Hiram Bingham

Hugh Thomson’s 2001 edition of Hiram Bingham’s classic account of discovering Machu Picchu, Lost City of the Incas (Weidenfeld & Nicolson / Phoenix) includes a substantial introduction by Hugh, together with his modern photographs supplementing the original ones by Hiram Bingham.

A revised Phoenix paperback edition is appearing in 2011, with an expanded introduction that discusses, among other things, Bingham’s considerable abilities as a photographer.

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Lost City of the Incas

It is one of the great dramatic moments of archaeological legend. In a tale that has become famous, not least because he told it so often himself, the American explorer Hiram Bingham arrived in the Peruvian Andes in 1911 to find that a new mule trail had been blasted from Cuzco down towards the Amazon.  According to Bingham, he wandered almost by chance along this new route and on July 24th was directed by a local farmer to take a look at the top of a nearby hill.  

What he found when he got there was Machu Picchu, an untouched Inca city of startling beauty sprawled across a remote 8000 foot ridge.  The spectacle left Bingham breathless:  ‘It seemed like an unbelievable dream…the sight held me spellbound.’  There was no record of such a city ever having existed and so its discovery was completely unexpected.  It made Bingham a celebrity throughout his lifetime, while Machu Picchu quickly became the pin-up of 20th century archaeology. 

In recent years the great city has endured various vicissitudes: the erosion to the finely wrought granite caused by the feet of half a million tourists a year, forest fires, the threat of landslides and even the dropping of a film crane on the site’s finest sculpture, the Intihuatana, during the shooting of a beer commercial. 

Yet the place has an extraordinary ability to absorb such indignities and remain calming and uplifting.  Even the most hardened of modern visitors will still, like Bingham, have their breath taken away by their first sight of this city draped almost casually over the shoulder of a mountain ridge, with the distant hills of the still little explored Peruvian Vilcabamba beyond.

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For a bibliography relating to Hiram Bingham and Machu Picchu

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