Here the gold wool came off the vicuña to dress the loves, the burial mounds, the mothers, the king, the prayers, the warriors. (Pablo Neruda: The Heights of Machu Picchu)
Tucked away in the rocky countryside northwest of Cuzco, Peru, Machu Picchu is believed to have been a royal estate or sacred religious site for Inca leaders, whose civilization was virtually wiped out by Spanish invaders in the 16th century. For hundreds of years, until the American archaeologist Hiram Bingham stumbled upon it in 1911, the abandoned citadel’s existence was a secret known only to peasants living in the region. The site stretches over an impressive 5-mile distance, featuring more than 3,000 stone steps that link its many different levels. Today, hundreds of thousands of people tramp through Machu Picchu every year, braving crowds and landslides to see the sun set over its towering stone monuments and marvel at the mysterious splendor of one of the world’s most famous manmade wonders.