The Incas: Machu Picchu, Cuzco, Inca Trail

The Inca Civilization: Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu's walls,
Ancient Inca citadel,
Mountain fortress high.

The Inca Civilization Machu Picchu Art

Hiram Bingham, the American explorer who found the ruins of Machu Picchu in 1911, wrote:

The Incas built a notable civilization in western South America in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The center of their empire was in present-day Cuzco, Peru.

In the beginning the word Inca, which means king or emperor, was the term applied only to the chief of that remarkable people whose courage and genius for organization had enabled them to conquer most of Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia, as well as the northern parts of Chile and Argentina. Then came the Spanish conquistadors in the sixteenth century and applied the term to the ruling class, members of the Inca's family and the nobles and priests who governed the Inca Empire. Soon, however, they were all killed off and by the end of the century scarcely one was to be found anywhere. The builders of Machu Picchu were the descendants of generations of skilled artisans, but those who directed the workmen were the Incas whose capital for centuries was Cuzco.

Strictly speaking, the first Inca was a war-like chieftain of the Quichua tribe of Indians who ruled Cuzco about 1200 A.D. and was worshipped as a demi-god, the son of the Sun. It was perhaps only a hundred years before the arrival of Pizarro and the conquistadors that the ninth Inca, properly so called, extended the Empire as far north as Ecuador and as far south as Argentina. As a matter of fact the Inca Empire had just about reached its apogee and passed its prime when the Spaniards landed. Had they arrived in the days of the great Inca Pachacuti (ca. 1450) they would have received short shrift. As it happened they arrived when the empire was weakened by a long civil war.

As there are no written records and the interpretation of the quipus or knotted cords as well as the history of the past depended on the memory or the imagination of the persons who where interviewed by the first Spanish chroniclers, we cannot be certain of dates or events. It appears likely that the development of such arts and sciences as Agriculture, Metallurgy, Ceramics, Weaving and Engineering took place chiefly in the centuries which preceded the first Inca. There were many Peruvian tribes that had been independent nations long enough, before they were conquered by the Incas, to develop remarkable artistic ability in ceramics and textiles.

One of the most interesting places in the world is Cuzco, the ancient capital of the Empire of the Incas. In the days of the Spanish Conquest of Peru it was the largest city in America. On a hill back of it is an old fortress, a place of refuge for centuries. The northern wall of that fortress is perhaps the most extraordinary structure built by ancient man in the Western Hemisphere. In fact, as an achievement of engineering, it stands without parallel in American antiquity. The smaller blocks in the wall weigh ten or twenty tons. Larger blocks are estimated to weigh two hundred tons. A few of the largest weigh three hundred tons! And yet are fitted accurately together. There are no clamps. There was no cement used in constructing the wall. The gigantic polygonal blocks cling so closely together that is impossible to insert the point of a knife between them. An they were brought from quarries more than a mile away where they were fashioned by people using stone tools. They were moved over an inclined plane by levers. The Incas had no iron or steel, but they had bronze crowbars of great strength. They had no derricks or pulleys or wheels but they had thousands of patient workers. The determination and the perseverance of the builder stagger the imagination. It makes one admire the Incas and wish to learn more about them.



‘Lost City of the Incas, The Story of Machu Picchu and its Builders’ by Hiram Bingham
The American explorer who found the ruins of Machu Picchu in 1911

Hiram Bingham at Machu Picchu
The inspiration for Indiana Jones?