While I was not born in Humboldt County, my emotional ties to it runs deep. Far from the suburbs of Detroit that I grew up in, the place instills in me a deep sense of awe and attachment that I have not found in many other places in the world. The grandeur of the coastlines, trees, and mountains continually call to me. The more time I spend playing and rambling through those mountains, rivers, and ocean, the closer this connection gets. It is my favorite place on earth.
Machu Picchu runs a close second.
It is absolutely awe inspiring. On a number of levels.
Of course, there is the view. When I hiked over the initial crest, got to the overlook and the site came into view, I was stopped dead in my tracks. 360 degrees of eye popping majesty. Every direction I turned had some new piece of eye candy to soak up. My eyes were first drawn to the lush Andean spires that surround the ruins on all sides. It almost felt as if the jagged, forbidding peaks were protecting Machu Picchu from outsiders. (Which, as it turns out, is likely the case.) Huayna Picchu, the peak directly behind Machu Picchu is the most prominent and the most striking. My gaze tumbled down the mountains into the deep valleys that have been carved out by the Urubamba river far below. If it was really, really quiet, I could hear the rushing river tumbling over rocks some 1,500 feet below. My eyes crawled back up to Machu Picchu. The site alone is actually quite lovely; green terraces laid out in neat rows that march triumphantly down the mountain side, small, tidy homes for workers (or slaves), the Temple of the Sun overlooking the whole development. Architecturally, the place is very appealing.
Which brings me to my next reason that it is so inspiring; the level of craftsmanship. I dabble in woodworking and have a few of the tools that woodworkers use today to bring out the natural beauty and shape of the wood that they work with. Much of this equipment is expensive, relatively complicated, and makes the woodworker’s job much, much easier than it had been in the past. What did the Inca use to sculpt multi-ton slabs of rock into intricate tightly jointed “bricks”?
That’s right, while scholars still really aren’t quite sure how the Incas built such majestic, finely sculpted structures, their best guess is that they pounded the heck out of large rocks with smaller rocks. Some of these sculpted rocks weighed six tons! They started the process by picking a big rock that was just lying around the site. (Our guide pointed to many piles of rock that were likely going to be used for more building). Workers (slaves) would pound, sculpt, and shape the rock to something that was (hopefully) close to the correct fit. They then picked the rock up and tried it in place. It likely didn’t fit the first time, so they had to move the six ton behemoth off and start again. It is inferred that it sometimes took a group of workers many months to shape just one rock correctly.
The scale of the site and remoteness also lends to its mystique. Machu Picchu is about 45 miles from Cusco, the Inca capital. It would have taken at least a week’s hike to get to it from the capital city. Not only was it incredibly difficult to get to, but to also build and maintain. It is large and could house up to 1,000 people. The thing is, there wasn’t room to grow enough food to support all of the people that stayed there. It had to be shipped in. This is all a strong testament to the scope and will of these ancient people. Food was likely supplied by a steady stream of people hiking the dozens of miles from Cusco and back on an almost daily basis.
Finally, there is still an awfully lot of mystery surrounding the purpose of Machu Pichu. Why did the Incas build it in the first place? The Incas never had a written language, so there aren’t any primary documents that archeologists and historians could use to tease out any purpose. Most of the Incas were wiped out by the Spanish conquistadors of the 1500s, so much of that knowledge was lost in the genocide.
Scientists can only make inferences. Maybe it was a summer home for Pachacuti, the 9th Inca emperor that was responsible for the era of large Inca expansion? Was it was a site for the Sisters of the Sun; a group of religious women that were known for seclusion? It could have been used as a university for the Inca upper class to study astronomy and religion. We just don’t know at this point. We might never know for sure.