UNESCO ordained Machu Picchu a World Heritage Site in 1983, calling it “an absolute masterpiece of architecture and unique testimony to the Inca civilization.” Later it was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World by a worldwide internet poll.
Most believe that Machu Picchu was the Inca’s summer palace. Eighty-eight 88 kilometers from Cusco, at a lower elevation in the rich transition altitude between Andean peaks and high jungle, Machu Picchu was lost for many centuries. Well not lost, just hidden from the Spaniards. The jungle enveloped it entirely.
The locals knew of the great ruins but kept quiet until well past Spanish liberalization in 1821. In 1911, an American, Hiram Bingham, an Inca scholar interviewed locals and got the tip of the lost city from a local. He then paid him one sol (worth about 40 US cents) to take him to the site. They made the tough uphill trek up in the dense jungle to find the city in the clouds.
Bingham got support from that National Geographic Institute and Yale University, and with Peruvian government approval, his excavation team cleared the site and revealed the spectacular layout, its temples, houses, and terraces for agriculture. Remarkably, and after 600 years, its water system still flowed as a small spring fed channel providing fresh water throughout the site and to 16 fountains.
Today, Machu Picchu is Peru’s top tourist attraction. And since becoming a World Heritage Site, stricter controls now protect the site from litter, rock removal and damage. Only 2,500 people are allowed to visit the site each day. In 2007, Yale University agreed to return artifacts taken from the site by Bingham to Peru.