This is an extract from the Reading Materials in English that are available in the English and Education section of the website of the Liberal Party of  Sri Lanka,

The entire text of Historic Buildings by Goolbai Gunasekara, covering twelve famous constructions, is now available on that website.

Huayna Picchu towers above the ruins of Machu Picchu

The city of Machu Picchu is another one of history’s mysteries. It lies high up in the Andes mountains of Peru in South America. No one in the modern world had ever heard of this lost city till the 20th century.

Gold statue of Inca Sun God - Inti

When the Spaniards conquered South America in the early 16th century, the soldiers of Spain were called Conquistadors. They were cruel and destructive. They burnt down all the beautiful cities of the Incas in Peru and the Aztec in Mexico. They killed the Inca and Aztec kings. They took all the gold of South America back to Spain. Nothing of those civilizations exists today except the great buildings and temples which could not be destroyed by the Spanish.

Fortunately for everyone, the Spaniards did not find the city of Machu Picchu. This may have been because of the difficulty in getting there. Machu Picchu is not easy to reach. The roads are not very good and it was too far away for the Conquistadors to worry about. So nobody bothered about this little city hidden away in its mountain retreat.

In 1911 an archaeologist from the University of Yale discovered this lost city. It was deserted of course. Only the ruins of the stone buildings remained. One mystery of Machu Picchu is that these are made of stone, yet no stone quarry is nearby. How did the Incas carry so many heavy stone blocks up to this mountain city without modern machinery?

Map of the Inca Empire ca. 1438-1525

Machu Picchu was an ancient fortress of the Incas. It is not certain when it was inhabited. It is five square miles in size, or about 17 square kilometers. It lies about 50 miles north west of Cuzco, another ruined city of the Incas that has now become a well populated modern city.

Machu Picchu however remains empty of actual inhabitants, though it is a popular tourist destination. It still has, albeit after some careful restoration, a citadel, temples, houses, terraced gardens and granaries. This suggests a very organized life style. Even though the Spaniards had thought of these people whom they conquered as primitive, in fact their government, social order and religious life were extremely developed.

What sort of people lived there? Who could have built a city like this so far from the plains? How were huge blocks of stone pulled up the mountains without any modern machines? How were such perfect buildings constructed? All these questions cannot be answered.

Like the pyramids, the buildings of Machu Picchu cannot be explained easily. Today the city is a great tourist attraction. Though you can also get there by railway, many tourists take the Inca Trail, the path up the mountains that the ancient Incas must have used over half a millennium ago. Though the road is steep and difficult, the scenery is beautiful and, when you finally reach Machu Picchu, you feel you are really on top of the world. It must have been a beautiful place in which to live.


Grammar and Vocabulary

  1. Give in your own words the meaning, as used in the passage, of the words or phrases that are highlighted.
  2. To what do the pronouns or other words in italics refer?
  3. Divide the proper nouns in this passage into those that name people, those that name places, and those that describe a special type of place or person.
  4. Find two adverbial clauses and a noun clause introduced by ‘when’ in this passage.
  5. Identify the adjectives and the nouns amongst the underlined words. Find the corresponding noun or adjective and use them in sentences. Note that for two of these words the noun and the adjective are the same.

Comprehension and Further Activities

  1. Find out about the other great early South American civilization, and mark on your map the centers of this civilization as well as those of the Aztecs and the Incas. What countries constitute these areas now?
  2. Make a chart of the periods in which these flourished, if you are able to find out the dates, and also note on your chart other highlights of early civilizations in other parts of the world during these same periods.
  3. What are the other great mountain ranges of the world? Mark the Andes and these others on your map of the world, together with China’s neighbours, including those separated from it by sea.
  4. Write down briefly in your own words the main point of each of the paragraphs in this passage. Which paragraphs deal mainly with Machu Picchu and which with its history? In your view, to which of these aspects does the description of its situation belong?
  5. Find out the names of the Europeans associated with the discovery and conquest of South America, and write brief paragraphs about three of them.
  6. Discuss in groups what sort of areas of social interaction should be well organized to allow a society to be described as developed. Present a brief group report on your conclusions.
  7. Write a description, covering the various aspects mentioned in this passage, of a Sri Lankan site that you feel has similarities to Mach Picchu.