The best way to describe Machu Picchu is as a sacred place. Not because it was a temple complex or ceremonial center when it was in use, but rather because it was an entire city; a living and growing community where people lived out their lives amidst the splendor of the mountains and the awesomeness of the architecture. So much blood and sweat must have been given to build that place, its entirety constructed of unforgiving granite carefully carved by hand and lifted into place in a miracle of urban planning and what might be called a passion of execution. Slave labor, of course, but even more poignant for that element of compulsion because each rock in that citadel is shaped and positioned with ultimate care and artistry.
From every window and street, plaza and temple, you are aware of the mountains surrounding the city, sheer peaks of rock and greenery that inescapably draw the eye. You can’t help but want to fly, and you are always aware how easy it would be to fall. Perhaps this awareness is part of what makes Machu Picchu a sacred place: the constant awareness of death, of being six inches away from flight and then endless union with the mountains themselves…it is difficult to imagine a space more given to contemplation and ultimately peace.
The city is architecturally incredible, built surrounding a quarry and incorporating the mountain in such a way that allows the rigorous urban plan to seem natural and not imposed. The sixteen bathing fountains are all sourced along the same channel, but instead of simply allowing the people living lower down the mountain to use the dirty water of those living above, the Incas used a charcoal and sand filtration process in the channel after each bathing pool. That is basically a Brita filter on a large scale in the 1400s, and it wasn’t just for the elite but rather was a necessary part of a successful community. When I think of the filth and squalor of the European Middle Ages…
The temples of the Sun and the Condor incorporate natural outcroppings of rock in beautiful sculpture. The Sun temple actually rests upon a huge curving foundation stone that surges up from the terraces and allowed them to build a curved stone building from and on this rock…though it does not appear seamless, it looks like the building and the jutting rock where meant to be together always. In the temple of the Condor, that mystical great bird of the Andean peaks and valleys, there is the sculpted head of the bird on the ground, ready to receive sacrifices. Above it rise majestic wings, found art that becomes indelibly a part of the bird. The meeting of human and nature is effortless here, a union for which artists and thinkers alike have fought to even approach.
To inhabit this place, even for a few hours, is an awe-inspiring, and inspiring, experience.