Machu Picchu Discovery Centennial Celebrated (PHOTOS, VIDEO)
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In the annals of history July 24, 1911 is marked as the day Yale professor Hiram Bingham III -- later source of inspiration for Indiana Jones -- discovered the ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu. On Sunday, Peru celebrated the 100th anniversary of this date -- though just how much of a "discovery" was being celebrated is a long-standing matter of debate.
Many scientists now agree Machu Picchu was known to others long before Bingham climbed its jungle hills. The imperial city, located at 7,900 feet, was probably first found by a Peruvian explorer. Some even argue that two Germans, a Briton and a Frenchman accessed the site before Bingham did.
Still, much of Machu Picchu's history remains shrouded in mystery. Archeologist still haven't settled on the exact purpose of the settlement. Some argue it was a sacred religious site, others claim it was the imperial winter retreat. "Machu Picchu was the royal estate of an Inca king, Pachacuti, the ninth Inca ruler and the first who could really call himself an emperor. He began the expansion of the Inca Empire," explains writer, photographer and archeologist Peter Frost to National Geographic. " Why he built it where he did is open to interpretation and dispute."
A World Heritage Site since 1983, the city attracts a capped number of 1,800 visitors a day. "For Peru, Machu Picchu is like the pyramids of Egypt,"archeologist Luis Lumbreras, former head of the National Institute of Culture, told The Independent.
Sunday's spectacular celebrations included 21-gun salutes, traditional dances, ceremonies and performances. Only 700 guests were allowed on the site during the festivities.
Take a look at celebration footage and spectacular photos of Machu Picchu here: