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Almost a century after its archaeological discovery and thanks to recent studies of sixteenth century archival documents, there are good arguments to suppose that the citadel of Machu Picchu was - like the pyramids of the pharaohs in Egypt or the tomb of the emperor Chin Shi Huan in China - the luxurious and well cared for mausoleum of the Inca Pachakuteq, founder and first emperor of Tawantinsuyu.


No one doubts that it is a sanctuary of superior social position built in a privileged place seven or eight days’ journey on foot from the city of Cuzco. In Machu Picchu there are remains of buildings that were covered with gold, presumably with fantasy gardens, idols and offerings like those of the temple of Qorikancha in Cuzco. 


There are also other temples and palaces still remaining, all adjacent and carefully constructed, crossed by a network of fine fountains of water carved into the rock, altars, cosmic observatories and multiple spaces for the cult of the dead; from them, on many days of the year, can be enjoyed the spectacle of rainbows which are born and die right in front of one’s eyes. Machu Picchu is located some 112 km by railroad north of the city of Cuzco, at an altitude of 2360 m above sea level; that is, about 1000 m below Cuzco, which is at 3408 m altitude.


The place was known as Picchu, Piccho, or Picho during colonial times and consisted of two parts: Machu ("old") and Wayna ("young"). Picchu means "hill", "mountain" or "peak" and therefore the name is simply descriptive. It could well have been Patallaqta ("town on the heights"), which was the "town" or the "house" where the mummy of Pachakuteq was kept. In the citadel of Machu Picchu few people lived - probably no more than 200 or 300 - and, if what we suspect is true, all of them were of high rank and were linked to the lineage of the Inca, that is, they were descendents of the founder of Tawantinsuyu.


According to traditions collected by the Spanish, Machu Picchu must have been built under the direction of Pachakuteq. The sequence of the process of its construction is not known, but it seems to have the been the work of a single project tantamount to a sanctuary or "urbanization" where the spaces, levels and forms were previously established, even if during the course of its existence entrances were corrected or chambers added. 


The sanctuary of Machu Picchu is divided into two large sectors - one the agricultural sector and the other the urban or the citadel - of which the first surrounds the second. We could consider the peak Wayna Picchu as a third sector.


The principal road to approach Machu Picchu, which comes from Cuzco through the south (Qosqoan), crosses the crest of the mountain and goes to the entrance to the sanctuary after passing through areas with isolated constructions - such as what is now called the watchtower - posts for lookouts or guards, qolqa or granaries and abundant agricultural terraces. There were also other roads, such as that which made the river accessible from the sanctuary on the northeast. At present a road has been constructed for tourist visits, a road which did not exist before and now runs parallel to the Qosqoan.


The sanctuary properly speaking is a citadel made up of palaces and temples, dwellings and storehouses, but above all for buildings which clearly fulfill ceremonial religious functions, the more luxurious and spectacular components of which are the mausoleums carved in the rock.


The buildings as well as the plazas and the platforms that constitute the urban sector are connected among themselves by a system of narrow lanes or paths, mostly in the form of flights of steps, which cross the terraces which follow a flat longitudinal axis. The main platform of the urban sector is an extensive plaza - the main plaza - which in turn divides the buildings into hanan ("above" or "upper") and urin ("below" or "lower"). The urban sector was surrounded by impediments to gaining access to the sanctuary such as a defense wall and the deep and wide ditch, or dry moat, which surrounded the whole complex, not as part of a military fortification rather as a form of restricted ceremonial isolation.


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