MACHU PICCHU’S INCA PAST:
Historians believe Machu Picchu was built at the height of the Inca Empire, which dominated western South America in the 15th and 16th centuries. It was abandoned an estimated 100 years after its construction, probably around the time the Spanish began their conquest of the mighty pre-Columbian civilization in the 1530s. There is no evidence that the conquistadors ever attacked or even reached the mountaintop citadel, however; for this reason, some have suggested that the residents’ desertion occurred because of a smallpox epidemic.
Many modern-day archaeologists now believe that Machu Picchu served as a royal estate for Inca emperors and nobles. Others have theorized that it was a religious site, pointing to its proximity to mountains and other geographical features that the Incas held sacred. Dozens of alternate hypotheses have cropped up in the years since Machu Picchu was first unveiled to the world, with scholars variously interpreting it as a prison, a trade hub, a station for testing new crops, a women’s retreat or a city devoted to the coronation of kings, among many examples.