Lost City of the Incas presents the history, research, travels and findings of Hiram Bingham - the American scholar famous for bringing Machu Picchu to the world’s awareness.

The year 2011 marks the 100th anniversary of Hiram Bingham discovering for the modern world, the ancient city known to us all today as Machu Picchu. Known to many around the world today as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World, it is one of the most highly visited tourist areas in South America.

In November 2011, I will be making my first trip to Peru and part of that trip will include visiting and experiencing for myself the site and ruins of Machu Picchu. Through a serendipitous event I was lent a book by an acquaintance who upon learning about my travels felt this would be a most valuable read. He was right. The book was called Lost City of the Incas and it was written by Hiram Bingham himself, recounting his experience of discovering what he believed to be the lost city of the Incas.

About the Author

Lost City of the Incas was written by Hiram Bingham and published back in 1948. It was republished other times, with the latest copy in 2003. The book became a bestseller upon its publication in 1948.

According to Wikipedia:

Hiram Bingham (November 19, 1875 – June 6, 1956) was an academic, explorer, treasure hunter and politician from the United States. Although he was not a trained archeologist, he made public the existence of the Quechua citadel of Machu Picchu in 1911 with the guidance of local indigenous farmers. Bingham returned to Peru in 1912 and 1915 with the support of Yale and the National Geographic Society. Later, Bingham served as a member of the United States Senate.

You can read some quick facts about Hiram Bingham and his discovery in this article: July 24, 1911: Hiram Bingham ‘Discovers’ Machu Picchu.

Book Content & Format

The original 1948 printing of the book, which I had the pleasure of reading had a different cover than the one being sold currently. Lost City of the Incas is composed of 3 parts. The book begins with a preface and acknowledgements. The 3 parts are as follows:

Part 1: The Builders

  • Chapter 1: The Incas and their Civilization
  • Chapter 2: The Origin of the Incas
  • Chapter 3: The Story of the Last Four Incas

Part 2: The Search

  • Chapter 1: The Introduction to the Land of the Incas
  • Chapter 2: The Search For Vitcos
  • Chapter 3: The Search For Vilcapampa

Part 3: Machu Picchu

  • Chapter 1: The Discovery
  • Chapter 2: Exploration of Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu
  • Chapter 3: Vilcapampa the old
  • Chapter 4: Results of Excavations at Machu Picchu
  • Chapter 5: The Search for Inca Roads Leading to Machu Picchu
  • Chapter 6: The origin of the city now called Machu Picchu

Book Content & Personal Commentary

Although today I am a firm believer of not believing anything too strongly, I still find it valuable to read various books that touch upon some of the history of our planet and its peoples from the mainstream view. I always keep in mind that everyone has their own subjective filters or agendas, and numerous people get their information from other people, and those from yet others. So obviously some of the information gets diluted, changed, missed or re-worded along every passing step of the way. Other information may altogether get even completely made up to fulfill bigger agendas.

The first part of of the book was valuable, but most dry and historic. In the first chapter we get to learn about the different aspects of the Inca life, which was quite interesting. For starters we learn where the term “Inca” came from and that it meant “king” or “emperor”. It wasn’t until more modern times where the entire civilization began to be referred to as the “Inca”. As history tells us, the Inca peoples were part of the Quichua tribe of Indians. The second and third chapters dive right into the Inca history, which was my least favorite part of the book until I read the entire book. When I finished the book, and all the pieces of the discoveries began to come together, I found myself actually wanting to go back to the second and third chapters of the first part to connect the dots better. It was then that I appreciated the information about the people and places named.

It is in the second and third parts of the book that things take on a more exciting twist as Hiram begins to chronicle his trip, excursions and discoveries in the land of the Incas. Here, Hiram records his experience like a grand adventure. This adds a great element of excitement to the story and I really enjoyed this aspect. Hiram explained things in wonderful detail, so the reader could paint a good picture in their mind of what Hiram was experiencing. Other readers have compared Hiram and his journey to an Indiana Jones type of adventure, with which I have to agree. As the reader, we live through the struggles of the cold nights, torrential downpours and disappointments every time the clues do not lead to the land Hiram is looking for—the last Inca stronghold, what he believes to be Vilcabamba. But then finally, after various clues, geographical and historical piecings, and tips from the local people, Hiram is guided to the magical and magnificent sight that we today call Machu Picchu. Here is an excerpt of how Hiram describes his first experience upon seeing it:

It fairly took my breath away. What could this place be? Surprise followed by surprise in bewildering succession. Suddenly we found ourselves standing in front of the ruins of two of the finest and most interesting structures in ancient america. The sight held me spellbound. Nothing just like them in design and execution has ever been found.

Hiram Bingham, Lost City of the Incas

While reading the book, aside from part 1, there is a definite element of excitement, wonder and curiosity as to what comes next. Hiram followed the clues and stories about the last Incas, records from the Spanish Conquistadors and local Natives as to what that particular time frame looked like. He knew that there were some spectacular places that were talked about, the last to be the home to the Inca peoples before their civilization ended due to the Spanish Conquistadors, and he was out to find them. Along the way, he didn’t mind finding some treasure as well, although none of that seemed to take place. Aside from some potsherds, human remains and some of their belongings, the greatest treasure Hiram came across was Machu Picchu itself.

According to Hiram’s research, Machu Picchu appeared to have been inhabited mostly by women, and used as a type of school or university to educate women who were favored to become wives for the kings, emperors or highly ranking men. Although some of the last Inca rulers seemed to live their as well, it is clear we do not have a full grasp on, or know the full story of this amazing city. Various archaeologists and researchers have since proposed other theories, but I don’t think anyone can be entirely sure no matter what new research is unveiled. What we do know for sure is that the place seems to hold some sacred energy or potential to transform many of those who visit its grounds.

Concluding Thoughts

While reading this book, it made me think about what my personal experience will be like when I first lay my eyes upon this sacred structure. I recognize that all parts of the Earth are a gift, but I also feel that we left ourselves various clues throughout different parts of the Earth to come back to as future human generations. Can we remember these past roots? Can we recall our past lives from then? Can we unlock some of the mysteries and secrets? We may not be certain what each part of our history means or even agree on the theories different people propose, but we may be certain of the amazing potential and many possibilities that lay before us in understanding our present, past and future.

In the end, Lost City of the Incas is not a popular book most people would pick up today unless they feel some call within, interest or wish to learn about how the modern world learned about this ancient land. What this book can give you is some history, adventure and fun facts. What I take away from it is a personal expansion to know more about the Inca culture, their history and their land. However, I still stay open to possibilities of future discoveries about this site and its people, for one never knows when we just may have decoded something in error due to our modern-world-view lens. May we always stay open to new possibilities.

The most recent version of Lost City of the Incas can be found in some book stores and libraries, and online stores, like Amazon.com (see link below).