Machu Picchu — “The First Tourist”

by The Boulevardiers

Machu Picchu, prior to excavation

Machu Picchu, prior to excavation

 

 

Machu Picchu 2014, photograph by Kim Steele

Machu Picchu 2014, photograph by Kim Steele

 

“The Explorer” by Rudyard Kipling, “Something lost behind the Ranges. 

Lost and waiting for you. Go!”

The Boulevardiers have been to the mountain, and climbed it. Machu Picchu, the Old Peak…and Huayna Picchu, the New Peak, to be exact. Sources noted below have reviewed its “discovery”. There is no clear and definitive history, however having just conquered the climb, altitude, and returned from Peru, our choice of title for this post reflects Peruvian characterization of the colorful scientist, Hiram Bingham III. Bingham’s photographs tell his story, ours add some current context, and we leave it to ours readers to connect all dotted lines.

 

Machhu Picchu, photograph by Hiram Bingham III

Machhu Picchu, photograph by Hiram Bingham III

 

 

Machu Picchu 2014, photograph by Kim Steele

Machu Picchu 2014, photograph by Kim Steele

 

THE LEGEND and THE TRUTH:

Britannica.com: Machu Picchu, also spelled Machupijchu, site of ancient Inca ruins located about 50 miles (80 km) northwest of Cuzco, Peru, in the Cordillera de Vilcabamba of the Andes Mountains. It is perched above the Urubamba River valley in a narrow saddle between two sharp peaks—Machu Picchu (“Old Peak”) and Huayna Picchu (“New Peak”)—at an elevation of 7,710 feet (2,350 metres). One of the few major pre-Columbian ruins found nearly intact, Machu Picchu was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983.

 

View of Machu Picchu, photograph by Hiram Bingham III

View of Machu Picchu, photograph by Hiram Bingham III

 

“Although the site escaped detection by the Spaniards, it may have been visited by the German adventurer Augusto Berns in 1867. However, Machu Picchu’s existence was not widely known in the West until it was “discovered” in 1911 by the Yale University professorHiram Bingham, who was led to the site by Melchor Arteaga, a local Quechua-speaking resident. Bingham had been seeking Vilcabamba (Vilcapampa), the “lost city of the Incas,” from which the last Inca rulers led a rebellion against Spanish rule until 1572.”

Wikipedia: It is possible that most of its inhabitants died from smallpox introduced by travelers before the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the area. The latter had notes of a place called Piccho, although there is no record of the Spanish having visited the remote city.

 

Hiram Bingham III

Hiram Bingham III

 

Smithsonian.com: Bingham’s persistent search for the fabled Incan capital culminated on July 24, 1911. Weary from hiking for hours, directed by a friendly pair of local farmers, he marched into the mountains accompanied by a local guide and a Peruvian policeman until “suddenly we found ourselves in the midst of a jungle-covered maze of small and large walls,” he wrote in an account published in Harper’s Monthly in April 1913. Writing to his wife Alfreda, “my new Inca City, Mach Picchu … is far more wonderful and interesting than Choquequirao. The stone is as fine as any in Cuzco! It is unknown and will make a fine story.”

 

Hiram Bingham's Expedition Map

Hiram Bingham’s Expedition Map

 

“Surprise followed surprise until there came the realization that we were in the midst of as wonderful ruins as any ever found in Peru,” he wrote. He had come upon Machu Picchu (“old peak” in Quechua). While there was evidence of graffiti left by a local mule driver, he added, “It is possible that not even the conquistadors ever saw this wonderful place.”

 

Hiram Bingham III, in front of the Sacred Mountain Rock

Hiram Bingham III, in front of the Sacred Mountain Rock

 

Bingham’s chronicle brought him acclaim (“The greatest archaeological discovery of the age,” the New York Times called it), but now archaeologists in Peru contend that he was not the first outsider to come upon the 15th-century Incan city’s ruins, as well he should have known.

“The presence of several German, British and American explorers is recognized, and that they had drawn up maps,” says Jorge Flores Ochoa, a Peruvian anthropologist. Bingham “had more academic knowledge…But he was not describing a place that was unknown.”

The contention is not new. For example, in a September 8, 1916, letter to the Times, German mining engineer Carl Haenel said he had accompanied the explorer J.M. von Hassel to the area in 1910, though he offered no documentation of such a journey. But even Bingham admitted that “it seemed almost incredible that this city, only five days’ journey from Cuzco, should have remained so long undescribed and comparatively unknown.”

 

Hiram Bingham lll, photographs of Machu Picchu from National Geographic Magazine, April 1913

Hiram Bingham lll, photographs of Machu Picchu from National Geographic Magazine, April 1913

 

Richard L. Burger, a professor of anthropology at Yale, where Bingham taught Latin American history from 1907 to 1915, says he’s skeptical of the Peruvian assertions. If others did visit, he says, they either came to pillage or didn’t recognize the site’s importance. Besides, he adds, Bingham “never claimed to have been the first modern person to have set foot in Machu Picchu.” In Peru, some people have called Bingham the “scientific discoverer of Machu Picchu,” Burger says. “I think that is fairly accurate.”

Yale, for its part, is embroiled in a dispute with the government of Peru over the artifacts and bones that Bingham brought home. In 2007, the university agreed to return most of them in exchange for keeping some for further research. In a lawsuit filed last December in federal court, however, the government of Peru said Yale must return the entire collection.

 

 

Machu Picchu 2014, photograph by Kim Steele

Machu Picchu 2014, photograph by Kim Steele

 

 

The grandeur of the site still stupefies the tourist today.  The remoteness of the site and the efficiency of the Peruvian government to protect it is a testimony to the spiritual power of the remarkable achievement of the Inkas.  The stone work is remarkable with the fine detailing and close fitting of the immense stones, as can be seen elsewhere in the Empire, particularly in their capital Cusco. Unfortunately for them, after only sixty years of the unification of their vast Empire ranging from Columbia down to central Chile, and the grading over 40,000 kilometers of pathways, more than the Roman Empire, the Spanish arrived and decimated their population with disease and genocide.

 

 

Macchu Pichu 2014, photograph by Kim Steele

Macchu Pichu 2014, photograph by Kim Steele

 

Some Machu Picchu facts:

Machu Picchu is composed of over 150 structures that include, temples, houses, sanctuaries and baths.

There are more than 100 flights of stairs in the compound most of which are carved from a single slab of stone.

Machu Picchu was also used as an astronomical observatory and the Intihuatana, a sacred stone shows the two equinoxes. The sun shines directly on the stone without any shadow twice annually.

 

And, the disputed Mach Picchu artifacts:

The dispute was resolved through two separate agreements. The first, between Yale and the Peruvian government, established that the university would return all of the objects by the end of 2012.

The second established a partnership between Yale and the San Antonio Abad University in Cuzco to share stewardship of the collection. The schools will also collaborate on academic research. Keeping the antiquities in a scholarly setting was key, says David Bingham, grandson of the explorer who found them.

 

 

Machu Picchu 2014, photograph by Kim Steele

Machu Picchu 2014, photograph by Kim Steele

 

 

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