City of Trapezoids

*NOTE: This post covers events from June 17-19

Everyone has their own style. The Ancient Greeks preferred corrugated white columns and sloping marble roofs. The Ancient Egyptians were fond of sharp angles and tawny limestone. And the Ancient Chinese furnished buildings with upturned roof corners and overhanging eaves.

Half a world away, in the high forest of fifteenth-century Peru, the Ancient Incan civilization was busy developing its own architectural style. Stonemasons from across the country hewed granite blocks into unique shapes, fitting them together like customized puzzle pieces. Not a spot of mortar was painted between the stones. Instead, large, bronze staples were fashioned as attachment devices. But the defining characteristic of Ancient Incan architecture wasn’t the stonemasonry or bronze work. It was the dearth of right angles in each building.

In place of rectangular doorways and vertical walls, Incan buildings have trapezoidal entries and inclined sides. Why? Well, among other things, the Incas were worshippers of nature and masters of the local terrain. Through experience, they knew that Peru was a hotbed of seismic activity. The powerful earthquakes that often shook the Andes were a definite threat to their stone-constructed, mortar-free buildings. So the Incas figured out a geometrically sound solution: trapezoids. Their trapezoidal buildings, doors, and windows are specifically engineered to withstand Andean earthquakes. And Incan constructions have certainly stood the test of time. For the Incas, it seems, 90º wasn’t quite right.

So why the sudden discourse on Incan architecture? If you haven’t already guessed, I visited Machu Picchu last weekend. That’s right, Machu Picchu – City in the Clouds, Wonder of the World, Great Mystery of Peru.

After traveling through Pisaq and Ollantaytambo, our Ocean’s Eleven crew arrived in Machu Picchu Pueblo (Machu Picchu Town) – informally known as Aguas Calientes (Hot Waters) for the medicinal hot springs that flow through it. We were awake for a grand total of 20 hours that day. And boy was it an experience – for both my calf muscles and my mind.

  • 4:30 AM – Wake-Up Call (Resurrection of Riya the Zombie)
  • 6:10 AM – Train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes (The journey through the Sacred Valley was beautiful, based on the snippets I caught between naps)
  • 8:30 AM – Bus to Machu Picchu (After resolving a slight issue with tickets. Three cheers for bureaucracy!)
  • 9:00 AM – Tour of the City (In which I learned about anti-seismic architecture. As a Californian, I can certainly appreciate that)
  • 12:00 PM – Hike to Intiraymi (The journey to the Sun Gate took an hour to reach and another hour to return. One word: Ouch L The view was stunning, though)
  • 3:00 PM – Lunch (During which everyone got sick)
  • 5:00 PM – Dip in the Hot Springs (Wonderfully relaxing after a long, grueling day)
  • 8:00 PM – Dinner (In which we sampled Peruvian dessert pizza!)
  • 10:00 PM – Night on the Town (In which we tried – and failed – to find a good karaoke place)
  • 12:00 AM – Bedtime (Sleep never felt so good…)

There you have it: a bullet-pointed version of my day in the Trapezoid City. Machu Picchu is always on the list of “Don’t Miss” items for travelers to Peru, but now I can say with certainty that it was breathtaking – both literally and figuratively.

My first glance at Machu Picchu seemed like it had been snatched straight from a postcard. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the intricate maze-like ruins sprawled across the velvet green mountainside. They were completely mesmerizing – like a puzzle on the earth. To this day, we have no idea why the Incas built Machu Picchu. We can only speculate how. And it’s anyone’s guess why they abandoned the city. All we know for sure about Machu Picchu is that it was named after the “Old Peak” looming behind the city, rustic and emerald in all its glory.

As we explored the city, piece-by-piece, we learned all that has been discovered about its architectural marvels. The Incas – our guide told us – always worked in tandem with nature. They never flattened the mountainside to build their city; instead, they made Machu Picchu conform to the natural landscape. In keeping with their reputation, they seemed to have considered every little detail – from water sources to climate change to seismic activity.

Now, more than ever, I feel like giving my eighth grade Geometry teacher a call. I would tell him that I’d finally ­– finally – found an application for those pesky trapezoid equations. The funny thing is, I know exactly what he’d say: “See? Don’t say I didn’t tell you. You’re welcome!”

The Incas of Peru, ladies and gentlemen… They Who Loved Geometry.

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11 Responses to City of Trapezoids

  1. Sangeeta says:

    Loved the post.. Machu-pichu on our bucket list and we will have our very own tour guide to take us. Waiting and looking forward to the next read.

  2. Noel Bearden says:

    Your post is beautiful ! We are very fortunate that you are sharing your
    experiences with us … your descriptions are wonderful !! Thank you.
    Noel Bearden

  3. Anagha Vaidya says:

    Great post once again Riya!! Machu Pichu is on my bucket list too. Your post wants me to go and visit sooner than later 🙂
    Looking forward to your next post!!

  4. Srinivas Devgaonkar says:

    Your narration of visit to Machi Pichu is interesting. Wish we had a chance to visit. Awaiting next post of discovery.

  5. Jen says:

    Hi Riya,
    Loved your post about Macchu Pichu. Did you have time to climb Huayna Pichu? Great views from there as well. I went about a year ago and loved it. There is a great book – The Last Days of the Incans- Have you read it? It really makes all of the sites come alive!

    • Riya Dange says:

      No, unfortunately we didn’t. And thank you for the book recommendation – I will definitely check it out!

  6. Belle Toren says:

    Fantastic information regarding the details of Inca architecture: “from water sources to climate change to seismic activity”. I feel like I am reliving my equally marvelous visit to Machu Picchu in 2007, albeit I hiked from near Ollantaytambo to the Gate of the Sun and into Machu Picchu. Now that you seen Machu Picchu, it is well worth the effort to hike the Inca Trail and experience the classic Inca architecture in Sayacmarca, Phuyupatamarca and Wiñay Wayna. I actually found the Inca Trail and the sites and flora along the route to be as exciting as Machu Picchu. Well done.

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