Machu Picchu, discovered in 1911, was built around the year 1450 at the height of the Incan Empire. It was then abandoned and left to the elements in 1572 as a result of the Spanish conquest. It is believed that Machu Picchu was a major religious site in Incan culture because of its location on the top of a mountain sacred to the Incas. In addition, altars were discovered at Machu Picchu with ritual offerings found below them. Machu Picchu was said to have been built by Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui (the ninth Inca ruler) to be his estate.
There are various sacred religious sites found at Machu Picchu. Some of the most famous include the Temple of the Sun, the Temple of the Three Windows, the Intihuatana Stone, the Temple of the Moon, and the Main Temple. Machu Picchu is a large ruin complex with three sectors (the agricultural sector, the urban sector, and the religious sector). So of course, there’s a lot more to see than these structures alone!
Machu Picchu’s Main Temple was where the most important religious celebrations took place. It is located close to the Temple of the Three Windows in the Sacred Plaza. There are various holes in the 3 walls of the Main Temple that some believe may have been intended for use as tombs. The Ornaments Chamber, or the House of the Priest, is located right next to the Main Temple, and is generally assumed to be the living quarters of Machu Picchu’s priests because of a platform in a corner that looks to be the size of a bed.
The Temple of the Sun (also known as the Torreon) is one of the most famous temples at Machu Picchu. It is located in the southwest part of Machu Picchu, close to the emperor’s palace. During the June solstice, the rising sun shines directly through the trapezoidal window of the temple. Underneath the Temple of the Sun lies a cave that is commonly called the royal mausoleum, although there’s not much evidence to support the idea that it was a mausoleum at any point in time.
The Temple of the Moon isn’t directly connected to Machu Picchu, but is situated on the adjacent peak of Huayna Picchu. A major part of the temple is actually a cave. To the Incas, caves were thought to be entrances to the Earth for the gods. So, many people assume that the purpose of the Temple of the Moon was to worship the Mountain, as well as its gods. Other theories include that it was a royal tomb, a place for sacrifices, a lookout post, or a ceremonial bathing area.
The Temple of the Three Windows at Machu Picchu originally had five windows although now only three remain. The three remaining windows are thought to represent different parts of the world: the underground, the heaven, and the present moment. They may also represent the rise of the sun. Another theory behind the three windows is that they represented the three caves that the Ayer brothers (the children of the sun) stepped out of and into the world. However, there aren’t any readily available theories that I could find that talk about the symbolism of all five windows (sadly).
The Intihuatana Stone is considered to be one of the biggest mysteries of Machu Picchu. The stone is often dubbed as being an ancient sundial, but there have been speculations as to what some of its other purposes may have been. A reason why people suppose that the Intihuatana Stone may have been used for time telling purposes it due to its name. The word ‘Inti’ is the name of the Incan sun god, and also the word for the sun in Peru’s most dominant native language, Quechua. The Quechua word ‘wata’ means ‘year’. The whole word (Intihuatana) is generally considered to mean ‘The Hitching Post of the Sun.’ The Intihuatana Pyramid, where the Stone is placed, has often been said to have been the location of many different ceremonies. Shamanic legends say that if a sensitive person touches their head to the stone, that they will be able to see beings from the spirit world. The Inca believed that the Intihuatana Stone kept spirits or entities alive, even after death or without us being able to see them readily. If the stone would have been broken, then (according to the Incas) the beings would have then been considered dead and/or gone.
Finally, Machu Picchu has also been known for the Virgins of the Sun. Some people have said that the Virgins of the Sun were concubines to the emperor, while others say that they did religious chores and participated in religious rituals. Generally, the latter assumption is what people agree upon most frequently. Chosen by priests and taken from various Incan villages around the age of eight, many beautiful women took vows of chastity, and dedicated a large portion of their lives to ritual. The Virgins of the Sun had a number of leaders, but their primary leader was known as the Coya Pasca. She was thought to be the human consort of the sun god. After 6 or 7 years of serving, the girls were free to leave, if they wanted.
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Jarus, Owen (2012) Machu Picchu: Facts and History. Retrieved 12/19/2013 from: http://www.livescience.com/22869-machu-picchu.html
Wikipedia (2013) Temple of the Moon (Peru). Retrieved 12/19/2013 from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temple_of_the_Moon_(Peru)
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