Wednesday, 8 April 2015

The Longlist: Winay Wayna

What's the Longlist? It's the list for all the other great man-made spectacles in the world that haven't quite made my shortlist. I don't feel the need to research them or visit them, but as long as this blog is about the world's best man-made structures, they deserve some kind of mention. Today, Winay Wayna.

It's very easy to overlook Winay Wayna. Wikipedia in English gives it just four lines, and the fifteen lines of the Spanish don't give a lot more detail. It's on the Inca Trail, but many visitors  to the Trail don't bother with a visit because it's slightly off the main route. And most significantly, just a couple of miles away is one of the greatest things ever created by man - Machu Picchu.

Yes, the Incas excelled themselves when they built Machu Picchu, converting a mountaintop into a city, forming buildings from sculpted boulders and lining the hillside with terraces. It's the climax of the Inca Trail, the most popular form being the four-day route Danielle and I took just under a year-and-a-half ago. Famous though the Inca Trail is, it's fair to say the fame of Machu Picchu eclipses it. Not just the Trail, but all the Inca structures built alongside it. That was one thing I hadn't expected. Machu Picchu certainly doesn't exist in isolation. All kinds of buildings and villages and many agricultural terraces are dotted around the Inca Trail, and they are hugely impressive in their own right. Even if Machu Picchu didn't exist, the Inca Trail would be enough to make you think, "Wow, these Incas sure knew their stuff." From Patallacta to Runkuraqay to Sayacmarca to Qunchumarka to the very steep slopes of Intipata, there's a lot here for the ruin aficionado. And in a world where Machu Picchu didn't exist, Winay Wayna would be be held up as an example of Inca genius and the climax of the Inca Trail.

As Wikipedia's brevity and the lack of information in general suggests, not a great deal is known about Winay Wayna. It was only discovered in the 1940s, being given its name then by the father of Peruvian archaeology, Julio C. Tello. The name, in the Quechua language native to the Andes, means "Forever Young." It has since been cleaned up and deweeded but has essentially been untouched by man since it would have been abandoned in the 16th Century.

What was Winay Wayna? We don't know, but the abundance of agricultural terraces suggests it was certainly used for farming. Its prominent position on the hillside and size suggests it was a pretty important place. This is backed up by the quality of stonework. Additionally, it channels a hillside stream and runs it through the settlement in a series of stages known as fountains. This still works after 500 years.

Architecturally, it is similar to Machu Picchu, and some of the stonework is very finely cut and put together. There are two sets of housing complexes, one at the top of Winay Wayna and the other near the bottom. One interpretation of this is that the priestly class lived at the top - in the circular structure pictured above - and the labouring farmer types lived in the simpler, more numerous housing further down. But who knows? The Incas, like many other civilisations before them, never thought to develop a written language and take note of this sort of thing.

Our guide's theory was that Winay Wayna was an experimental farm, and he claimed that a lot of unusual crops and seeds had been discovered there. It's a nice little theory, and not without some basis as the Incas were hugely advanced and enthusiastic agriculturalists.

The Inca Trail is tremendous. Apart from the obvious natural beauty, the Inca ruins are staggered along its length, growing more impressive as they go along. Winay Wayna was an unexpected surprise and impressed me immensely. It's a mini-Machu Picchu, and in that sense reminds me the Red Pyramid. We all know the famous three Pyramids of Giza, but less known are some other pyramids of comparative age and size. The Red Pyramid is older than the Pyramids of Giza, and 104 metres tall - shorter than Giza's two largest (146 and 136 metres) but taller than the third (65 metres). When it was built, it was the tallest structure ever built by mankind, a title it held for less than 50 years before the Great Pyramid came along and took the title - for 3800 years. In other words, the Red Pyramid is a truly immense feat - but also languishes in obscurity because there are more famous examples out there. Similarly, Winay Wayna and a few other Inca sites are all magnificent spectacles - but are all superseded by the most magnificent Inca spectacle of all. Still, not everything can be a Wonder of the World, but I guarantee you if you stumble upon Winay Wayna while en route to Machu Picchu, you'll be blown away.

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