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Full Circle

Day 190: Machu Picchu to Quillabamba

The Sacred Valley, Peru 
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Villagers in the Sacred Valley. Life hasn't changed since Inca times.
Michael Palin - Full CircleThe sacred rock is called Intihuatana, meaning roughly 'the hitching-post of the sun'. It's a carved stone block called a gnomon, whose four corners are aligned not only with the four cardinal points but also in direct line to four sacred peaks in the surrounding mountains (the same synchronicity we saw at Borobudur in Java). The Incas were animists and believed the mountains were gods, and that the sun was the greatest god of all, so this stone must have been the most important site in the city of Machu Picchu. Sacred stones like this are now extremely rare, as the Catholic Spanish made it a priority to wipe out the most revered artefacts of what they saw as pagan sun-worship. This raises the as yet unanswered mystery. Why, when the Spanish so systematically destroyed Inca culture, did they leave Machu Picchu alone? It is now considered almost certain that the Spanish never knew the city existed. Yet, the Inca rulers of nearby Cuzco who first welcomed Pissaro would almost certainly have told him of the existence of such a significant strategic city. So perhaps the Incas of that time didn't know it existed either. Perhaps it had been built but already abandoned, possibly because of plague or war. The mystery is intriguing. It cannot have been quick or easy to build a city of such sophistication on these precipitous slopes, and it seems inconceivable that word of such a supreme architectural feat should not have got out of these gorges for four hundred years.

I walk as far as I can down the terraces to what I thought was the end of the site, only to find that the stone walls disappear beneath a canopy of grass and trees and bushes which is still being cleared. This is another twist to the riddle of Machu Picchu. How much more is there of it? Latest excavations and clearances have revealed further extensive temples, burial grounds and terracing. Much more than would be required for the one thousand souls thought to have lived in the city. The Lost City, it seems, is still being discovered.
Machu Picchu, Peru 
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Llama waits for director to call 'Action!'. Machu Picchu.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 190
  • Country/sea: Peru
  • Place: Machu Picchu
  • Book page no: 256

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