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Published on June 1st, 2010 | by Yellow Magpie

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Great Wall Builders: The Incas And Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu Wall Photo By Rubyk

Walls are invaluable things. They hold up roofs. They provide shelter and protection. And like fences, as Robert Frost keenly pointed out, they make good neighbours.

So who built the greatest walls? The Chinese probably spring to mind the fastest with the Great Wall of China. Undoubtedly, the myth that the wall can be viewed from the Moon does help as does their age.

However, the truth is that it is the Incas who should be considered as the greatest wall builders.

Machu Picchu Photo By Colegota

Machu Picchu: An Aesthetic Paradise

The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Machu Picchu is perhaps the most startling and beautiful examples of the Inca’s architectural wall-building skills. Perched high atop a mountain ridge directly above the Urubamba Valley in Peru, Machu Picchu is an amazing sight to behold. Started in the 13th century, the city was the main spiritual centre for the Incas.

Even by just glancing at the picture below, one can instantly see why they chose it as their spiritual location.

Machu Picchu Photo By Allard Schmidt

The Incas were tremendously adroit builders. Utilising different methods of construction such as adobe houses, arguably their most beautiful constructions were their polygonal masonary walls.

Weightless Illusions

Made out of huge carved stone blocks, some of which weigh in excess of 25 tonnes, these walls were built without the use of mortar or any other fixing implements. Even more astonishing is the exactness and precision with which each piece slots in with its fellow blocks of stone.

Added to this already inspiring appearance is the sense of weightlessness. Despite the walls collectively weighing hundreds upon hundreds of tonnes they seem light. Almost as if they could be easily lifted by hand.

Machu Picchu Wall Photo By Colegota

Masters of masonary stonework, the Incas achieved this remarkable illusory feat by pillowing the stone, creating an effect which looks rather like a pillow or cushion. This painstaking process was only done for the most valuable of buildings and reserved for the higher echelons of Inca society.

The Real Test Of Inca Walls: Earthquake Proof

However, aesthetics and beauty is only half the picture when it comes to building a wall. Surely what is also very important and necessary for any wall to be considered a feat of engineering and construction is practicality? The ultimate test of practicality when it comes to walls is longevity.

Machu Picchu Photo By Thomas Quine

For close to 800 years, the Inca’s pillowed walls have stood. This is not by itself special. But much of the Inca civilisation is contained in one of the most earthquake-prone areas in the world. An area where quakes can measure 7.5 or more on the Richter scale.

So good is the wall’s design, and the expertise of the craftsmen that built it, that smaller earthquakes do not move the walls at all while larger ones merely cause the stones to vibrate or ‘dance’. After the stones have finished ‘dancing’ they return into their original positions.

Walls As Sculpture

When the Incas built their walls. Not only were they building something practical, purposeful, and precise, they were building a monument.

In constructing their walls in the manner that they did, the Incas have left an indelibly mark on present cultures and in doing so created one of the most awe-inspiring of artforms. Magnificent sculpture.


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2 Responses to Great Wall Builders: The Incas And Machu Picchu

  1. Raj Patel says:

    Interesting work, although you should focus less on just the walls and more on other technology they used – like irrigation for farming, and roads for the empire. Just an idea.

  2. Yellow Magpie says:

    Thanks for your comment, Raj. We may do something on that in the future. Excellent suggestion.

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