After walking past the entrance literally hundreds of times, this morning I decided to visit the Machu Picchu Museum (Museo de Machu Picchu) on Calle Ruinas just a few minutes from the Plaza de Armas. Like just about every other place I’ve put off visiting, this was one I realized that I should have explored long ago.
The Museum opened in 1911 as the product of an agreement between Peru and Yale University to return most of the artifacts Hiram Bingham took back to the United States after his archaeological surveys of Machu Picchu in 1911 and 1912. (This was the results of lengthy and contentious legal battles over the artifacts.) It is housed in a colonial building known as Casa Concha that was built on the site of an Inca palace.
Interestingly, most, if not all, of the artifacts returned to Peru were not found by Bingham at Machu Picchu, but were purchased by him from a wealthy man in Cusco. (I’ve seen a copy of the purchase receipt.) By the time Bingham first got to Machu Picchu in 1911 it has been looted by treasure seekers long before who sold their finds to collectors.
Having been to Machu Picchu many times, I was particularly fascinated by the many old photographs of the site and Bingham’s explorations in the region. It fascinates me to see what it looked like even after much of the jungle was cleared away over 100 years ago.
I’m not really into archaeological artifacts much, but the Museum has a wonderful collection that I spent a lot of time looking over piece by piece. One of my favorites was a vase shaped by potato with a hummingbird on the handle! (It was in the middle of a glass case and I couldn’t get a good photo of it.)
Another marvelous piece was a real quipu – a set of knotted strings which were the Inca’s only method of writing. While primarily used for numbers, it was also used sometimes for language though no one has yet learn to translate quius into words!
The large of diorama of Machu Picchu itself nearly filled one large room. The level of detail was tremendous, though I found it missing a couple of very important stones that held great significance at the site.
Most of the Museum’s explanatory signs were repeated in both Spanish and English. They provided a wealth of information about the explorations and discoveries about life in the city itself.
I was disappointed that descriptions of all of the artifacts were only in Spanish. While I was able to understand most, some things were unclear to me.
This was a fascinating museum, especially considering the time I’ve spent visiting as well as studying Machu Picchu. I learned a lot about many things I have seen there. I strongly recommend that any tourist to Cusco visit the museum before you go to Machu Picchu.