Sunday, 14 October 2012

Machu Picchu - Sacred Geography

Someone asked me why I have to go all the way to Peru to look at ruins.  My response - you have to be there to see that these are not just any ruins, you have to see the remarkable stone work in the buildings, framed against the backdrop of the layers of majestic mountains around the site and its amazing location on a saddle between two peaks, with steep drops on both sides of the ledge.  The latest interpretation is that Machu Picchu was a sacred site for the Incas because of its "sacred geography" (Machu Picchu, Exploring an ancient sacred center by Johan Reinhard and Turn right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams) - built on and around mountains and close to the sun - all of which were very significant for the Incas.  There were temples at all the high points on the site and sacred mountains at all the cardinal points.  Indeed, if you visit, make an effort to find some quiet time to steep in the majesty of the surrounding mountains; the spirituality of the site is palpable.  It was not easy to find it in the midst of the hordes that came through the gates, therefore it is important to strategize the itinerary, which our guide did.

The typical day trip to Machu Picchu had tourists leave from Cusco in the morning, spend 3.5 hours travelling on a bus, then a train then another bus before arriving middday at Machu Picchu; spend a few hours on the site then leave.   Our tour arrived mid-afternoon, just as other tourists were about to leave and the place gradually calmed down.  We spent some time on some of the important sites with our very knowledgeable guide and took our time because we knew we would return the following day.  Time and space was needed to get the most out of this unique place.  And I was glad I made an effort to find a tour that afforded two days at Machu Picchu.  You can see from the photos below how the mountains were everywhere and how the buildings echoed the mountains around them.

The main gate - you walked through and the entire Machu Picchu site opened up in front of you

View from the Principal Square - surrounded by "skyscraper" mountains

The "Royal Mausoleum" - one of the first pieces we saw.  The steps carved out of  a single piece of granite that grew from the earth below; behind it, the Incan three steps - heaven, earth and the underworld and beyond that, in the cave, first class stonework for buried royalty.  Above this cave, sat the the Torreon, the Temple of the Sun (photo below), so called because in the winter solstice in June, the sun would come through the east facing window and cast a rectangle of light onto the huge carved rock in front of it.  The only round building on the site, it was also aligned with the two mountains, one on each end - Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu, hence the suggestion that it was for mountain worship. 

A closer look at some of the first class stone work in some of the buildings - mortar less, perfectly cut and stacked

This is one of 16 fountains found on the site, part of a complex system of water supply on the site

The ever-present sacred mountains - which ever way we turned

The perfect symmetry of the portals

Steep drops (some terraced) on the sides all the way down to the Urubamba River, which curiously wrapped right around  the promontory that  Machu Picchu sat on - you can see the river coming around on the other side of Machu Picchu (photo below - lower right corner)

The main temple with its wall niches, foundation collapsed on one side, which was how the explorer Hiram Bingham found it in 1911.

Beside the main temple, is the Temple of the Three Windows, a significant Inca symbol.  The windows framed the mountains in front.  This area has been called the Sacred Plaza because of the temples and the Intihuatana (ritual rock) further up near the top of this site.  The rocks in these buildings are particularly large (some as much as three tons - see photo below) and the workmanship first class, denoting this as the most important area on the site.

Look at the precise fit of the rocks

This piece of rock in the sacred plaza must have been a compass - pointing exactly due north

78 steps took us up to this Intihuatana, a ritual stone that must have been also a sun dial.   It was said to give off energy and many visitors considered it a source of magnetic power.

The Sacred Ceremonial Stone - almost a perfect echo of the mountain behind it

The four Ecuadorian boys gave a sense of the size of the rock.  Guido, the boy in the orange poncho, had asked to have his picture taken with me earlier - what an honour!


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