With Machu Picchu reaching at least one million tourists by the end of 2011, perhaps it's time for another archaeological site to attract the masses.
The Global Heritage Fund (GHF), an international conservancy for endangered cultural heritage sites in developing countries, has selected Marcahuamachuco as a second new conservation and community development project in Peru.
Marcahuamachuco was the most important Pre-Incan city in the Peruvian Andes, considered by many to be the "Machu Picchu of the North" and the "Jewel of La Libertad." International organizations are working with the local government to make the site one of Peru's leading tourist attractions.
The "Machu Picchu of the North" is set atop the nexus of three mountain valleys at over 10,000 feet (3,200 meters), overlooking satellite sites and the rivers below. Celebrated for its massive castillo (castle) and unique circular double-walled archaeological structures that predate the imperial expansion of the Incas and the Huari, Marcahuamachuco was constructed between 400-800 AD and became northern Peru's most important political, economic and military center, according to the GHF.
John Hurd, the project's leading heritage expert, was impressed by the archaeological site. "What first struck me was that it was breathtakingly transparent, it really was public, it was built to impress," he says in the video.
Luis Alberto Rebaza, the mayor of Huamachuco province, which has 150 000 residents, calls the site's tourism potential "the great opportunity of my people," reports News24.com.
Archaeologists hope to find clues in burial sites found behind thick walls in an area of the complex called the Castle where priests or nobles may have been buried, reports News24.com.
Restoring the ruins will be challenge because locals still live within the archaeological site. Marcahuamachuco is considered endangered and faces accelerating threats as the ruins degrade from grazing of livestock, lack of conservation, weathering, plant growth and the continued unchecked effects of natural elements on the ancient structures, according to the GHF.
Still, Marcahuamachuco still has potential to be one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the northern highlands of Peru, relieving pressure from the already over-exploited ruins of Machu Picchu and providing a source of economic development for the locals.