The city with no name

After I got back to Cusco, a British couple around my age were about to set out on the Inca Trail and said the whole reason they’re here is because of the Mysterious Cities of Gold cartoon when they were younger! I had entirely forgotten about that until now! Brilliant. 🙂

Machu Picchu (pronounced Machu Pik-chu, meaning simply ‘old mountain’) is just the name of the mountain behind the city; out of view behind the photographer when the classic shot is taken. No-one has named the city itself and there’s no record of it ever having a name (Quechua was only a spoken language, not a written one.)

But we’d arrived! And the sun was shining beautifully for us!

From Intipunku it’s about a 40 minute walk down to the city itself, sometimes crossing the path of pleasant-smelling daytrippers huffing and puffing their way up to Intipunku after already seeing the city. Ha!



Past the ceremonial altar, we’re in the upper part of the city and we reach the classic postcard spot with Huayna Picchu (‘young mountain’!) in the background…and some llamas. Adele has managed to look like she fell over here but she hadn’t!




But you’ve basically seen that before, so now for the real stuff! David gave us a guided tour of the site. You can only see about 60% of it this side of Huayna Picchu.

Here you can see some water running through narrow channels carved out of the rock to divert it through the city.

This is the temple of the sun, with very precise stonework and the classic anti-earthquake trepezoidal doorways and niches. They could only use extreme cold and heat to split rocks, and for example putting wet wood into rock cracks and freezing it to expand to force the rock apart. No machines!




Machu Picchu mountain, which we had seen on the Trail from the other side. Also lots of uncarved rocks: the city building was never finished.

A stone in the shape of the Southern Cross, near the astronomical observatory.

The temple of the rainbow, with 7 niches representing the colours on the Inca flag (almost identical to the gay pride flag, just with an extra blue stripe!)… with some rebuilding that happened but subsequent earthquake damage.

In front of the ‘Temple of three windows’, half an Andean Cross: when the shadow is at its fullest, the shadow creates the other half of the cross. There’s a very strong sense of community still in these mountains, and they still work with a system of reciprocity, which was the system even between kings and ‘peasants’ in Inca times, which is why other indigenous cultures were often happy to become part of the Incas, along the lines of: today I work for you, tomorrow I work for myself, the day after you work for me. Work, Love, Knowledge and Sharing. I’m in!

A sacrificial stone at the top of the Astronomical Observatory, and the views down the steep side towards Salkantay and Hidroelectrica.



The very impressive Temple of the Condor – see the wings? The channel in front of the beak is thought to have been filled with water or sacrificial blood.


Some views on the ‘Group of Three Doorways’ side of the city, and a reconstruction of how the roof would’ve been made.






Afterwards, satisfied, we took the bus down to Aguas Calientes and ate lunch, and then the train back to Ollantaytambo, and a minibus back to Cusco. On the train, David explained to me that when he was 12 his parents paid for him to leave home and have a small ‘apartment’ of his own to be at school in a nearby town to get a good education so that he wouldn’t have to work in the fields. He had to grow up fast but is grateful for it now!


A farewell meal, and everyone went their separate ways.


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Posted in Cusco, Machu Picchu, People, Peru, The Inca Trail
2 comments on “The city with no name
  1. Wow! When Marcela and I were there we got so many clouds. Looks like you guys couldn’t have been there on a better day.

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