Holy Lands of the World Machu Picchu or Vilcapampa

About the Holy Land Machu Picchu or Vilcapampa in Latin America a sacred place in the Incas religion, history and information.


On July 24, 1911, a dauntless American archaeologist named Hiram Bingham made an incomparable discovery on the summit of a precipice over a foaming river. In a search for the last Inca capital, he found the Lost City of the Incas, now called Machu Picchu ("old mountain"), but once known as Vilcapampa, a center of sun worship. He saw a breathtaking array of temples, palaces, plazas, and numerous stairways--a city of white granite structures of unsurpassed beauty, made with matchless skill. In the distance were hundreds of stone-faced terraces where crops had been grown to feed the inhabitants of this magnificent stone sanctuary. These included Incan Emperors and nobles, Priests of the Sun, and Chosen Women, or Virgins of the Sun, a corps of female assistants trained from childhood and chosen for their beauty. Authorized visitors to the sacred precincts had to undergo purification rites and remove their sandals as a sign of humility; unauthorized visitors were excluded physically by walls and psychologically by the threat of death.

This is where the last Incan Emperors found refuge from Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century. This is where the 1st Inca, Manco the Great (c. 1200) built a memorial temple with 3 great windows facing the rising sun. Other buildings on the site are the Principal Temple and the Semicircular Temple, revered for the royal burial place underneath it. Its gently sloping, curved outer wall was a model for the famous Temple of the Sun in Cuzco. Above all, the Incas had to placate the sun-god, though lesser homage was paid to moon, stars, thunder, and lightning. High in the Andes Mountains, on the Peruvian plateau, the rarefied atmosphere does not retain the heat of the sun, and nights were bitter cold. There was no guarantee the sun would return from its annual journey northward, and fear was acute at the time of their winter solstice on June 21 or 22. Only the priests could stop its flight. This they did by roping a huge gold disk, representing the sun, to a stone pillar called the Intihuatama, "the place to which the sun is tied," or colloquially, "hitching post of the sun." The Spaniards used to destroy these structures, but never reached the one at Machu Picchu, which stands intact. We can imagine the ceremonial processions of the priests and Chosen Women up the white granite stairways to Intihuatama Hill, where the priests extended their hands to the rising sun and threw kisses to it as an act of reverence.

When the Inca dynasty ended in 1572, the city was gradually abandoned, and it remained hidden from view due to its unique location. Machu Picchu is today a holy place, where tourists arrive by train, then take a bus up 5-mi.-long Hiram Bingham Highway, to look upon a marvelous sight. Surrounded by dizzy slopes, they sense the height and depth of creation. Gazing upon the vast panorama and eerie quietude of Machu Picchu, they thrill to the mystery of the past.

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