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100 facts for 100 years of Machu Picchu: Fact 60

June 13, 2011|By Catharine Hamm | Los Angeles Times travel editor
(Christopher Reynolds /…)

We're more than halfway to the finish line on our daily publication of facts marking 100 years since the rediscovery of Machu Picchu. Hiram Bingham, a Yale professor, came upon the vine-covered ruins on July 24, 1911. Here, then, as we lead up to the century mark, are 100-plus facts about Machu Picchu, its country, its history and its players. We've been posting one each of the 100 days leading to the anniversary. Read from the bottom up.

60. Some say that, like the Spanish, Hiram Bingham took what wasn't his on his trips to Peru.

59. Spain was, arguably, the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world at one time. Its coffers surely benefited from the infusion of riches from Peru.

58. Spain called its conquered lands the "Viceroyalty of Peru," ruling for 300 years.

57. It's unclear why Machu Picchu was abandoned, but some say it may have been because water was scarce. (That seems unlikely, given the attention to engineering and hydrology at the site, as evidenced, partly, by the irrigation system.) Others blame the Spanish conquest.

56. Machu Picchu was abandoned in the mid-16th century.

55. No one is certain exactly when Machu Picchu was built, but best guesses suggest it was some time around the mid-15th century.

54. Machu Picchu, it's postulated today, probably was a vacation spot for royalty.

53. Later research showed that the remains found at Machu Picchu were not all women, and the idea that it was a sanctuary of sorts for the Virgins of the Sun was discarded.

52. The Virgins of the Sun were an elite group who took a vow of chastity. They were not of noble blood, but their leader, a high priestess, was.

51. The early explorers, led by Hiram Bingham, were unclear about the purpose of Machu Picchu. Remains found at the site allegedly were all women, leading some to believe it was the sanctuary of the Virgins of the Sun.

50. Machu Picchu is hard to see from below. It is in a cloud forest (note to visitors: Mornings are often foggy) and has been overgrown.

 49. If the Spaniards failed to find Machu Picchu, perhaps it's because they were distracted by their desire for the spoils of war, which is partly what led to disagreements between Diego de Almargo and Francisco and Hernando Pizarro.

48. Francisco Pizarro was killed by the son and supporters of his partner, Diego de Almargo, who had been executed by Pizarro's brother, Hernando.

47. Francisco Pizarro easily took over the city of Cuzco. Two years later, he founded Lima, where he died in 1541.

46. In 1533, Atahuallpa was executed, and explorer Francisco Pizarro began his march to Cuzco.

45.Amazingly, Francisco Pizarro's men, who numbered less than 200, overcame 4,000 or so Incans and captured Atahuallpa, the Incan ruler.

44. In November 1530, Francisco Pizarro and Atahualpa, the Incan ruler, were to meet in Cajamarca, an Incan city in northern Peru. Pizarro told Atahualpa to give himself to Christ and the Spaniards, and when he refused, Pizarro decided to attack.

43. The governor of Panama" href="http://la.preview.tila.trb:805/topic/intl/panama-PLGEO00000186.topic">Panama thought the expeditions foolish, so Francisco Pizarro went to Spain to speak directly with the emperor, who said yes. Off Pizarro sailed.

42. Pizarro and his partner, Diego de Almargo, and a priest, Hernando de Luque, sailed down the west coast of South America" href="http://la.preview.tila.trb:805/topic/intl/south-america-PLGEOREG0000012.topic">South America twice.

41. Francisco Pizarro seems an unlikely player in that drama. He was a bit of a puzzle. Once, the explorer was marked as unambitious, but after a stint as mayor of a city named Panama (in, not surprisingly, Panama), he turned his attention to South America.

40. Where once there was an Incan empire, now there was a Spanish empire that endured for 300 years.

39. The conquistadors played a huge role in Peru, of course. Led by Francisco Pizarro, they claimed the land for Spain in the 1500s.

38. Did the Spaniards know of Machu Picchu? Hiram Bingham didn't think so. "Yet so far as I have been able to discover, there is no reference in the Spanish chronicles to Machu Picchu. It is possible that not even the conquistadors ever saw this wonderful place."

37. Hiram Bingham continued, "Surprise followed surprise until we came to the realization that we were in the midst of as wonderful ruins as any ever found in Peru."

36. And what, really, could be? Here's what Hiram Bingham wrote in Harper's Monthly in 1913 about coming upon Machu Picchu. "... Suddenly we found ourselves in the midst of a jungle-covered maze of small and large walls, the ruins of buildings made of blocks of white granite, most carefully cut and beautifully fitted together without cement."

35. Hiram Bingham found Vilcabamba, but he dismissed it because it wasn't as grand as Machu Picchu.

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