Machu Picchu, a historic world site, was discovered in the 20th century in the Peruvian Andes by Connecticut Senator Hiram Bingham.
Senator Bingham found Machu Picchu while he was searching for Vilcabamba in South America. Vilcabamba is the last known Inca refuge where the Inca survived for 36 years until they were killed by the Spanish army. Machu Picchu was originally thought to be Vilcabamba, but the identification of the site as the Inca's last refuge is now thought to be wrong. In fact, Machu Picchu seems to be more of a religious or ceremonial complex when compared to Vilcabamba. The construction date of Machu Picchu is unknown, but scientists believe it originated around the end of the 15th century.
Named after a nearby mountain, Machu Picchu's original name is unknown. Skeletons found at the site show a female to male ratio of 10 to one, therefore leading to the oft-believed theory that Machu Picchu was a sun-worship site and a sanctuary for women.
Some researchers also think that Machu Picchu was an astronomical site. An oddly-shaped stone found there led some scientists to believe that the site was used to calculate different dates, like the solstices. Solar observations were thought to have taken place at the Tower of the Sun and the Temple of Three Windows. The alignment of these two buildings at Machu Picchu was clearly carefully planned, researchers indicate.
One of the many amazing things about Machu Picchu is how the city's walls and buildings were constructed. For example, the edges of the city's buildings are contoured so that the bricks would fit into one another perfectly. In fact, the bricks were laid so perfectly that when Senator Bingham found Machu Picchu, most of the buildings and walls were completely intact; none of the blocks needed additional mortar to stay in place. When researchers were chopping and removing the vegetation that had grown all over Machu Picchu, they noted and credited this (surprisingly limited) structural damage to the construction abilities of Machu Picchu's builders.
Machu Picchu is a wondrous site that we actually know quite little about. Will we ever find out who built Machu Picchu? And will we ever find out what Machu Picchu was originally intended for? We can only hope that time will tell.
[Source: 100 Great Wonders of the World]