Machu Picchu’s Story in Stone

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

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Sitting in the Vilcabamba mountain range of Peru, perched high above the Vilcanota River, is a sacred place. They call it Machu Picchu. Viewed from above it looks like a great bird – like a condor –  turning in full flight. Up close, it is a key to a past life. Machu Picchu’s story is shared in the carefully considered placement of rock.

The Story of a Name

The original name of Machu Picchu is unknown. Archaeologist and explorer Dr. Hiram Bingham gave the city its current name in 1911. It is the same name of the mountain that rises above it. Machu means “old” in the Quechua language. Picchu means “mountain” or “peak.”

The namesake old mountain itself towers at a height of 3,050 meters (10,004 feet) to the south. Waynapicchu (young peak) rises 2,750 m (8,965 ft) to the north. The buildings and terraces of Machu Picchu sprawls out on the col between the two peaks, sitting at around 2,400 m (7,824 ft) above sea level.

Building Machu Picchu’s Story

According to archaeologists, building Machu Picchu’s story began during the reign of Inca Pachakuteq in 1438. It took about 30 years to complete the initial phases of construction. An exclusive group of priests and priestesses and important members of the Inca government lived here.

Machu Picchu’s terraces as viewed from the urban section of the site. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

Machu Picchu is divided into two sections: agricultural and urban. The agricultural section contains more than 100 terraces. It covers over half of the built area within the site. Experts estimate that the terraces were capable of producing nearly 9,000 kilograms (19,840 pounds) of corn each year. The urban section holds the main temples, residences and storehouses.

The stony enclave became an educational center for future leaders until 1537 when war broke out. As a result of the conflict, Machu Picchu was slowly and systematically abandoned over the next eight years. It soon became a distant memory, its presence known only to locals.

Machu Picchu’s Story of Rediscovery & Restoration

1895 – Peruvian government restores the old Inca trail from Ollantaytambo to Quillabamba (passing below Machu Picchu, alongside the Vilcanota river)

1907 – Two local families move into Machu Picchu and farm the terraces

1911 – Dr. Hiram Bingham (Yale University) is guided to Machu Picchu for the first time

1912 – National Geographic and Yale University lead an expedition to open tombs, uncover buildings, photograph buildings and complete topographical research

1914 – Third expedition by Bingham; explores trails leading to Macchu Picchu

late 1914 to early 1934 – Machu Picchu is left alone again

1934 – Spanish government and Patronato de Arqueologia (archaeological sponsorship) take over, start to remove growth and begin restoration

1941 – Machu Picchu is declared a National Archaeolgical Park

1946 – Construction on a road to connect the archaeological site from the begins

1948 –  Road opens and a tourist hotel is built near ruins

1981 – The site is declared a Historical Sanctuary by Peruvian government

1983 – Machu Picchu becomes a UNESCO Cultural World Heritage site

Hidden Stories Seen Today

Half of the Inca cross, placed in front of the Temple of Three Windows. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

Dig a little deeper, look a little closer and Machu Picchu’s story starts to emerge. The Sacred Plaza includes the Main Temple, the Temple of Three Windows and the Priest’s House. There is half of an Incan Cross placed in front of the Temple of the Three Windows.

Why only half of a cross? Because the trio of open windows face west. When the sun come in the windows, the light hits the cross and the shadow that is cast completes the cross. Circumstance? While it may seem like it, this was a result of careful consideration and planning.

Paying Attention to Detail

Precision stone work and fine quality granite are signs of important buildings. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

Compare and contrast the granite stones used in the buildings. Notice the range of quality. A finer grade of stone was used to build royal residences and temples. The stone placement is precise. Primitive stonework can be found in the terraces, storehouses and other less important buildings. Read the stones, learn a little more of Machu Picchu’s story.

Part of the Inca Royal Residence. Notice the round rock on the patio, hold water. Another stone, another purpose – as a mirror for astronomical observations! (Photo: Brad Kopp)

Look at the doorways. Some entrances have a double-jamb doorway. This means that it the entrance to a sacred place, such as the priest’s quarters and areas used for ceremonies.

