Machu Picchu, site of ancient Inca ruins located about 50 miles northwest of Cuzco, Peru. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983. Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was constructed as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438–1472).
The complex of palaces and plazas, temples and homes may have been built as a ceremonial site, a military stronghold, or a retreat for ruling elites. The ruins lie on a high ridge, surrounded on three sides by the Urubamba River some 610m below.
In 1911 a Peruvian guide led Yale professor Hiram Bingham up a steep mountainside and he became the first Western scholar to lay eyes on the “lost city” of Machu Picchu. While indigenous peoples knew of the site, Peru’s Spanish conquerors never did—a fact which aided Machu Picchu’s isolation, and preservation, over the centuries.