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Pyramid of the Sun and Moon

T
owering and mysterious, the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon rise above silent Teotihuacán, an empty city that once bustled with as many as 200,000 people and stood at the center of Mexico’s pre-Hispanic empire. Erected by a virtually unknown culture in the first century B.C., the city sprawled over an area larger than imperial Rome. But by A.D. 750 it had been abruptly abandoned, perhaps because of disaster or drought. Five hundred years later the Aztecs came upon Teotihuacán — with its pyramids, temples, apartments, and ball courts — and adopted it as a center of pilgrimage. At roughly 210 feet high, the Pyramid of the Sun ranks as one of the largest pyramids in the world. (It is about half as tall as the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.)
The builders raised the Pyramid of the Sun around A.D. 100, somehow transporting and erecting three million tons of stone, brick, and rubble without benefit of the wheel, beasts of burden, or metal tools. In 1971, archaeologists found a previously unknown entryway some 320 feet long that leads to a cave directly beneath the apex of the pyramid. At one time the cave held a natural spring, and there are still piles of charcoal in the chamber — perhaps indicating ceremonies involving water and fire. No one knows, although scientists enjoy speculating.
Incan Ruin - Machu Picchu, PeruMachu Picchu, The lost city floating in a kingdom of clouds, high in the Andes Mountains of Peru, a mysterious settlement that the Incas built, occupied, and deserted, all in less than a century. For hundreds of years the city was hidden in the jungle. Then, in 1911, Hiram Bingham led a university expedition to the Peruvian Andes. On a valley floor along the Urubamba River, he met a farmer who guided him up to the ruins of the hidden city, the only Incan site that hadn’t been looted or destroyed during the previous four centuries.
Machu Picchu spans a mountain saddle between green jungle peaks. The settlement has only 200 residences, suggesting a population of about 1,000 people. The city contains a large number of religious buildings that were constructed with great care. One of them, the Temple of the Sun functioned as an observatory focused on the heavens. A mark cut on a rock at the center of the tower lines up, through a window, with the exact spot where the sun rises on the June solstice. In the temple’s recesses the Incas placed religious statues or offerings.
Another small cave at Machu Picchu served as an observatory for tracing the December solstice. Ritual religious bathing may have been done at the Fountains, a series of 16 small waterfall baths where the sacred focus may have been water. But the principal shrine at Machu Picchu was probably the intihuatana, the “hitching post of the sun”, a stone that the Incas may have used to observe the heavens and mark the seasons. No one knows for certain how the stone was used. Near the settlement lie other intriguing sites. The Intipunku, or Sun Gate, is a notch cut in a mountain ridge that frames the rising sun during fixed periods on the calendar. The famous Inca Bridge is located along an ever-narrowing mountain trail that, at some places, is cut into a sheer cliff. The builders cleverly left a gap in a buttressed section of the trail that they could bridge with two logs. As needed, the logs could be removed to make the road impassable to outsiders. Perhaps it is no wonder that this nearly inaccessible mountain city remained hidden and unknown to outsiders for centuries after the Incas abandoned Machu Picchu.

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