Machu Picchu is an Incan citadel set high in the Andes Mountains in Peru, above the Urubamba River valley. Built in the 15th century and later abandoned, it’s renowned for its sophisticated dry-stone walls that fuse huge blocks without the use of mortar, intriguing buildings that play on astronomical alignments, and panoramic views. Its exact former use remains a mystery.
Machu Picchu was built around 1450, at the height of the Inca Empire. Its construction appears to date to the period of the two great Incas, Pachacutec Inca Yupanqui (1438–71) and Tupac Inca Yupanqui (1472–93). It was abandoned just over 100 years later, in 1572, as a belated result of the Spanish Conquest.
It is possible that most of its inhabitants died from smallpox introduced by travellers before the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the area. The conquistadors had notes of a place called Piccho, although there is no record of the Spanish having visited the remote city. The types of sacred rocks defaced by the conquistadors in other locations are untouched at Machu Picchu.
The site may have been discovered and plundered in 1867 by a German businessman, Augusto Berns. There is some evidence that a German engineer, J. M. von Hassel, arrived earlier. Maps found by historians show references to Machu Picchu as early as 1874.
View of the city of Machu Picchu in 1912 showing the original ruins after major clearing and before modern reconstruction work began.
Although the citadel is located only about 80 kilometers (50 mi) from Cusco, the Inca capital, the Spanish never found it and so did not plunder or destroy it, as they did many other sites. Over the centuries, the surrounding jungle grew over the site, and few outside the immediate area knew of its existence.