Temple of the Sun at Machu Picchu: History & Facts

Instructor: Jessica M Lathrop

Jessica has a master's degree in history with a focus on ancient and classical civilizations.

The Temple of the Sun is an important part of the Incan Machu Picchu archealogical complex. Learn about this architectural marvel and its purpose in this lesson.

Place and Purpose

Temple Of The Sun
Temple

Do you have a special place for traditions or rituals in your culture or religion? Perhaps where a rite of passage might be celebrated, or a wedding, or simply to worship? The Temple of the Sun at Machu Picchu served a special purpose to the ancient Incans.

The Temple of the Sun, or Templo Del Sol, was a sacred temple built by the Inca for ceremonies to pay tribute and give offerings to the sun.

The sun was a vital part of Incan life, considered to be responsible for the creation of all things, therefore this temple was off limits to the common people. Only sacred priests were allowed inside.

Sun God

Viracocha the Sun God
Viracocha

The Incas used the Temple of the Sun to pay tribute to the sun itself and various gods, including Viracocha, the creator god. Viracocha, was worshiped by the Incas as the god of the sun and storms who created the universe and everything in it, including the sun, moon, and people. Viracocha was golden, represented with the sun as his crown, rain drops as tears, and holding thunderbolts in both hands.

Architecture

The Temple of the Sun sits on top of a large rocky mountain, as part of the Macchu Picchu archaeological site. It's semi-circular in shape, made of granite stones, with a large door and two windows, one facing north and another facing east.

Some historians refer to it as a 'Torreon' for the December Solstice, although this reference seems to be slightly older and the temple is most commonly referred to as the Temple of the Sun or Templo Del Sol.

Machu Picchu Archaeological Site
Machu Picchu

The architectural style of the temple is done in the Pachacutec style of the imperial Inca civilization. Pachacutec architecture consists of stones that are meticulously carved, polished smooth, and then fit tightly together with maximum precision. This architectural style is named after the Incan ruler, Pachacutec, who built the Machu Picchu complex in the 15th century.

The architecture is considered today as a major civil engineering accomplishment due to the unique way that the stones were fitted tightly together, while still allowing a small amount of shifting to occur from the expansion and cooling of the stones during weather changes. For this reason, the Machu Piccu complex (including the Temple of the Sun) is well preserved still today.

In the center of the Temple of the Sun is a large altar carved from rock, where the ceremonies and sacrifices could be performed. Underneath the temple is a cave, accessible only from the temple itself, which was believed to have been the burial site of Pachacutec.

Along the back wall of the temple was a 'window' of small holes, believed to have originally held small gemstones, often called the 'window of the serpent' by modern scholars.

Purpose

View of the mountain from the Temple of the Sun
View

Priests used the Temple of the Sun to view the summer and winter solstices from the two windows in the temple. These windows were strategically placed on the north and east sides, and modern scholars theorize that they may have been able to measure the stars and solstices.

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