The Inca civilization still shines
About the exhibition "Machu Picchu and the treasures of Peru" visible until September 4 at the Cité de l'achitecture & du patrimoine, Palais de Chaillot in Paris.
In this exhibition, the works of art are anthropomorphic pottery, gold ornaments or stone masks... Fascinating, they tell the story of the apogee of an incredible Inca civilisation, and the history of a sanctuary perched at more than 2,400 m, built around 1450 in Peru, which remained hidden from the world for five hundred years...
On an archaeological expedition to the eastern slopes of the Andes, it was Hiram Bingham, a professor of history at Yale University, married to an heiress of the jeweller Tiffany, who (re)discovered this treasure hidden in the vegetation in 1911. Suddenly, Machu Picchu was in the light. "One surprise followed another until I realised that I was in the midst of the most marvellous ruins ever found in Peru," wrote the American in a 150-page report published in National Geographic in 1913. Since then, Machu Picchu has been the stuff of dreams. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983, which is now responsible for its preservation, this priceless site can only be visited by 675 people a day. As Malika Bauwens writes in Beaux Arts Magazine, "that's why the exhibition at the Cité de l'architecture & du patrimoine is worth a visit...".
No less than 192 funerary objects from royal tombs arrived from Peru, some of which had never before left. Thus the treasures of the mysterious Andean city are exhibited in Paris, alongside pieces from civilizations that preceded or were close to the Incas. Spectacular and unique in the world, these gold and silver ornaments in the form of passports to the world of the ancestors, with which the politico-religious leaders were buried, bear witness to the consideration they were shown as descendants of the gods on earth. In the Andean cosmogony, mythological creatures link the world of the gods with that of the living and the dead, hence the representation of fantastic mythological creatures, whether in the form of sculptures, engravings or other decorative art objects. The ear ornaments with a mosaic of the warrior-bird, which probably belonged to a Mohican warrior chief, are a good indication of the level of excellence of the artists of this Inca civilisation. It did not emerge from the bowels of the earth overnight!
The result of three millennia of small agricultural societies succeeding one another or coexisting from the Andes to the Pacific coast, it saw the Chavin and Nazca cultures, the powerful Mochica state and its artists with golden hands whose talent was continued by the Lambayeque culture, also called Sican. The Chimu, who reached as far as Ecuador, competed with the Inca empire, which emerged around 1200 AD and extended from Colombia to Argentina in less than a century. Protected from the Spanish conquistadors by its natural environment, Machu Picchu symbolises its golden age.
This 10-hectare site was built around 1450 at the height of the Inca empire, under the reign of Pachacutec, alias Son of the Sun. Its layout on the side of the mountain facilitated water drainage, and at the same time the cultivation of potatoes and corn in terraces, and one can imagine the comfort of the royal residence with its baths, its fountains fed by natural springs, its garden and its worship areas... The tons of stone blocks assembled without mortar that make up the 200 or so dwellings, temples, palaces and astronomical observatories of Machu Picchu attest to an architectural know-how that never ceases to intrigue historians. How was this feat possible? And why was the city where up to 750 people lived abandoned around 1570 after more than eighty years of prosperity? Perhaps it is because Machu Picchu does not reveal all its secrets that it remains mythical.