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Exploring Machu Picchu 100 Years After Hiram Bingham

A local farmer pointed American explorer and treasure-hunter Hiram Bingham toward a lost city high in the Peruvian Andes
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"Here men's feet rested at night
next to the eagles' feet...
and at dawn
they stepped with the thunder's feet onto the thinning mists"
- Pablo Neruda, "Alturos de Macchu Picchu"

One hundred years ago, an ancient ruin called the lost city of the Incas was rediscovered. A local farmer had pointed American explorer and treasure-hunter Hiram Bingham toward the lost city high in the Peruvian Andes, above what is now Cuzco, calling it "machu picchu," or "old peak." After hiking far up the mountain, an eleven-year-old local boy showed the American the rest of the way.

Machu Picchu was built by the Incan emperor Pachacuti at the height of the Inca empire around 1450. It was abandoned only 100 years later, many believe as a result of the Spanish conquest.

Neruda called the site "high city of laddered stone / finally resident of what is earthly" in perhaps his fine poem, "Alturos de Macchu Picchu." 140 stone structures comprise the site, along with terraced outcroppings for farming irrigated by an intricate system of fountains and aqueducts fed by underground springs.

Most striking of the structures include the Torreon, the Temple of the Sun, and the Intihuatana. The Torreon is perched on a huge rock over a small cave which is, according to local folklore, the birthplace of the Inca. At the Temple of the Sun, the sun falls trough a central window onto a large ceremonial stone at the winter solstice. The Intihuatana, or "hitching post of the sun," is a stone pillar believed to be an astronomic clock or calendar engineered to cast no shadow at midday on each of the equinoxes. The Inca believed the stone held the sun in place.

Machu Picchu is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and receives hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.