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Machu Picchu (Quechua: Machu Piqchu Old Peak; sometimes called the "Lost City of the Incas") is a well-preserved pre-Columbian Inca ruin located at 2,430 m (7,970 ft)on a mountain ridge. Machu Picchu is located above the Urubamba Valley in Peru, about 70 km (44 mi) northwest of Cusco. Forgotten for centuries by the outside world, although not by locals, it was brought back to international attention by archaeologist Hiram Bingham who rediscovered it in 1911, and wrote a best-selling work about it. Peru is pursuing legal efforts to retrieve thousands of artifacts that Bingham removed from the site.
Machu Picchu is probably the most familiar symbol of the Inca Empire. Since 1983 the site has been designated as a United Nations Educational World Heritage Site and has been the subject of concern about damage caused by tourism.
It is thought that the city was built by the Sapa Inca Pachacuti, starting in about 1440, and was inhabited until the Spanish conquest of Peru in 1532. Archaeological evidence (together with recent work on early colonial documents) shows that Machu Picchu was not a conventional city, but a country retreat town for Inca nobility (similar to the Roman villas). The site has a large palace and temples dedicated to Inca deities around a courtyard, with other buildings for support staff. It is estimated that a maximum of only about 750 people resided in Machu Picchu at any one time, and probably only a small fraction of that number lived in the town during the rainy season and when none of the nobility were visiting.
It is thought that the site was chosen for its unique location and geological features. It is said that the silhouette of the mountain range behind Machu Picchu represents the face of the Inca looking upward towards the sky, with the largest peak, Huayna Picchu (meaning Young Peak), representing his nose.
In 1913, the site received significant publicity after the National Geographic Society devoted their entire April 1913 issue to Machu Picchu.
The Intihuatana ("tie the sun") is believed to have been designed as an astronomic clock by the Incas, while some have speculated about the site's possible astrological roleIn 2003, some 400,000 people visited Machu Picchu, and UNESCO has expressed concern about the damage this volume of tourism is causing to the site. Peruvian authorities insist that there is no problem, and that the remoteness of the site will impose natural limits on tourism. Periodically, proposals are made to install a cable car to the site, but such proposals have so far always been rejected