Double-jamb doorway in Machu Picchu. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

Many doorways are quite tall. There is a reason. Inca rulers were carried everywhere. The extra height was necessary to facilitate movement of the Inca.

Entrance doors are almost always trapezoidal in shape. They look cool, but there is more to it. Earthquakes are common in the region. Trapezoidal shapes are strong. They resist movement.

Now, check out the roofs. Cylindrical stones were stacked in the gables. Decorative? No, they had a purpose. These stones were used to tie down wooden roof beams to keep the roof from blowing off in strong winds.

Note the less precise stone construction of the guardhouse and the tie down rocks for the roof. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

Machu Picchu’s Story of Random Stones

This carved granite altar was used for funeral rituals, sacrifices and offerings to Pachamama, Mother Earth. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

The Funeral Rock next to the Guardhouse is a granite block delicately carved into an altar. It was used for funeral rituals, sacrifices, healings and offerings to Pachamama, Mother Earth. Most people see the large funeral rock, few see the smaller stones.

Machu Picchu’s story includes these miscellaneous stones found around the funeral rock are called the Apacheta. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

The Apacheta is a collection of medium-sized volcanic, limestone, sandstone, and other stones not native to the area. They are now found littered around the funeral rock. It is thought that these stones were brought by pilgrims as offerings during Inca times. When a pilgrim crosses a mountain pass (abra) or visits a sacred place for the first time, carry a stone to make an offering to gain protection from mountain spirits.

Each stone in Machu Picchu holds a story – a story of purpose, a story of vision, a story of belief. Machu Picchu’s story is written in stone.

Read more about the Historic Sanctuary at Machu Picchu on the UNESCO WHC website.

What stories did you uncover in your visit to this storied place?

Planning to Go?

A wide selection of accommodation options can be found in nearby Agua Calientes, also known as Machupicchu.

The Wild Side of Machu Picchu

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

Disclosure: This post may contain Affiliate Links.

Machu Picchu – architectural wonder, Inca monument, historic gem. All are fitting descriptions for this fortress carved of stone, but I’m going to detour for a moment and take you along for a walk on Machu Picchu’s wild side.

Discovering Machu Picchu’s Wild Things

Thousands of visitors flock to Peru’s Andes on a quest to tick off Machu Picchu on their bucket lists – and for good reason. Machu Picchu is a stunning example of Incan engineering prowess.

We finally made it! (Credit: Megan Kopp)

Stone temples and carefully placed sacred rocks perch on a pass between 2,750-metre high Waynapicchu and the 3,050-metre high Machupicchu mountains. The sheer majesty of the view and the architecture make everything else irrelevant…

… until a bear walks by.

Bears? In Machu Picchu?

Apparently.

I wish we’d been one of the fortunate ones to have witnessed the spectacle of the Andean bear sauntering through Plaza Principal or scaling the terraces in the Agricultural sector, but just the fact that they are here is captivating.

Lucky visitors have videoed Andean bears – also known as spectacled bear – at Machu Picchu.

A Little Llama Love

While we didn’t personally see any bears during our visit – next time! –  we did find a wild side to Machu Picchu, starting with the llamas.

Photo star of Machu Picchu! (Photo: Brad Kopp)

 

Llamas are not exactly wild. They were brought to the site as workers. Yup, they are the lawnmowers that keep the terraces cropped. We saw four and one sweet baby still wobbly on its feet. The llamas are free to wander, but why would they want to  go anywhere else when they can get free food with little competition and get to pose for the paparazzi whenever they want?

Chillin’ Cinchillas

Technically, the large, bushy-tailed rodents that scamper around the boulders – often overlooked by visitors – are called viscachas. But they are members of the chinchilla family. Their fur matches the colours of the stones for perfect camouflage.

Looking like a cross between a rabbit and squirrel, the southern viscacha is a Machu Picchu original! (Photo: Brad Kopp)

 

 

Taking Flight

Using spiders as hosts to feed their young, this wasp is a killer! (Photo: Brad Kopp)

While the spider wasp looks threatening – and indeed probably are to spiders – this curious insect is worth a closer look.

Birds abound in Machu Picchu, but finding the right opportunity to take a pic can be a bit of a challenge.

