Was Machu Picchu always a tourist attraction?

Travelers to Peru almost invariably make a stop at the famous Inca lost city of Mach Picchu. Situated on a mountain top, the spectacular ruins have been luring visitors almost immediately after they were rediscovered by Hiram Bingham back in 1911. But according to this story from National Geographic, a new theory is being put fourth by Italian scientist Giulio Magli who says that the fortress may have always been a tourist trap, even when it was first constructed back in 1460.

Historians have long debated the real purpose for Machu Picchu’s existence. Situated at 8000 feet above sea level, it couldn’t have been easy to construct, nor was it easy to reach after it was completed. Some people believe it was a palace built for Pachacuti, the ruler of the Inca Empire at the time of the city’s construction. Others have felt that it has some type of celestial observatory. But Magli feels that Machu Picchu was built to be a pilgrimage site that worshipers would make the trip to in order to relive an important journey from their historical past.

According to legend, the Inca people were created on the Island of the Sun in Lake Titicaca. Later they made an important and difficult journey through the Earth, emerging at a place called Tampu-tocco. Magli feels that the journey to Machu Picchu was a symbolic recreation of those travels, and he even points to landmarks within the ruins that represent certain elements found within the myth. Furthermore, he feels that the site was accessible by commoners and royalty alike, who traveled there to relive a portion of that mythology.

This is an interesting theory, and if true, should make us all feel a little less guilty for beating a path to the Peruvian ruins. After all, if it was meant to be a tourist spot all along, we’re only doing what the original architect intended. He should have planned ahead for higher capacity, or at least expansion, though.