We present you an amazing article about two great cities in Cusco by Brien Foerster, who described Machu Picchu & Choquerirao as equals study and insight into the Inca’s ancient origins shed a new light on that famous South American culture.
Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Inca, or at least that is how this citadel high in the Amazon borderlands is advertised to the world at large. Indeed, the Spanish conquistadors failed to find this masterpiece of ancient complex construction during their campaign of cultural exploitation and degradation beginning with their arrival on the shore of what was to become called Peru in 1532.
This famous site caught the imagination of the world when National Geographic magazine, in the United States, featured Macchu Picchu in their April 1913 issue; in fact, it was the sole topic covered, and included a full fold out center spread. Such exposure raised the profile of an otherwise unknown American archaeologist, Hiram Bingham III, to that of a media star; with his tan wide brimmed hat, Khaki clothes and leather shoulder strapped bag, he became the model for the fictional movie icon Indiana Jones.
Machu Picchu had eluded the Spanish, and most explorers up until Bingham’s time because of its location. At the northern end of the Sacred Valley of Peru near Cusco, elevated from the valley by more than 1000 feet, and cloaked in dense tropical vegetation, Machu Picchu was several miles away from any well known Inca site. There were also only 2 narrow roads, or more properly trails that connected the citadel with the outside world, one being the famous well trodden tourist trail in fact called just that, the Inca Trail that approached from the south, and a lesser entrance on the west side.
Other adventurers had in fact, it is thought have found Machu Picchu prior to Bingham, Simone Waisbard, a long-time researcher from Cusco, claims that Enrique Palma, Gabino Sánchez, and Agustín Lizárraga left their names engraved on one of the rocks at Machu Picchu on 14 July 1901. Also in 1904, an engineer named Franklin supposedly spotted the ruins from a distant mountain. He told Thomas Payne, an English Christian missionary living in the region, about the site, Payne's family members claim. They also report that in 1906, Payne and fellow missionary Stuart E. McNairn (1867–1956) climbed up to the ruins.
The site may have been discovered and plundered in 1867 by a German businessman, Augusto Berns. There is some evidence that a German engineer, J. M. von Hassel, arrived earlier. Maps found by historians show references to Machu Picchu as early as 1874.
Hiram Bingham was under contract from the National Geographic Society, and his aim in fact was to attempt to find the lost city of Old Vilcabamba, the last Inca hold out from Spanish aggression, in which one of the last Inca rulers, Manco, was able to hide from the conquistadors for 30 years. In 1911 Bingham was a lecturer in history at his alma mater, Yale, which wound up with all of the artefacts that he was eventually able to unearth at Machu Picchu; a collection that was finally repatriated to Peru in 2010…well, perhaps 5 percent of what Yale held, and still has.
While Bingham was in the Sacred Valley near Ollantaytambo, which is now the main train stop to get to Aguas Calientes, the village below Machu Picchu, and built in large part to service the tourist trade, an 11 year old Native boy, Pablito Alvarez, guided him up the side of a mountain called Machu Picchu, Quechua for Old Bird. Pablito’s father had told Bingham, who was supposedly pestering the local people about the whereabouts of “old stone buildings” told him that what he sought was up on Machu Picchu.
Bingham, guided by Pablito up an old trail choked in places with lush tropical vegetation cast his eyes upon huge white granite walls and buildings within and rising above the thick jungle. Yet, the two were not alone… In fact, Bingham stumbled across two native farmers, named Richarte and Alvarez, who had cleared some of the Inca terraces and had been growing potatoes, corn, sugarcane and other crops there for 3 or 4 years, and were living there, possibly full time, in or very near the central ceremonial square.
Over the following years hundreds of local Natives were hired by Bingham to clear away the dense foliage that had cloaked the site since it had been abandoned by its builders, the Inca, nearly 400 years before. And in this cleaning process, numerous poisonous snakes, the deadly Fer de Lance were also killed, sometimes after they had taken the lives of some of the workers.
The name Machu Picchu was what Bingham named this amazing find, simply due to the fact that Pablito’s father had told that the ruins that Bingham sought were on a mountain of that name. The name stuck, and ever since then the citadel itself has been called that; however, that is not the name by which the Inca called it. Jesus Gamarra, Cusco historian and student of the megalithic structures for more than 40 years, preceded by his father Alfredo, states that the original name of the “lost city” is and was Yllampu; Quechua for “the Dwelling Place of the Gods.” Jesus and his father have, over the course of their exhaustive studies identified at least 3 distinct construction techniques used at Yllampu and other Cusco and Sacred Valley locations which conventional scholars completely dismiss, due to the earth shattering implications that they reveal. But more of this later…
Choquequirao (Cradle of Gold in Quechua) is regarded as having been a “sister city” of Yllampu, located in the department of Apurimac, about 30 km southwest of her famous “sibling.” The building of Chocquequirao is thought to have been the work of Inca Pachacutec successors Tupac Inca Yupanqui (1471-1 493) and Wayna Capac (1493-1527), with Pachacutec being the presumed builder of Yllampu. Household and ceremonial pottery has been found at Choquequirao that bears both the classic Cusco style and also from other populations who came to live here to build and permanently populate the area. Most likely, they were experienced farmers who knew how to build and use farming terraces in high Amazon forest areas. Located at 3 050 masl on the border with department of Apurímac, the Choquequirao archaeological compound was not built to be a place of easy access. Reaching it demands two days of disciplined march, largely compensated by the beauty of the landscape that wayfarers cross from the beginning of their expedition. Hence, Choquequirao averages less than 20 visitors per day, while Yllampu has 2000 or more.
