Skip to main content
Humanities LibreTexts

7.14: Incan Temple of the Sun (Mid 1400 CE)

  • Page ID
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)\(\newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)

    The Temple of the Sun (7.62) was built on a mountain ridge in Machu Picchu, Peru at 2430 meters in elevation, cradled on the eastern slope of the Andes Mountains overlooking the Urubamba River. The complex was built in the mid-1400s and abandoned after the Spanish invaded a century later. The temple was dedicated to the sun god, their most significant deity, and used for the priests, and few people had access to the area. Some archeologists believe it was a “summer camp” of sorts for the elite and high priests. The walls were polished dry-stones and cut into blocks that fit together so tightly that no mortar held them together. One part of the temple housed a large granite rock with an elliptical shape built of stone.

    Temple of the Sun
    7.62 Temple of the Sun

    The location of the temple was necessary because the Incans wanted to reach as high into the sky as possible, a sacred place where the most important events were held. They included two windows (7.63) for the winter and summer solstices when the sun rose directly on the temple’s altar or large stone. The direct alignment between the sun, windows, and altar/rock was used as a sundial to govern how they lived, to determine when to plant, when to harvest the crops, and to control other events in their lives. They also studied the stars and constellations, which led to the innovation and development of their calendar. A large stone inside the temple was used for an altar where the priests carried out their rituals and sacrifices. The original door was encrusted with jewels and gold ornamentation to reflect the sunlight.

    7.63 Window

    An entrance below the tower led to an underground cavern decorated with carved walls. Some historians believe this was the area where the mummified corpses of the aristocracy were interred. When the Spanish appeared in South America, the Incan civilization in Machu Picchu seemed to perish, leaving only great monuments to the sun.

    This page titled 7.14: Incan Temple of the Sun (Mid 1400 CE) is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Deborah Gustlin & Zoe Gustlin (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .