Having recently returned from Machu Picchu, I, like so many others who have visited the site, was greatly moved by the incredible architectural and engineering prowess of the Incas. Machu Picchu, the awe inspiring masterpiece of environmental and aesthetic design set atop a high ridge in the Peruvian Andes, was built without the use of wheels, iron, steel, mortar-or Autocad. Yet, the site’s superlative engineering has endured over 500 years, protected from the region’s heavy rains, mudslides, earthquakes, as well as Spanish Conquistadors!
Theories abound, but exactly how the Incas moved and placed the enormous blocks of stones remains a mystery.Their design and placement, using no mortar, was ingenious and precise. An extremely sophisticated irrigation system was used to carry water from a holy spring to each house in Machu Picchu. When you look at Machu Picchu as a whole, complete with its temples, public spaces, homes and the solar observatories, you realize that it is a site that’s well designed, well balanced, and somewhat of an engineering marvel.
Additionally, over 700 terraces retained and channeled moisture and preserved soil, helping forestall erosion while providing space for agriculture. The orientation of buildings, and the placement of windows within them were carefully planned to preserve vistas of the surrounding mountains, revered as sacred, and of the Urubamba River 1,600 feet below. Machu Picchu was a well planned, meticulously executed city composed of 140 features including temples, sanctuaries, parks , fountains and residences where the people could live peacefully and self sufficiently off the land upon which it was built.
As Ken Wright, a civil engineer and hydrologist who has been studying Machu Picchu for 20 years, said, “The whole system of Machu Picchu is a marvel—not just the water system or the most beautiful wall—but how everything fits together, ranging from the foundations, which would be geo-technical engineering, to site layout, which would be city planning, to trails that deliver people from one location to another without interfering with someone’s privacy, to the huge plaza which provided the space for celebrations.”
The famous poet Pablo Neruda writes in his poem Alturas de Machu Picchu ,
“Then on the ladder of the earth I climbed
Through the beastly brush of the lost jungles
To you, Machu Picchu.
Soaring city of stone steps,
At last a dwelling where what is earthly
Was not hidden under slumbering clothes.
In you, like two parallel lines,
The cradle of lightning and humanity
Rocking together in a thorny wind.”
How was it possible to create a mountain-top city complete with running water, drainage systems, food production, and stone structures so advanced they have endured for over 500 years? Do you think it was the power of man alone?