This magnificent mountain in the Peruvian Andes is Huanya Picchu.
To me it looks like a great green ghost, its strong stone arms wrapped protectively around the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu .
Machu Picchu, meaning “Ancient Mountain,” was built in the 15th century, at the peak of Incan culture. One of the greatest artistic, architectural, and land use achievements of the world, it was chosen as a World Heritage Site in 1983.
No one can say for certain, as the Incas had no written language, but it is thought to have been a royal estate, perhaps a summer retreat, or maybe a religious center.
It was so remote that the Spanish conquerors never found it, but it was by no means isolated.
It was connected to the vast Incan Empire by a royal highway called The Inca Trail, linking Machu Picchu to 25, 000 miles of roadway, the Incan version of the Internet. Special runners called “Chasquis” traveled as far as 240K in a day to keep the king connected, or to deliver delicacies to his dinner table. Runners could rest at stations along the way, or relay messages by tag-team.
Much of The Inca Trail survives to this day. This section leads to the Sun Gate.
Another steep trail leading in the other direction hugged the cliffside. This Incan drawbridge made it impossible for outsiders to invade the city…
…unless you count tourists.
The grand view was worth the walk.
Machu Picchu is surrounded on the other three sides by steep cliffs and a raging river, making it practically impregnable.
Magnificent. Dramatic. Ingenious. Grand.
Machu Picchu’s grandeur can be found in the details. Like the integration of natural elements into its design, shaping the city to fit into its surroundings. Terraces not only took on the curve of the mountain, but prevented landslides and provided a hanging garden for growing crops.
Its location was a matter of sacred geography. It was situated among mountains with religious significance to the Incas…
…and is perfectly aligned for key astronomical events.
This instrument cut into the bedrock was used for astronomical observations.
The Incans worshipped the mountains as gods, and this was reflected in their building.
Everywhere we turned, we saw natural features incorporated into the design.
Architecture mirrored nature’s design.
Walls were built around huge boulders, which remained cradled in the earth where they had slept since the mountains were born.
This did not prevent Incan engineers from using natural features to provide creature comforts, such as running water.
On our second visit, the clouds lifted. We arrived in time to see the morning sun turn gray stones gold.
We tried to imagine what it might have been like to have lived there half a millennium ago…
The dry stone walls were constructed without mortar, with some stones fitted so tight a blade of grass couldn’t squeeze between them. Even so, the ancients must’ve worked hard to keep the jungle at bay…
…just as they do today. There were redshirts perched on ladders, whose full time job was to keep the weeds from taking over.
The backstairs whispered ancient secrets, but we couldn’t quite make them out.
We could only wonder at the world around us.
…a tiny miracle.
Great civilizations come and go….
…and life goes on.
As hard as we try to unlock them…
…Machu Picchu’s walls hold onto their secrets.
In the grand scheme of things, what does it matter if we don’t know all the answers?
It is a privilege to be there…
…following in the footsteps….
…of the ancient ones.
All images and words copyright 2013 Naomi Baltuck
While we are on the subject of GRAND, I’d like to introduce you to a not-so-ancient wonder of the world. My cousin Haskell is a little like Forest Gump, in that, after serving in World War II, followed by a lifetime of service in the Merchant Marines, I’m not kidding–he has been there and done that, and can tell you all about it in grand style. Except for one thing. Somehow, through all his amazing adventures, he never got around to learning to play the autoharp. Until last June.
I love you, Haskell, and I’m so lucky to have you in my family! Here’s to Rum and Coke, and jamming next year in Seattle, and feeling better soon!