The center of the empire was located in Cusco in modern-day Peru

Kingdom of Cuzco – The Inca civilization arose from the highlands of Peru sometime in the early 13th century. The Incas incorporated a large portion of western South America, centered on the Andean mountain ranges, including, besides Peru, large parts of modern Ecuador, western and south central Bolivia, northwest Argentina, north and north-central Chile, and southern Colombia into a state comparable to the historical empires of Eurasia.

The Inca people were a pastoral tribe in the Cuzco area around the 12th century. Under the leadership of Manco Cápac, they formed the small city-state Kingdom of Cuzco. At its height, the Inca Empire included Peru and Bolivia, most of what is now Ecuador, a large portion of what is today Chile north of Maule River. The advance south halted after the Battle of the Maule where they met determined resistance by the Mapuche tribes. The empire also extended into corners of Argentina and Colombia.

Hiram Bingham

Machu Picchu is believed to have been built as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438–1472). The Incas started building the “estate” around AD 1400, but abandoned it a century later at the time of the Spanish Conquest. Although known locally, it was unknown to the outside world before being brought to international attention by the American historian Hiram Bingham. Since then, Machu Picchu has become an important tourist attraction.

On 24 July 1911, Hiram Bingham announced the discovery of Machu Picchu to scholars. Employed as a lecturer at Yale University, Bingham had been searching for the city of Vilcabamba, the last Inca refuge during the Spanish conquest. He had worked for years in previous trips and explorations around the zone. Pablito Alvarez, a local 11 year-old Quechua boy, led Bingham up to Machu Picchu. Some Quechuas lived in the original structures at Machu Picchu.

Bingham started archaeological studies and completed a survey of the area. He called the complex “The Lost City of the Incas”, which was the title of one of his books that became a bestseller upon its publication in 1948. Bingham made several more trips and conducted excavations on the site through 1915, collecting various artifacts including mummies, ceramics and bones, that he took back to Yale. He wrote a number of books and articles about the discovery.

Machu Picchu is today one of the major tourist attractions in South America, and Bingham is recognized as the man who brought the site to the world’s imagination, although many others helped to bring this site into the public eye. The switchback-filled road that carries tourist buses to the site from the Urubamba River is called the Hiram Bingham Highway. Bingham has been cited as one possible basis for the “Indiana Jones” character.

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The Lost Inca Civilization  •  Locations & Activities


Cusco

Machu Picchu

Inca Trail

History