; part of the products cultivated in this area, served to provide food for the army and the rebel nobility of Vilcabamba.

According to many investigations and some chronicles; in 1570 the Inca rebel from Vilcabamba called: Titu Cusi Yupanqui reached an agreement with the Spanish. So that Augustinian friars would come to evangelize the inhabitants of Vilcabamba and Machu Picchu. It is important to name, that according to the historian Luis Guillermo Lumbreras, probably the temple of the sun of Machu Picchu was burned by the Spanish evangelizers.

Finally, in 1572, the Inca army and nobility of Vilcabamba was defeated. From that year on, the last 4 inhabitants who remained in the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu were transferred to Ollantaytambo, a town that is 2 hours from Cusco and that; at that time was the most important in the region.


Machu Picchu in colonial times.

Machu Picchu citadel, was inhabited only for around 110 years (between 1460 to 1572). The nobility that existed is very likely to have left Machu Picchu, to go to a safer place like Vilcabamba; during the first war between the Inca rebel army and Spanish in 1537.

In 1572, the last resistance of the Inca nobility was finally defeated; after the capture and beheading of the Inca rebel from Vilcabamba called Tupac Amaru l. The Inca population was left to their free will and due to the lack of communication and trade with other important andean peoples; they ended up, systematically leaving the citadel of Machu Picchu, later the vegetation quickly covered the place.

Conformable to colonial documents, we know that the Spanish invaders knew of the existence of Machu Picchu. The documents mention, that the few farmers who lived there; had to pay taxes through baskets of coca leaves and peppers once a year in the city of Ollantaytambo. Whose encomendero (tax administrator and main evangelization manager for a specific region) was Hernando Pizarro.

However, it should be mentioned, that the Spanish invaders did not usually visit Machu Picchu; This is surely due to the distance from the city of Cusco and the abruptness of the trail; as well as the little economic importance, that the tributes of Machu Picchu represented to them at the time.

Take advantage of this incredible summary about Machu Picchu history through time


Machu picchu citadel in republican era.

On July 28, 1821, Peru finally became independent from the Spanish crown. The region surrounding Machu Picchu continued to be an important agricultural area for the region; while the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu was completely abandoned.

The landowners who acquired these properties, also showed no interest in cultivating the fertile but difficult lands of the Inca citadel. Instead, its fertile lands and temperate climate attracted people from remote areas. Distant regions like Machu Picchu in the Republican era, were exempt from paying taxes to landowners and clergy.

There is documented evidence that in 1865, the Italian naturalist researcher: Antonio Raimondi reached the foothills of the Machu Picchu region, but without being able to visit the Inca citadel.

According to the investigations of the American historian Paolo Greer. In 1867 the German businessman Augusto Berns would have arrived at the Inca citadel with the permission of the Peruvian government. Signing a spectacular and irregular contract with the Peruvian government, where 90% of the finds of metals such as gold, silver, copper and bronze would be for his own benefit; Berns dedicated himself to unearthing the treasures of Machu Picchu and the surrounding regions.

In 1870 the first maps, were made where the existence of the Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu mountains is mentioned. In 1880, the famous explorer Charles Wiener claims, that there is an archaeological site between the two mentioned mountains. However, due to logistical and time constraints, he was unable to get there.

For many years, local peasants knew the location of the citadel of Machu Picchu and visit it regularly; proof of this, is the graffiti made on one of the windows of the sector known as the Temple of the three windows. The graffiti was made in 1902 and the names of: Enrique Palma, Gabino Sánchez, Agustín Lizárraga, and Justo Ochoa appear.


The rediscovery of Machu Picchu.

In 1911, the explorer and professor of Latin American history at Yale University, the American Hiram Bingham arrived at Machu Picchu; however he was interested in discovering the lost city of the Incas known as: Vilcabamba the great.

In Machu Picchu, Hiram Bingham would find two families settled south of the ruins: the Recharte family and the Álvarez family. Later, a boy named Pablito (son of the Recharte family), would be the one who guided the American explorer through the thick vegetation; until reaching the most important urban and religious sector of the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu.

Hiram Bingham immediately understood the enormous historical and archaeological value of his discovery, so he requested the sponsorship of Yale University in the United States; as well as the support of the National Geographic Society, the Kodak photography company, the Lomellini family and the Government of Peru.

Thus began, the archaeological excavations of the Inca citadel; excavation work at Machu Picchu was carried out between 1912 and 1915: a period in which they also cut and burned the vegetation that covered the Inca citadel.

Although Hiram Bingham arrived at Machu Picchu and made known, its historical and archaeological importance to the entire world; we cannot give him the title of “discoverer” of the Inca citadel: since this place was already known by the local population and was never forgotten, nor was it completely lost as previously believed. The most appropriate thing, would be to recognize the American explorer as the: “scientific discoverer of Machu Picchu”.

Machu Picchu history through time.


The current Machu Picchu history through time.

Between 1912 and 1915 the citadel of Machu Picchu was under intense scientific excavation work. About 46322 pieces of ceramics, textiles and sculptures were found, in addition to 112 human skeletons and around 500 skeletons of mammals, birds, reptiles and fish.

Despite the fact that Machu Picchu was shown to the world through 11 thousand photographs in National Geographic Magazine in 1913. In Peru the Inca citadel was still unknown to the majority of the population. The talented Peruvian photographers Juan Manuel Figueroa and Martín Chambi published images of Machu Picchu in Peruvian magazines between 1924 and 1928. Due to these photographs, the interest of the Peruvian people for the new Inca citadel increased significantly.

Starting in 1950, the construction of highways and railway lines to the town of Aguas Calientes began. Due to this, the tourist interest in the citadel of Machu Picchu increased. This period is also marked by the strategic abandonment of conservation and protection of the citadel.

It was only in 1970 that archaeological research and other science projects were carried out in Machu Picchu.

In 1981 Machu Picchu was declared “Historic Sanctuary of Peru”. In 1983 it was declared a Cultural and Natural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. While in 2007 it is recognized as one of the new “7 wonders of the modern world” by virtual voting conducted worldwide.

Currently the Inca citadel, receives around 6000 tourists a day in high tourism season, a situation that puts the lost city of the Incas at structural risk.

Machu Picchu history through time.

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