In 1911, the U.S. explorer Hiram Bingham saw Machu Picchu and returned to Yale University somewhat disappointed. The next year he returned to Peru, to clear up the ruins and unravel the mystery. It was then that he realized how large it was. In 1913, when National Geographic published an article with several pages about Machu Picchu, the world knew for the first time about the Inca city, and Bingham became famous.
Now, after more than 100 years, a new book looks at Machu Picchu’s history from a different angle. Experts have explained why it was a great feat of engineering and architecture, and described how the Incas lived there. But no one has told the story of the people intimately linked to the ruins, both in the past and the present.
But Sergio Vilela, editorial director of Grupo Planeta, and José Carlos de la Puente, professor of Latin American History at the University of Texas, have now done just that in their book El último secreto de Machu Picchu (The Last Secret of Machu Picchu). After 4 years of investigation, the authors affirm that Hiram Bingham did not discover Machu Picchu, but that the people living around it simply forgot about the ruins.
Bingham was born in Hawaii in 1875. His father was a Protestant pastor who used to climb mountains with him on the island. Bingham grew up reading about South America and dreamed of having adventures in the region. He went to Yale University, where he later became professor of Latin American History and Geography. Bingham came to Peru in 1911 intending to climb Mount Coropuna in Arequipa.
When he found out that someone else had already reached the top of that mountain, he changed his plans and decided to find what he called “The Last Capital of the Incas”, but he was not looking for Machu Picchu. He found Machu Picchu almost by accident, guided by locals from the area near Machu Pichhu. “We want people to understand that Machu Picchu was never lost” Sergio Vilela said.
The book says that when Bingham arrived to Machu Picchu, he found an inscription that said “Lizárraga 1902” and wrote it in his diary. When he realized that he had discovered something important, he erased the inscription from the ruins and from the name from his diary. Now Agustín Lizárraga’s descendants are reclaiming their place in history.
In any case, the journalist and his historian colleague have tried to show how much is still unknown about the truth of the discovery of Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu city 1911