This rufous-collared sparrow serenaded us from the treetops while standing below the guardhouse. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

We don’t always photograph birds as the camera we carry is not meant for that level of photography, but the avian life at Machu Picchu demands an attempt.

Sugar buzz! Come a little closer and sit still for a moment would you! (Photo: Brad Kopp)

The Machu Picchu Historical Sanctuary spans across 32,590 hectares. It lies on the eastern slope of the Andes. Humid montane forests drop down towards the Amazon basin. Over 400 species of birds have been recorded in this prime habitat.

Temple of the Condor

Birds held high court in the world of the Inca as well. The Temple of the Condor was named for its appearance, stretched out like the wings of the condor.

The rock outcrops of the Temple of the Condor look like the wings of its namesake. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

 

Take Time to Smell the Flowers

Machu Picchu may be on the bucket list for its impressive architecture and cultural legacy, but don’t pass up the opportunity to take a moment to stop and smell the flowers – or listen to the birds or watch the insects or enjoy a chillin’ chinchilla – along the way.


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Exploring Northern Spain: The Painted Caves of Cantabria

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

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Cave paintings – they are history, art and exploration all rolled into one sweet package. How could we come to northern Spain and not check out some of their painted caves?

First up, the star of northern Spain’s painted caves – Altamira.

Cave painting of Northern Spain

 

The Cave of Altamira

Altamira has an intriguing history – in addition to the prehistoric paintings dating back some 14,000 years.

This painted cave is 30 kilometres (19 miles) west of Santander on the northern coast of Spain, in the province of Cantabria. A roof collapse blocked the entrance 13,000 years ago, sealing off the paintings inside. In 1868, a hunter stumbled across the treasure. Eight years later, Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola saw the cave for the first time.

An amateur archaeologist, Sanz de Sautuola returned to excavate the entrance to the cave. During one of his visits, his daughter Maria found paintings of bison on the ceiling of a side chamber.

Nobody believed that the paintings were paleolithic art. After 20 years of controversy about their status, the authentic nature of the Altamira paintings was recognized in 1902. Archaeologists discovered engraved animal bones in subsequent digs. One of these carved bones dated to 14,480 years ago.

Maria’s chamber contains most of the paintings. There are red hematite and black charcoal bison images, horses, and a doe – which at 2.5 metres (8.2 feet) is the biggest painting in the collection. Altamira was finally designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985 – more than 100 years after its discovery.

After Altamira, everything is decadence.” – Picasso stating his belief that in Altamira, art had reached maturity.

Neo-Cave

On one hand, a visit to Altamira is exciting. On the other, it is a mixed bag. The original painted cave closed in 2001 to protect the art. Understandable. Altamira Museum’s Neo-Cave is a replica of the 270-metre (885 feet) long cave and its paintings.

We purchased our entrance tickets and at the same time were given a spot on a cave tour. Touring the museum during the wait, we had time to learn more about the painting process and techniques.

Cave painting
Example of a charcoal outline. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

The image is complete. (Photo: Brad Kopp)
The reconstructed Altamira cave is a carefully crafted exhibition. Every detail of the cave paintings is faithfully replicated. But the fact that it is climate-controlled, it has no loose stones or pointed outcrops or low ceiling dips to avoid, and that there are not even faint sounds of dripping water makes it all seem a bit soulless. Even though it’s perfect, it’s kind of like looking at a good forgery of a masterpiece.

Beyond Altamira

Seventeen painted caves now make up the UNESCO designated Paleolithic Cave Art of the Cantabrian Coast. These include caves in Asturias, Cantabria and the Basque Country.

There are seven painted caves in the province of Cantabria: Chufín, El Castillo, Las Monedas, El Pendo, Cullalvera, Covalanas and Hornos de la Peña. Because many of the sites are only open Tuesdays to Sundays, timing is key. We lucked out with visits to El Castillo and Las Monedas – both part of the Monte Castillo cave complex near Puente Viesgo.

Monte El Castillo is riddled with caves; only four of them have paintings. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

Cueva El Castillo

King of the castle, archaeological excavations date the use of this cave back 150,000 years. Cuevo El Castillo was re-discovered in 1903.

