Thursday, July 24, 2008

Machu Picchu's Discovery Day

The scene among the ruins in 1911, shortly after Hiram Bingham's visit.

Ninety-seven years ago today, a group of Peruvian villagers led American historian Hiram Bingham to the ruins of a spectacular, secluded ancient Incan city that had been hidden by the encroaching jungle for nearly 500 years.

Machu Picchu was built around 1450 and abandoned a century later when, many researchers believe, its inhabitants were stricken with smallpox. Theories abound as to the purpose of this high mountain citadel, but most researchers have concluded it was the estate of the Inca emporer Panchacuti.

After it was abandoned, the surrounding jungle engulfed the site and only a few nearby villagers who were farming its terraces were aware of the ruins. When they showed Bingham wthe ruins in 1911, a few families were living in them and several mummies of women were discovered in the ruined structures.

Machu Picchu is about 50 miles from the Peruvian city of Cusco and is 7,710 feet above sea level, and today is a popular tourist destination.

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