CHAPTER XVIII. The Origin of Machu Picchu

Some other day I hope to tell of the work of clearing and excavating Machu Picchu, of the life lived by its citizens, and of the ancient towns of which it was the most important. At present I must rest content with a discussion of its probable identity. Here was a powerful citadel tenable against all odds, a stronghold where a mere handful of defenders could prevent a great army from taking the place by assault. Why should any one have desired to be so secure from capture as to have built a fortress in such an inaccessible place?

The builders were not in search of fields. There is so little arable land here that every square yard of earth had to be terraced in order to provide food for the inhabitants. They were not looking for comfort or convenience. Safety was their primary consideration. They were sufficiently civilized to practice intensive agriculture, sufficiently skillful to equal the best masonry the world has ever seen, sufficiently ingenious to make delicate bronzes, and sufficiently advanced in art to realize the beauty of simplicity. What could have induced such a people to select this remote fastness of the Andes, with all its disadvantages, as the site for their capital, unless they were fleeing from powerful enemies.

The thought will already have occurred to the reader that the Temple of the Three Windows at Machu Picchu fits the words of that native writer who had "heard from a child the most ancient traditions and histories," including the story already quoted from Sir Clements Markham's translation that Manco Ccapac, the first Inca, "ordered works to be executed at the place of his birth; consisting of a masonry wall with three windows, which were emblems of the house of his fathers whence he descended. The first window was called 'Tampu-tocco.' " Although none of the other chroniclers gives the story of the first Inca ordering a memorial wall to be built at the place of his birth, they nearly all tell of his having come from a place called Tampu-tocco, "an inn or country place remarkable for its windows." Sir Clements Markham, in his "Incas of Peru," refers to Tampu-tocco as "the hill with the three openings or windows."

The place assigned by all the chroniclers as the location of the traditional Tampu-tocco, as has been said, is Paccaritampu, about nine miles southwest of Cuzco. Paccaritampu has some interesting ruins and caves, but careful examination shows that while there are more than three openings to its caves, there are no windows in its buildings. The buildings of Machu Picchu, on the other hand, have far more windows than any other important ruin in Peru. The climate of Paccaritampu, like that of most places in the highlands, is too severe to invite or encourage the use of windows. The climate of Machu Picchu is mild, consequently the use of windows was natural and agreeable.

So far as I know, there is no place in Peru where the ruins consist of anything like a "masonry wall with three windows" of such a ceremonial character as is here referred to, except at Machu Picchu. It would certainly seem as though the Temple of the Three Windows, the most significant structure within the citadel, is the building referred to by Pachacuti Yamqui Saleamayhua.

The principal difficulty with this theory is that while the first meaning of tocco in Holguin's standard Quichua dictionary is "ventana" or "window," and while "window" is the only meaning given this important word in Markham's revised Quichua dictionary (1908), a dictionary compiled from many sources, the second meaning of tocco given by Holguin is "alacena," "a cupboard set in a wall." Undoubtedly this means what we call, in the ruins of the houses of the Incas, a niche. Now the drawings, crude as they are, in Sir Clements Markham's translation of the Salcamayhua manuscript, do give the impression of niches rather than of windows. Does Tampu-tocco mean a tampu remarkable for its niches? At Paccaritampu there do not appear to be any particularly fine niches; while at Machu Picchu, on the other hand, there are many very beautiful niches, especially in the cave which has been referred to as a "Royal Mausoleum." As a matter of fact, nearly all the finest ruins of the Incas have excellent niches. Since niches were so common a feature of Inca architecture, the chances are that Sir Clements is right in translating Salcamayhua as he did and in calling Tampu-tocco "the hill with the three openings or windows." In any case Machu Picchu fits the story far better than does Paccaritampu. However, in view of the fact that the early writers all repeat the story that Tampu-tocco was at Paccaritampu, it would be absurd to say that they did not know what they were talking about, even though the actual remains at or near Paccaritampu do not fit the requirements.