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Everything you need to know about Machu Picchu Terraces

The Inca Culture is one of the most important cultures in the South American continent and has left a tangible legacy of the pre-Columbian civilizations in the territory that we now know as Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. Undoubtedly, the ruins of Machu Picchu are the living proof of the intelligence and creativity of the Incas when inhabiting steep and difficult access areas such as the Andean Mountains.

Machu Picchu and its terraces.

Machu Picchu not only offers the visitor the view of the temples and stone houses that are on its cusp, but also gives a look of its terraces and irrigation systems, which give a unique personality to the Incan citadel and its surroundings.

The Functions of the Platforms

These constructions are wide steps built on the mountains’s slopes that allowed the Incas to gain land in order to develop agriculture adapted to the landscape.

Without a doubt, creating great steps meant a great effort, but without these, the constant rains, the humidity of the environment and the steepness of the area would have triggered large landslides that would have destroyed the ruins of Machu Picchu.

This terrace system fulfills three main functions:

  • Containment: These constructions prevented the land’s erosion from creating landslides when carrying out the construction of cities, houses and temples.
  • Agriculture: Through the construction of these platforms, the Incas expanded the amount of land used for agricultural activity. These terraces allowed to take advantage of the rainwater as a source of crop irrigation directly from channels that connected each of the levels. Nowadays, crops are not cultivated anymore to maintain their integrity, due to the condition of World Heritage of Machu Picchu.
  • Ceremonial centers: these finer and more extensive construction platforms were intended to decorate ceremonial and/or administrative centers. An example of this are the Ollantaytambo, Moray and Pisaq platforms.

Inca Agriculture Platforms in Machu Picchu

Natural Resources Management

The internal drainage system of the Machu Picchu terraces consisted of three layers: a first of mulch, a second of sand and a third of gravel. These layers allowed the water sucked by the terraces not to flood the platforms, run down the slope through the levels and be quickly absorbed without generating landslides that could put in danger the city and its inhabitants.

On the other hand, not only the rains watered these crops, because in the vicinity of the city is the Urubamba River. Through a system of 130 pipes and drainage sources, the Incas were able to direct the fluid from the canal, which allowed them to supply a large part of the city with water.

Engineer and Paleohydrologist Kenneth Wright spent 15 years studying the drainage system of Machu Picchu and highlighted the work done by the Incas. According to his research, 60% of the water available for the Incas came from the rains in the area which reached 2,000 mm annually. This implied that the engineers had to devise a way for the water not to accumulate on the summit and go down the mountain without causing landslides.

In addition to the drains and sources mentioned above, the ruins of Machu Picchu were strategically built on a layer of granite that allowed rainwater to move to the terraces and platforms.

Curiosities of the Inca Terraces

One of the many peculiarities that the Inca Citadel had was the distribution of sound throughout the city and its terraces, a situation that allowed better communication between the inhabitants. Researchers, who have studied the sound system within Incan settlements, have identified that some of these places were built in such a way that those who were further away from the ceremonial centers could also listen to what was communicated. This was thanks to the way in which the stones were shaped and placed for the construction of the city and for the rebound of sound.

Although this has not been confirmed at a 100%, there are those who assure that thanks to the distribution and proportions of the terraces, those who speak from the highest platform could be heard more clearly, which eased to the lower platforms to hear the message.

The beautiful cultivation platforms in Moray, Cusco

Are you going to visit the Terraces of Machu Picchu? Do not forget to bring:

  • Comfortable and warm clothes
  • Caps
  • Gloves
  • Wool socks
  • Bottled water
  • Chocolate
  • Lemon Candies
  • Sunscreen
  • Lip balm

Nowadays, the Terraces of Machu Picchu give the city a unique image that thousands of tourists enjoy every year. Meet the wonders of the Inca Culture aboard the PeruRail Vistadome, one of the trains that takes you directly to the Machu Picchu Station.

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