The city of Machu Picchu, often referred to as “citadel”, is a religious sanctuary of the Incas. In addition to being a popular tourist destination, it is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Inca city has been under intense study by archaeologists for decades.
The Inca Empire grew huge in less than 100 years. Construction of Machu Picchu was started by the Inca emperor Pachacuti, sometime during mid-15th century. Work on the magnificent site continued, until it was abandoned in 1532, due to arrival of European conquistadors. Machu Picchu construction, like many Inca projects, was never completed.
Machu Picchu stone construction
The Incas used dry stone technique to build the city. Stone bricks were placed without any material to stick them together. The rocks were extracted from the plateau on which the city is built. Rocks were cut into unusual shapes and bricks were fit together just as in a jigsaw puzzle.
The glory of Inca stone cutting is exemplified by the famous “twelve cornered stone” found in the wall of Inca Roca palace. The Inca city is located in an earthquake-prone area. Their unique construction style makes the buildings of Machu Picchu extremely durable and earthquake-resistant.
This single and unique type of masonry was used for various buildings ranging from houses, temples, storage buildings, altars, observatories and each of the more than 150 structures seen there. Houses had thatched roofs and trapezoidal doors made of stone.
Machu Picchu construction materials
Heavy granite stones which are extremely hard to cut even with today’s technology were the primary materials. The stone steps were carved out of a single piece of granite.
Wooden wedge technique
The rocks were probably cut by the wooden wedge technique. Holes were drilled into the rocks and wet wooden wedges inserted into them. Till the wet wooden wedges froze, they were not removed. The ice, having bigger volume than water, forced the rock and created fissures. However, the wooden wedge technique cannot explain the smoothness and perfect straightness of the bricks.
Machu Picchu Builders
Machu Picchu was built by ten thousand men or more. Most of them were labourers involved in dragging stones and setting them. Few were skilled workers who shaped stones.
Incas called their empire, The Land of Four Quarters. They considered their capital Cusco as the geographical/spiritual center of the Inca universe.
It is interesting to mention that the Incas did not know the wheel! No written records of calculations or counting were found in the architectural ruins. Yet, the magnificence and brilliance displayed in their construction style is truly breath-taking.