Choquequirao's first non-Incan visitor was the explorer Juan Arias Díaz in 1710. The first written site reference in 1768 was made by Cosme Bueno, but was ignored at the time. In 1834 Eugene de Santiges rediscovered the site. In 1837 Leonce Agrand mapped the site for the first time, but his maps were forgotten. When Hiram Bingham, visited Choquequirao in 1909 the site gained more attention. The first excavations started in the 1970s.
It is clearly the lack of easy access to Choquequirao that has impeded mass tourism, while Yllampu has service that basically takes you to its doorstep. A bus takes you from the center of Cusco to Ollantaytambo, where a train the carries you in comfort to Aguas Calientes. From there, another bus takes you up the hair pin turns of a road built after Hiram Bingham’s time to the ticket gate.
Approximately 40% of the Choquequirao Inca ceremonial center has been cleared of vegetation. The remaining area is formed by a complex terrace system built on extremely steep slopes. A very impressive stairway of 180 terraces has been recently spotted; it descends from one of the ceremonial center flanks and reaches the river open to swimming. Yllampu has been largely excavated, on the other hand, but newly found agricultural terraces are currently being cleared as of the writing of this article.
Choquequirao was probably one of the entrance check point to the Vilcabamba region, which includes Yllampu, and also an administrative hub serving political, social and economic functions. Its urban design has followed the symbolic patterns of the imperial capital, with ritual places dedicated to the Sun (Inti) and the ancestors, to the earth, water and other divinities, with mansions for administrators and houses for artisans, warehouses, large dormitories or kallankas and farming terraces belonging to the Inca or the local people. Spreading over 700 meters, the ceremonial area drops as much as 65 meters from the elevated areas to the main square.
According to this mind set, Yllampu was thus the northern entrance check point to the Vilcabamba region, supposedly protecting the Inca epicentre of Cusco and the Sacred Valley from invasion from Amazonian tribal people. A third site, Pisaq, east of Cusco, which is another massive mountaintop construction, is thought to have protected the eastern flank of the Vilcabamba area from entrance from the Amazon region as well.
Although both Yllampu and Choquequirao are claimed by archaeologists and historians alike to be exclusively the work of the Inca, in the 15th century, there is tantalising evidence, in stone, of previous occupations. The brilliant Jesus Gamarra, carrying on the work of his father Alfredo has documented curious stone structures at Yllampu, Choquequirao, as well as numerous sites in Cusco and throughout the Sacred Valley which clearly seem to predate the Inca by possibly thousands of years, based on the weathering of the surfaces of the rock.
Jesus and Alfredo believed that two evolved civilizations existed long before the Inca, called the Uran Pacha and Hanan Pacha, whereas the Inca period is include within what they call the Ukan Pacha. These are not the actual names of the cultures, but more represent timelines or levels of consciousness. The Inca had a belief system based on three levels of being, all co-existing; the Ukan Pacha (lower world), Uran Pacha (middle world) and Hanan Pacha (upper world.) These approximately equate with subconscious, conscious and super-conscious states of being.
The Gamarras used this concept to name the Inca and two previous civilizations because it is their belief that the Inca, being the most recent, in fact created the least sophisticated stone structures, and that the more impressive ones, such as those that employed the largest stones and highest levels of precision, belong to the earlier “lost” cultures. In simple terms, the constructions employing polygonal, surgically precise and mortar less fitting stones are regarded as Uran Pacha. Examples of this at Yllampu include the wall surrounding the Temple of the Sun, as well as the buildings leading up to the Intihuatana (Hitching Post of the Sun.)
Hanan Pacha, the older and more obscure style, which seems to largely consist of sculpted protruding bedrock, may have the Hitching Post of the Sun itself and the stone enclosed within the Temple of the Sun as examples at Yllampu. A large and beautifully shaped stepped stone structure at Choquequirao may be another, but the author, truthfully, has never been there, so bases this solely on seen photographs.
I do (of course) recommend that you read one or more of my e-books for greater detail and discussion of the “Pacha” concepts, especially: Inca Footprints; Walking Tours of Cusco and the Sacred Valley of Peru, as well as Machu Picchu: Virtual Guide and Secrets Revealed.