Machu Picchu Geography
South of the equator at approximately 13º 09’47’’S, 72 º 32’ 44’’W lies the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu. It lies on the crest of one of the mountains of the Peruvian Andes some 2,450 meters above sea level. Machu Picchu, in one of the Peruvian dialects, stands for Old Mountain and that is the name of the peak where the city is located.
Machu Picchu is around 80 kilometers away Cusco which is another city founded by the Inca. Incredibly, Cusco is built at an elevation of more than 3,500 meters above sea level. Machu Picchu is Peru’s biggest tourist attraction, a World Heritage site, and is home to one of the most important archaeological sites of South America.
Similar to most tropical locations, the season in Machu Picchu is divided into a rainy season which starts at October and ends on April the next year, and a dry season for the remainder of the year.
At the valley below the Incan city snakes the Urubamba River whose meandering path through the centuries carved cliffs some as high as 450 meters. The menacing cliffs plus the extreme elevation of the city made it a secret to the Spanish conquistadores who were searching in vain for the gold treasures of the fabled city of El Dorado. It was only through an Inca rope bridge at the Pongo de Mainique where a secret entrance to Machu Picchu for the exclusive use of the Inca army was found. Another bridge was found in a narrow gap between the river gorge.
It was formed by a felled tree trunk but the bridge could be easily set aside to discourage invaders. The tree trunk bridge was the only other access across the cliff whose sides drop almost 570 meters down into the river below.
The ancient city is situated in a saddle between two mountains important to Inca culture. While the other mountain was already named Machu Picchu, Huayna Picchu, which stands for Young mountain, is the other peak that nestles the ancient monument. Machu Picchu was by all means a self contained city.
It had a reliable water supply thanks to the ice fed rivers that flow along the Andes and enough level land for agriculture. Terraced hillsides added to the total amount of arable land and at same time made the slopes harder to ascend if ever invaders chose that path. Machu Picchu was a veritable fortress with easily defensible entrances. One entrance was the Sun Gate which traverses the mountains and leads to Cusco, the other was the Inca bridge.
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