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.

It would be easier to adopt Paccaritampu as the site of Tampu-tocco were it not for the legal records of an inquiry made by Toledo at the time when he put the last Inca to death. Fifteen Indians, descended from those who used to live near Las Salinas, the important salt works near Cuzco, on being questioned, agreed that they had heard their fathers and grandfathers repeat the tradition that when the first Inca, Manco Ccapac, captured their lands, he came from Tampu-tocco. They did not say that the first Inca came from Paccaritampu, which, it seems to me, would have been a most natural thing for them to have said if this were the general belief of the natives. In addition there is the still older testimony of some Indians born before the arrival of the first Spaniards, who were examined at a legal investigation in 1570. A chief, aged ninety-two, testified that Manco Ccapac came out of a cave called Tocco, and that he was lord of the town near that cave. Not one of the witnesses stated that Manco Ccapac came from Paccaritampu, although it is difficult to imagine why they should not have done so if, as the contemporary historians believed, this was really the original Tampu-tocco. The chroniclers were willing enough to accept the interesting cave near Paccaritampu as the place where Manco Ccapac was born, and from which he came to conquer Cuzco. Why were the sworn witnesses so reticent? It seems hardly possible that they should have forgotten where Tampu-tocco was supposed to have been. Was their reticence due to the fact that its actual whereabouts had been successfully kept secret? Manco Ccapac's home was that Tampu-tocco to which the followers of Pachacuti VI fled with his body after the overthrow of the old regime, a very secluded and holy place. Did they know it was in the same fastnesses of the Andes to which in the days of Pizarro the young Inca Manco had fled from Cuzco? Was this the cause of their reticence?

Certainly the requirements of Tampu-tocco are met at Machu Picchu. The splendid natural defenses of the Grand Canyon of the Urubamba made it an ideal refuge for the descendants of the Amautas during the centuries of lawlessness and confusion which succeeded the barbarian invasions from the plains to the east and south. The scarcity of violent earthquakes and also its healthfulness, both marked characteristics of Tampu-tocco, are met at Machu Picchu. It is worth noting that the existence of Machu Picchu might easily have been concealed from the common people. At the time of the Spanish Conquest its location might have been known only to the Inca and his priests.

So, notwithstanding the belief of the historians, I feel it is reasonable to conclude that the first name of the ruins at Machu Picchu was Tampu-tocco. Here Pachacuti VI was buried; here was the capital of the little kingdom where during the centuries between the Amautas and the Incas there was kept alive the wisdom, skill, and best traditions of the ancient folk who had developed the civilization of Peru.

It is well to remember that the defenses of Cuzco were of little avail before the onslaught of the warlike invaders. The great organization of farmers and masons, so successful in its ability to perform mighty feats of engineering with primitive tools of wood, stone, and bronze, had crumbled away before the attacks of savage hordes who knew little of the arts of peace. The defeated leaders had to choose a region where they might live in safety from their fierce enemies. Furthermore, in the environs of Machu Picchu they found every variety of climate - valleys so low as to produce the precious coca, yucca, and plantain, the fruits and vegetables of the tropics; slopes high enough to be suitable for many varieties of maize, quinoa, and other cereals, as well as their favorite root crops, including both sweet and white potatoes, oca, anu, and ullucu. Here, within a few hours' journey, they could find days warm enough to dry and cure the coca leaves; nights cold enough to freeze potatoes in the approved aboriginal fashion.

Although the amount of arable land which could be made available with the most careful terracing was not large enough to support a very great population, Machu Picchu offered an impregnable citadel to the chiefs and priests and their handful of followers who were obliged to flee from the rich plains near Cuzco and the broad, pleasant valley of Yucay. Only dire necessity and terror could have forced a people which had reached such a stage in engineering, architecture, and agriculture, to leave hospitable valleys and tablelands for rugged canyons. Certainly there is no part of the Andes less fitted by nature to meet the requirements of an agricultural folk, unless their chief need was a safe refuge and retreat.

Here the wise remnant of the Amautas ultimately developed great ability. In the face of tremendous natural obstacles they utilized their ancient craft to wrest a living from the soil. Hemmed in between the savages of the Amazon jungles below and their enemies on the plateau above, they must have carried on border warfare for generations. Aided by the temperate climate in which they lived, and the ability to secure a wide variety of food within a few hours' climb up or down from their towns and cities, they became a hardy, vigorous tribe which in the course of time burst its boundaries, fought its way back to the rich Cuzco Valley, overthrew the descendants of the ancient invaders and established, with Cuzco as a capital, the Empire of the Incas.

