July 24, 1911: Machu Picchu is (re)-discovered.

In the fifteenth century, Machu Picchu was built by the flourishing Inca Empire for purposes that are still uncertain. Some scholars theorize that it was used as a sort of convent for the “Accla Cluna”, or “Virgins of the Sun”, while many believe it was used as a royal retreat for the Inca emperor Pachacuti. The orientation of the site, positioned so that the sun aligned with nearby mountains during solstices and equionxes, suggests that Machu Picchu was sacred to at least some degree. Machu Picchu may have even been an agricultural testing ground of sorts, used to experiment with terraced farming techniques. Whatever the city was, it was not used for very long - by 1600, it had been abandoned, its residents either dead from disease or forced out by the conquistadors. For centuries, Machu Picchu remained hidden and unknown, an archaeological treasure hidden by jungle and the surrounding mountains. 

In 1911, an American named Hiram Bingham III (a possible real-life inspiration of Indiana Jones) became one of the first outsiders to visit the ruins in probably hundreds of years. Really, Bingham did not “discover” Machu Picchu; locals knew of the site, and others claimed to have visited the site before Bingham, but he was the first to excavate and publicize it. In 1983, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site, described as “an absolute masterpiece of architecture and a unique testimony to the Inca civilization.”

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