History for the Rest of Us

Rediscovery of Machu Picchu

Rediscovery of Machu Picchu

Jul 18, 2013

On July 24, 1911, Hiram Bingham III, a lecturer at Yale University, was led by Melchor Arteaga to a site Melchor called Machu Picchua (“old mountain”), a largely forgotten Inca city. Bingham wrote, “The morning of July 24th dawned a cold drizzle. Arteaga shivered and seemed inclined to stay in his hut. I offered to play him well if he showed me the ruins. He demurred and said it was too hard a climb for such a wet day. But when he found I was willing to pay him a sol, three or four times the ordinary daily wage, he finally agreed to go. When asked just where the ruins were, he pointed straight up to the top of the mountain. No one supposed that they would be particularly interesting, and no one cared to go with me.” Leaving camp at approximately 10:00 A.M., Bingham, Seargeant Carrasco, and Arteaga soon crossed a bridge that so unnerved Bingham that he crawled across it on his hands and knees. Around midday they reached a ridge near Machu Picchu after climbing a precipitous slope. The group rested for a time, and Bingham was told that an 11-year old guide, Pablito Alvarez would lead him to the site. Pablito revealed to Bingham a series of white granite walls – the remains of the Royal Tomb, Main Temple, and Temple of the Three Windows – that Bingham found to be the finest masonry he had ever seen. While not the first explorer to reach the site, Hiram was the first to bring worldwide attention to it. He returned in 1912 and 1915 with support from Yale University and the National Geographic Society. Perhaps it was his love for the area, as evidenced in the following statement, that helped assure his ability to bring the city out of hundreds of years of obscurity. “I had entered the marvellous canyon of the Urubamba below the Inca fortress. Here the river escapes from the cold plateau by tearing its way through gigantic mountains of granite. The road runs through a land of matchless charm. It has the majestic grandeur of the Canadian Rockies, as well as the startling beauty of the Nuuanu...

Inca Festival of Illapa

Inca Festival of Illapa

Jul 25, 2012

On July 25, the Inca held a festival in honor of one of their most important deities, Illapa. The thunder god, Illapa ruled over rain, hail, lightning, and stormy weather. Since the Inca were dependent on moderate rain for successful crops, Illapa was surpassed in importance only by Viracocha (the creator), and Inti (the sun god). Depicted as human in form, Illapa carried a sling and club. The sound of thunder was believed to be a result of Illapa moving the sling through the heavens, and lightning a result of the stones being cast across the sky. Illapa created rain by drawing water from what the Incas called the ‘Celestial River’ (Milky Way) and pouring it over the...