Hiram Bingham III: The historian who made the world aware of Machu Picchu





The stones at Machu Picchu seem almost alive. They may be alive, if you credit the religious beliefs of the ruler Pachacuti Yupanqui, whose subjects in the early 15th century constructed the granite Inca complex, high above a curling river and nestled among jagged green peaks. To honor the spirits that take form as mountains, the Inca stoneworkers carved rock outcrops to replicate their shapes. Doorways and windows of sublimely precise masonry frame exquisite views. But this extraordinary marriage of setting and architecture only partly explains the fame of Machu Picchu today. Just as important is the romantic history, both of the people who built it in this remote place and of the explorer who brought it to the attention of the world. The Inca succumbed to Spanish conquest in the 16th century; and the explorer Hiram Bingham III, whose long life lasted almost as many years as the Inca empire, died in 1956. Like the stones of Machu Picchu, however, the voices of the Inca ruler and the American explorer continue to resonate.

Imposingly tall and strong-minded, Bingham was the grandson of a famous missionary who took Christianity to the Hawaiian islanders. In his efforts to locate lost places of legend, the younger Bingham proved to be as resourceful. Bolstered by the fortune of his wife, who was a Tiffany heiress, and a faculty position at Yale University, where he taught South American history, Bingham traveled to Peru in 1911 in hopes of finding Vilcabamba, the redoubt in the Andean highlands where the last Inca resistance forces retreated from the Spanish conquerors. Instead he stumbled upon Machu Picchu. With the joint support of Yale and the National Geographic Society, Bingham returned twice to conduct archeological digs in Peru. In 1912, he and his team excavated Machu Picchu and shipped nearly 5,000 artifacts back to Yale. Two years later, he staged a final expedition to explore sites near Machu Picchu in the Sacred Valley....



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