Machu Picchu was pilgrimage center, not true city, say researchers

June 14th, 2009 - 1:32 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, June 14 (ANI): An Italian study has concluded that Machu Picchu, the “lost city of the Incas,” was not a true city, but rather a pilgrimage center symbolically connected to the Andean vision of the cosmos.

According to Giulio Magli, professor of archaeoastronomy at Milan’s Polytechnic University, Machu Picchu was the ideal counterpart of the Island of Sun, a rocky islet in the southern part of Lake Titicaca.

“This island had a very important sanctuary which was a destination of pilgrimage. An apparently insignificant rock was believed to be the place of birth of the sun, and therefore of the Inca civilization,” Magli told Discovery News.

Surrounded on three sides by the gorges of the Urubamba River, and tucked between two massive mountain peaks - the Huayna Picchu and the Machu Picchu - the Inca city features about 200 stone structures and was probably inhabited by no more than 750 people.

After its abandonment at the time of the Spanish conquest, it was lost to the jungle for nearly 500 years, and was then discovered by Hiram Bingham, an American explorer, in 1911.

Machu Picchu has been wrongly identified as the traditional birthplace of the Inca people, their final stronghold, and a sacred center occupied by virgins devoted to the sun god.

“Any interpretation is doomed to remain speculative. Machu Picchu remains a mystery. We do not know for sure what the Inca called it, we do not know when and why it was constructed, or why it was abandoned,” Magli said.

Published on the Cornell University physics Web site, Magli’s study examined Machu Picchu’s urban layout, its ancient access ways, and the position of the site in relation with the cycles of celestial bodies during the Inca’s reign.

He then compared these aspects to a well-documented Inca pilgrimage site on Lake Titicaca, located on the border of Bolivia and Peru.

According to Magli, the pilgrimage to Machu Picchu avoided a much easier and faster route along the Urubamba River, instead ascending through the difficult and spectacular Inca trail, which ended at the gate of the town.

“The admitted visitors perhaps left their ritual offerings just near the entrance wall. Indeed, many peculiar stone pebbles, mainly of obsidian, have been recovered there,” Magli said.

“The pilgrims were then confronted by the imposing view of the Huayna Picchu mountain. Most likely, this was their final destination. Indeed, the last part of the pilgrimage, oriented north, took place inside the town,” he added. (ANI)

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