After the first Inca, Manco Ccapac, had established himself in Cuzco, what more natural than that he should have built a fine temple in honor of his ancestors. Ancestor worship was common to the Incas, and nothing would have been more reasonable than the construction of the Temple of the Three Windows. As the Incas grew in power and extended their rule over the ancient empire of the Cuzco Amautas from whom they traced their descent, superstitious regard would have led them to establish their chief temples and palaces in the city of Cuzco itself. There was no longer any necessity to maintain the citadel of Tampu-tocco. It was probably deserted, while Cuzco grew and the Inca Empire flourished.

As the Incas increased in power they invented various myths to account for their origin. One of these traced their ancestry to the islands of Lake Titicaca. Finally the very location of Manco Ccapac's birthplace was forgotten by the common people - although undoubtedly known to the priests and those who preserved the most sacred secrets of the Incas.

Then came Pizarro and the bigoted conquistadores. The native chiefs faced the necessity of saving whatever was possible of the ancient religion. The Spaniards coveted gold and silver. The most precious possessions of the Incas, however, were not images and utensils, but the sacred Virgins of the Sun, who, like the Vestal Virgins of Rome, were from their earliest childhood trained to the service of the great Sun God. Looked at from the standpoint of an agricultural people who needed the sun to bring their food crops to fruition and keep them from hunger, it was of the utmost importance to placate him with sacrifices and secure the good effects of his smiling face. If he delayed his coming or kept himself hidden behind the clouds, the maize would mildew and the ears would not properly ripen. If he did not shine with his accustomed brightness after the harvest, the ears of corn could not be properly dried and kept over to the next year. In short, any unusual behavior on the part of the sun meant hunger and famine. Consequently their most beautiful daughters were consecrated to his service, as "Virgins" who lived in the temple and ministered to the wants of priests and rulers. Human sacrifice had long since been given up in Peru and its place taken by the consecration of these damsels. Some of the Virgins of the Sun in Cuzco were captured. Others escaped and accompanied Manco into the inaccessible canyons of Uilcapampa.

It will be remembered that Father Calancha relates the trials of the first two missionaries in this region, who at the peril of their lives urged the Inca to let them visit the "University of Idolatry," at "Vilcabamba Viejo," "the largest city" in the province. Machu Picchu admirably answers its requirements. Here it would have been very easy for the Inca Titu Cusi to have kept the monks in the vicinity of the Sacred City for three weeks without their catching a single glimpse of its unique temples and remarkable palaces. It would have been possible for Titu Cusi to bring Friar Marcos and Friar Diego to the village of Intihuatana near San Miguel, at the foot of the Machu Picchu cliffs. The sugar planters of the lower Urubamba Valley crossed the bridge of San Miguel annually for twenty years in blissful ignorance of what lay on top of the ridge above them. So the friars might easily have been lodged in huts at the foot of the mountain without their being aware of the extent and importance of the Inca "university." Apparently they returned to Puquiura with so little knowledge of the architectural character of "Vilcabamba Viejo" that no description of it could be given their friends, eventually to be reported by Calancha. Furthermore, the difficult journey across country from Puquiura might easily have taken "three days."

Finally, it appears from Dr. Eaton's studies that the last residents of Machu Picchu itself were mostly women. In the burial caves which we have found in the region roundabout Machu Picchu the proportion of skulls belonging to men is very large. There are many so-called "trepanned" skulls. Some of them seem to belong to soldiers injured in war by having their skulls crushed in, either with clubs or the favorite sling-stones of the Incas. In no case have we found more than twenty-five skulls without encountering some "trepanned" specimens among them. In striking contrast is the result of the excavations at Machu Picchu, where one hundred sixty-four skulls were found in the burial caves, yet not one had been "trepanned." Of the one hundred thirty-five skeletons whose sex could be accurately determined by Dr. Eaton, one hundred nine were females. Furthermore, it was in the graves of the females that the finest artifacts were found, showing that they were persons of no little importance. Not a single representative of the robust male of the warrior type was found in the burial caves of Machu Picchu.

Another striking fact brought out by Dr. Eaton is that some of the female skeletons represent individuals from the seacoast. This fits in with Calancha's statement that Titu Cusi tempted the monks not only with beautiful women of the highlands, but also with those who came from the tribes of the Yungas, or "warm valleys." The "warm valleys" may be those of the rubber country, but Sir Clements Markham thought the oases of the coast were meant.

Furthermore, as Mr. Safford has pointed out, among the artifacts discovered at Machu Picchu was a "snuffing tube" intended for use with the narcotic snuff which was employed by the priests and necromancers to induce a hypnotic state. This powder was made from the seeds of the tree which the Incas called huilca or uilca, which, as has been pointed out in Chapter XI, grows near these ruins. This seems to me to furnish additional evidence of the identity of Machu Picchu with Calancha's "Vilcabamba."

