We made it!

Machu Picchu is literally breathtaking, stunning, amazing, wonderful, mysterious and completely incredible.  Surrounded by mountains, it is a feat of engineering, a marvel of construction, and something we’ll never forget.

Built by the Incas between 1450 and 1540, it was abandoned when the Spanish arrived in an effort to preserve it from destruction. Luckily, it was never discovered and remained as it was built until the 20th century.  Local peoples knew of the site, and one family was even farming its terraces when American historian Hiram Bingham discovered the site in 1911.

It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, and was named one of the seven New Wonders of the World in 2007.  2500 visitors descend on the site daily.  Despite this, it never felt busy or overcrowded, and there were many corners and buildings to look at where you found yourself completely alone.  There are many sections to Machu Picchu: temples, residential buildings, farm buildings, storage facilities, farming terraces, and many other buildings whose original uses have long been forgotten.

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After exploring the jungle we flew back to Cusco.  Cusco  is one of the largest cities in Peru, with over 350,000 inhabitants, and over 1 million visitors every year!   The city was the capital of the Inca Empire, and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.  It’s surrounded by the amazing Andes mountains, and as such, its kinda high up:  3,400m (11,200 ft).   We spent a night and day here to help us get acclimatized to the altitude difference.  Luckily Mike and I were not overly effected, thank goodness.

I really loved touring around the city, and it is fantastically steeped in history.  Cusco has been inhabited since approximately 1000, however it became an official capital with the Inca Civilization from 1300-1532.  The evidence of the Incas buildings are everywhere.  The civilization itself only lasted a short time, however their buildings are  very much still standing.  In the centre of the city many building foundations date back to this time.  In this picture you can see the incredible building on the right side.  The stones are pressed together so tightly you couldn’t even fit a razor blade between them.  Also notice how they are not completely 90 degrees, but slightly tapered?  This was constructed by the Incas to withstand earthquakes.  Clearly an effective strategy!

After Francisco Pizarro and the Spanish invaded in 1532, everything changed for the Incas.  Many of the native peoples were killed by the conquistadors, and many more died of things like smallpox and flu (sounds familiar, eh?).    It was very interesting to hear the perspective of our tour guide, who was ethnically Quechua – pre-contact Peruvian.  Their language, culture and peoples were largely obliterated by the invaders, and their temples and buildings looted for gold and jewels.   The Spanish were incredibly pragmatic however, and realized that Inca temples were too good to destroy, so converted many of them to Catholic churches.

This photo is taken from the inside courtyard of a Catholic church, the Convento De Santo Domingo Del Cusco.  On the right hand side, behind the colums, you can see the original Inca walls.  The original building was the most important temple in the entire empire: Qorikancha.

Qorikancha was a temple of the sun, and its walls were literally covered in gold.  Sheets of pure gold.  Can you imagine?!  All of it was stripped by the Incas to pay the ransom on their leader, Atahualpa, who had been kidnapped by the Spanish.  It didn’t do much good: Pizarro took the gold and killed Atahualpa anyway.

The buildings in dowtown Cusco are really lovely, if you are into Spanish architecture.  The grand squares, churches and government buildings are all very impressive and well kept.  We  stumbled on this parade taking place in the main square, Plaza de Armas.

We didnt get a chance to go into the cathedral in the picture, which is a real shame, because it contains a couple somewhat subversive paintings.  Commissioned by the Spanish but painted by a local, the local artist painted a portrait of Judas, but depicted him as Pizarro (oh snap!).  The same artist also reproduced the last supper, but depicted the meal as a giant guinea pig.  Classic!