Machu Picchu (Quechua: Machu Pikchu, "Old Peak", is a pre-Columbian Inca site located 2,430 metres (8,000 ft) above sea level. It is situated on a mountain ridge above the Urubamba Valley in Peru, which is 80 kilometres (50 mi) northwest of Cuzco and through which the Urubamba River flows. Often referred to as "The Lost City of the Incas", Machu Picchu is one of the most familiar symbols of the Inca Empire. The Incas started building it around AD 1430 but was abandoned as an official site for the Inca rulers a hundred years later at the time of the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire. Although known locally, it was largely unknown to the outside world before being brought to international attention in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, an American historian. Since then, Machu Picchu has become an important tourist attraction. Machu Picchu was declared a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary in 1981 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. Since it was not plundered by the Spanish when they conquered the Incas, it is especially important as a cultural site and is considered a sacred place. Machu Picchu was built in the classical Inca style, with polished dry-stone walls. Its primary buildings are the Intihuatana, the Temple of the Sun, and the Room of the Three Windows. These are located in what is known by archaeologists as the Sacred District of Machu Picchu. In September 2007, Peru and Yale University reached an agreement regarding the return of artifacts which Hiram Bingham had removed from Machu Picchu in the early twentieth century. History Machu Picchu was constructed around 1462, at the height of the Inca Empire.It was abandoned less than 100 years later. It is likely that most of its inhabitants were wiped out by smallpox before the Spanish conquistadores arrived in the area, and there is no record of the Spanish having known of the remote city. One theory about the purpose of the citadel, by Hiram Bingham, is that it was the traditional birthplace of the Inca of the "Virgins of the Suns". Another theory maintains that Machu Picchu was an Inca "llaqta", a settlement built to control the economy of these conquered regions. Yet another asserts that it may have been built as a prison for a select few who had committed heinous crimes against Inca society. Research conducted by scholars, such as John Rowe and Richard Burger, has convinced most archaeologists that Machu Picchu was an estate of the Inca emperor, Pachacuti. In addition, Johan Reinhard presented evidence that the site was selected because of its position relative to sacred landscape features such as its mountains, which are purported to be in alignment with key astronomical events that would have been important to the Incas. And still another theory is that it is an agricultural testing station, the purpose of which is to test different types of crops in the many different micro-climates afforded by the location and the terraces, which were not enough to grow food on a large scale, as much to determine what could grow where. View of the city of Machu Picchu in 1911 Although the citadel is located only about 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Cusco, the Inca capital, it was never found by the Spanish and consequently not plundered and destroyed, as was the case with many other Inca sites. Over the centuries, the surrounding jungle grew over much of the site, and few knew of its existence. On July 24, 1911, Machu Picchu was brought to the attention of scholars by Hiram Bingham, an American historian employed as a lecturer at Yale University. Bingham was led up to Machu Picchu by a local 11 year old Quechua boy named Pablito Alvarez. Bingham undertook archaeological studies and completed a survey of the area. Bingham coined the name "The Lost City of the Incas", which was the title of his first book. Bingham had been searching for the city of Vilcapampa, the last Inca refuge and spot of resistance during the Spanish conquest of Peru. In 1911, after years of previous trips and explorations around the zone, he was led to the citadel by Quechuans. These people were living in Machu Picchu, in the original Inca infrastructure. Bingham made several more trips and conducted excavations on the site through 1915, carrying off artifacts. He wrote a number of books and articles about the discovery of Machu Picchu in his lifetime. A complete overview of the site as seen from Huayna Picchu The site received significant publicity after the National Geographic Society devoted their entire April 1913 issue to Machu Picchu. An area of 325.92 square kilometers surrounding Machu Picchu was declared a "Historical Sanctuary" of Peru in 1971. In addition to the ruins, this sanctuary area includes a large portion of adjoining region, rich with flora and fauna. Machu Picchu was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1983 when it was described as "an absolute masterpiece of architecture and a unique testimony to the Inca civilization". On July 7, 2007, Machu Picchu was voted as one of New Open World Corporation's New Seven Wonders of the World. The World Monuments Fund placed Machu Picchu on its 2008 Watch List of the 100 Most Endangered Sites in the world because of environmental degradation resulting from the impact of tourism, uncontrolled development in the nearby town of Aguas
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