PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL ("Why Here?" part 9): I was so used to thinking that Inca terraces are for growing crops, that it didn't occur to me until I stood here, that these terraces were used very differently. This stairway cuts across the long central square around which the city of Machu Picchu is organized. Suddenly it was easy for me to understand the power of those three, large windows, aligned to the sun like the other temples of the sacred precinct all the way up to the Intihuatana at the top of the adjacent mound. The imagination riots at the infinite variety of liturgies that might be played out in the complex space below that was the center of life here. What did those liturgies look like? -sound like? -What celestial events summoned their cadences?
Bingham offers a possible script and actors. When he excavated graves on the hillsides around the city he found the vast majority held the bones of women. There must have been men to cultivate the fields, he reasoned. Where were they buried? Where had they lived? Clearly this was a sanctuary primarily for women. Inca stories led him to conclude that Machu Picchu had been a holy retreat and shrine dedicated to the Acilas, women chosen for their beauty to serve the sun. In news stories they were called, "Virgins of the Sun," though I've read that the concept of virginity was unknown to the Incas. Bingham thought Machu Picchu was where they were trained and perhaps occasionally sacrificed in their quest to become either holy Mamacones who serve the sun god and the Inca priests, or become faithful wives who serve Inca noblemen.
Were Acilas wed here? Whatever ceremonies took place must have used this elaborate stage machinery, the levels of terraces from which one may speak up or down and command an audience. I'm told that a voice speaking loudly at the top of the Intihuatana can be heard clearly in the rock shell of the plaza. Could the setting sun inhabit those Three Windows to dramatic effect at the Sun's ceremonial betrothal? In the morning they focus three ominous rectilinear beams on the temple floor that grow erect as the equinox approaches. Can we yet hear the forgotten sacraments still echoing along canyon walls? Or was it some other music that played here?