It cannot be denied that the ruins of Machu Picchu satisfy the requirements of "the largest city, in which was the University of Idolatry." Until some one can find the ruins of another important place within three days' journey of Pucyura which was an important religious center and whose skeletal remains are chiefly those of women, I am inclined to believe that this was the "Vilcabamba Viejo" of Calancha, just as Espiritu Pampa was the "Vilcabamba Viejo" of Ocampo.

In the interesting account of the last Incas purporting to be by Titu Cusi, but actually written in excellent Spanish by Friar Marcos, he says that his father, Manco, fleeing from Cuzco went first "to Vilcabamba, the head of all that province."

In the "Anales del Peru" Montesinos says that Francisco Pizarro, thinking that the Inca Manco wished to make peace with him, tried to please the Inca by sending him a present of a very fine pony and a mulatto to take care of it. In place of rewarding the messenger, the Inca killed both man and beast. When Pizarro was informed of this, he took revenge on Manco by cruelly abusing the Inca's favorite wife, and putting her to death. She begged of her attendants that "when she should be dead they would put her remains in a basket and let it float down the Yucay [or Urubamba] River, that the current might take it to her husband, the Inca." She must have believed that at that time Manco was near this river. Machu Picchu is on its banks. Espiritu Pampa is not.

We have already seen how Manco finally established himself at Uiticos, where he restored in some degree the fortunes of his house. Surrounded by fertile valleys, not too far removed from the great highway which the Spaniards were obliged to use in passing from Lima to Cuzco, he could readily attack them. At Machu Picchu he would not have been so conveniently located for robbing the Spanish caravans nor for supplying his followers with arable lands.

There is abundant archeological evidence that the citadel of Machu Picchu was at one time occupied by the Incas and partly built by them on the ruins of a far older city. Much of the pottery is unquestionably of the so-called Cuzco style, used by the last Incas. The more recent buildings resemble those structures on the island of Titicaca said to have been built by the later Incas. They also resemble the fortress of Uiticos, at Rosaspata, built by Manco about 1537. Furthermore, they are by far the largest and finest ruins in the mountains of the old province of Uilcapampa and represent the place which would naturally be spoken of by Titu Cusi as the "head of the province." Espiritu Pampa does not satisfy the demands of a place which was so important as to give its name to the entire province, to be referred to as "the largest city."

It seems quite possible that the inaccessible, forgotten citadel of Machu Picchu was the place chosen by Manco as the safest refuge for those Virgins of the Sun who had successfully escaped from Cuzco in the days of Pizarro. For them and their attendants Manco probably built many of the newer buildings and repaired some of the older ones. Here they lived out their days, secure in the knowledge that no Indians would ever breathe to the conquistadores the secret of their sacred refuge.

When the worship of the sun actually ceased on the heights of Machu Picchu no one can tell. That the secret of its existence was so well kept is one of the marvels of Andean history. Unless one accepts the theories of its identity with "Tampu-tocco" and "Vilcabamba Viejo," there is no clear reference to Machu Picchu until 1875, when Charles Wiener heard about it.

Some day we may be able to find a reference in one of the documents of the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries which will indicate that the energetic Viceroy Toledo, or a contemporary of his, knew of this marvelous citadel and visited it. Writers like Cieza de Leon and Polo de Ondegardo, who were assiduous in collecting information about all the holy places of the Incas, give the names of many places which as yet we have not been able to identify. Among them we may finally recognize the temples of Machu Picchu. On the other hand, it seems likely that if any of the Spanish soldiers, priests, or other chroniclers had seen this citadel, they would have described its chief edifices in unmistakable terms.

Until further light can be thrown on this fascinating problem it seems reasonable to conclude that at Machu Picchu we have the ruins of Tampu-tocco, the birthplace of the first Inca, Manco Ccapac, and also the ruins of a sacred city of the last Incas. Surely this granite citadel, which has made such a strong appeal to us on account of its striking beauty and the indescribable charm of its surroundings, appears to have had a most interesting history. Selected about 800 A.D. as the safest place of refuge for the last remnants of the old regime fleeing from southern invaders, it became the site of the capital of a new kingdom, and gave birth to the most remarkable family which South America has ever seen. Abandoned, about 1300, when Cuzco once more flashed into glory as the capital of the Peruvian Empire, it seems to have been again sought out in time of trouble, when in 1534 another foreign invader arrived - this time from Europe - with a burning desire to extinguish all vestiges of the ancient religion. In its last state it became the home and refuge of the Virgins of the Sun, priestesses of the most humane cult of aboriginal America. Here, concealed in a canyon of remarkable grandeur, protected by art and nature, these consecrated women gradually passed away, leaving no known descendants, nor any records other than the masonry walls and artifacts to be described in another volume. Whoever they were, whatever name be finally assigned to this site by future historians, of this I feel sure - that few romances can ever surpass that of the granite citadel on top of the beetling precipices of Machu Picchu, the crown of Inca Land.