A Lively Look at the Inca Empire

| March 31, 2014 | 1 Comment

Machu Picchu’s Sacred Sisters: Choquequirao & Llactapata, by Gary R. Ziegler & J. McKim Malville

From the Foreword by John Hemming, former Director of the Royal Geographical Society

MachuPichhu SS Front CoverThis book is the right book at the right time and by the right people. Peru’s tourism authorities have for years been promoting Choquequirao as an alternative to Machu Picchu. They hope that this “sacred sister” will take pressure off that world-famous site, which is drowning under the flood of visitors. In recent years, many discoveries have been made in and around Choquequirao, and its archaeological survey and restoration are now largely complete. So this is just the right moment for an accessible book in English about this beautiful and fascinating Inca royal estate.

It is often forgotten that during the century before Hiram Bingham’s sensational discoveries in 1911, Choquequirao was believed to have been Manco Inca’s lost city of Vilcabamba. This was what brought the French diplomat, Eugène de Lavandais, Vicomte de Sartiges, there in 1834; followed by another French diplomat and artist, Léonce Angrand, a decade later. Peru’s greatest geographer, Antonio Raimondi, never quite reached Choquequirao, but he was sure that it was Manco’s Vilcabamba. Other adventurers got there (or claimed that they had) and the Limeño historian Carlos Romero made a serious study of the ruin.

It was Romero and a treasure-hunting local alcalde who persuaded Hiram Bingham to go there in 1909. This was Bingham’s first sight of a remote Inca ruin. He made a fine survey of the site; his enthusiasm about it fired up his Yale classmates to finance the 1911 expedition, and the rest is history. So, ironically, it was Choquequirao that led to the discovery of the far larger and more glamorous lost city that eclipsed it.

Gary Ziegler and McKim Malville are the right people to author this book. Gary himself made some of the discoveries—he has been in the field with Hugh Thomson and Vincent Lee, he has worked with and admires Percy Paz and the other archaeologists, he has read all the literature, and he has tramped and mapped every Inca road around the site. As an astronomer, Kim Malville adds a very important dimension by showing how often Inca sites are aligned to astronomical events and sacred sightlines. Both authors are foot soldiers, so they relate buildings, waterworks, terracing, roads, and platforms to the terrain. This gives greater understanding of the Incas’ close identity with Pachamama, mother earth, and their veneration as huacas (sacred place) of mountains, rocks, caves, and springs.

Llactapata, the other “sacred sister” in this book, is very different than Choquequirao. First noted by Bingham, who briefly visited one of the groups and rediscovered in part by David Drew in the early 1980s, Llactapata was thoroughly explored and surveyed by Gary Ziegler and Hugh Thomson in 2002. With Kim Malville and an astrophysicist on the team, and using new techniques of remote sensing, exciting discoveries were made to link this sacred place to Machu Picchu, which is visible on the next mountain spur.

This book is about more than these two fascinating sites. It gives a lively look at a rugged, spectacular, and highly important—but little-known—part of the Inca empire.

232 pages, $18.95, ISBN 978-1-55566-457-2

Buy the book here.


Category: Books

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Written by the dedicated, hard-working Women's Adventure staff and their very generous team of volunteer writers. Want to lend a hand at making this splendid magazine even more splendid? Contact us at digital.diva@womensadventuremagazine.com and let us know!

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  1. happy hiker says:

    There’s much more beyond Machu Picchu – get off the beaten path and you’ll be amazed at what you discover.

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