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Blog: Machu Picchu Summer Solstice


Feb 2020

The Incas and the Sun
Inca lore has it that the Sun God, Inti, rose from Lake Titicaca to control the heavens and the seasons. The Inca, the eponymous emperor of the Inca people, was believed to be a direct descendant of Inti.

Inti was anchored to the earth by The Intihuatana Stone, known as “The Hitching Post of the Sun” in English, which stands inside Machu Picchu. This remarkable stone is a precise indicator of the two equinoxes, spring and autumn, as well as other celestial events.

Temple of the Sun, Machu Picchu

Temple of the Sun, Machu Picchu: Note the sun shining through the window and the light falling directly onto the Intihuatana Stone.

The name Intihuatana is derived from the local Quechua language and is rumoured to have been coined by Hiram Bingham. It comes from inti meaning “sun”; and wata which is the verb root “to tie or hitch” (huata- is simply a Spanish spelling). The Quechua -na suffix changes a verb into a noun for things like tools or places. Hence inti watana is literally an instrument or place to “tie up the sun”; in English that makes “The Hitching Post of the Sun”.

There is a similar, though totally unconnected, link with Ra, the Egyptian sun god. You could say that the dynasty of the pharaohs in Egypt and the much later dynasty of the Incas were each sun cults. And there’s nothing wrong with a bit of sun worship!

Machu Picchu and the Spring Equinox
Machu Picchu is south of the equator, just, so the spring equinox happens in September rather than March; March is the beginning of autumn here in Peru, whereas in the northern hemisphere, it’s t’other way around.

What is the Equinox?
The Earth is in ceaseless orbit around the sun and is tilted at 23.5° off the vertical which means the sun’s light and warmth swap between the two hemispheres twice per year, March and September. At equinox the sun is directly overhead at noon, as seen from the equator; night and day are of equal length. The name equinox comes from Latin aequus = equal and nox = night.

What is the ‘Solstice’?
A solstice occurs when the sun reaches the end of its tether, either in the extreme north, or south. There are two solstices: Summer on the 21st June and Winter on the 21st December. This year we have a very special opportunity to witness the Summer Solstice inside the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu in the company of one of the foremost Inca specialists, Edwin Duñeas.

Details of Edwin’s 14-day trip are here.

Intihuatana Stone, Machu Picchu

Intihuatana Stone, Machu Picchu

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