The tour starts in the museum and walks under the protective roof to the rubble left from the archaeological digs before entering the cave. A real cave! And there are more than 275 different example of Paleolithic art in its dark recesses. Now this is what I was looking forward to experiencing.

Puntas – or dots – are a common art form in the cave. There are over 300 dots between the entrance and the end of the cave paintings. Why were they put there? It seems like a obvious question. Sadly, there is no obvious answer.

In addition to the dots, there are paintings of horses, bison, does, aurochs, stags, goats and a mammoth. Dozens of 40,000-year-old handprints mark the inner walls of the cave. Who left them here? What do they symbolize?

My mind is abuzz with thoughts and images and questions – oh, so many questions.

Protected painted cave entrance
Painted caves are protected on Monte El Castillo; entrance by guided tour only. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

Cueva Las Monedas

In 1952 Cueva Las Monedas’ existence came into the light, along with its 12,000-year-old artwork. The cave itself is the longest cave in Monte El Castillo – stretching 800 metres (more than 2600 feet) from the entrance.

The paintings themselves are interesting, but it’s the story of the 23 Spanish coins dating back to the 16th century that really sparks the imagination.

When were the coins left in Cueva Las Monedas? Who left them? And why?

Maybe I’ll never find the answers to all the questions these painted caves bring about. Then again, if it means taking another trip back to northern Spain to continue the quest, I could live with that!

When You Go:

We stayed at the Hotel Villa Arce just outside of Puente Viesgo. In good weather, it has a view of Monte El Castillo.

Be sure to book ahead of time as painted caves are popular tours.

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Ireland’s Hill of Tara

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

For the life of me, I don’t know where I first heard about Ireland’s Hill of Tara.

It could have been mentioned in a book or covered in a documentary. All I know is that while visiting Dublin, I wanted to learn more.

What better place to start than a museum dedicated to the country’s archaeology and history?

Ireland’s National Museum of Archaeology & History

Treasures from Ireland’s Neolithic era to modern-day artifacts are well preserved in this carefully crafted collection. I wasn’t overly interested in bog mummies or weaponry from the Viking era.

I went straight for the sparkle – the Tara Brooch.

The Tara Brooch. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

The Tara Brooch is not old – in the sense of Ireland’s Neolithic past – but this 8th century, ring-shaped, cloak fastener is undeniably captivating.

Made of cast and gilded silver, the early medieval brooch has fine, filigreed gold panels and is studded with amber, enamel and coloured glass. It includes animal and abstract motifs.

I never realized that the Tara Brooch didn’t come from the Hill of Tara, located northwest of Dublin. It actually came from a place near the seashore at Bettystown in County Meath. Apparently a dealer attributed its source as being Tara in order to increase its value.

The brooch was a loss leader. Tara itself was the actual gem.

After spending time pouring over the display about the site, I knew we’d have to experience Tara for ourselves.

On the Path of Greatness

It’s a graveyard – true. But the Hill of Tara in County Meath is much more than just that. This famous passage-tomb burial site was used for more than 1500 years.

It is where Ireland’s kings claimed their power.

It is said that this was where St. Patrick announced the arrival of Christianity in Ireland.

It is where Daniel O’Connell – the “Liberator” – rallied upwards of three-quarters of a million protestors in 1843 to seek freedom from Britain.

Tara of the Kings

The Hill of Tara looks non-assuming at first glance. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

Teamhair na Rig, or Tara of the Kings, includes a series of graves, tombs and temples.

It is a spiritual sanctuary.

The oldest visible monument is the passage tomb of Drumha na nGiall – the Mound of the Hostages. It dates back to the third millennium BC.

Christian graveyard and church at the base of the hill. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

According to the informational pamphlet I picked up at the visitor centre, Tara’s power declined by the 6th century AD.

Paganism gave way to Christianity, “…and the title of ‘king of Tara’ became a symbolic prize for ambitious kings seeking to become the most powerful ruler on the island.”

Many historical and mythical figures are associated with Tara. The site was central to the creation of an Irish identity.

Today as you walk the grassy mounds, surveying the countryside, the passion and politics of this low-lying hill and its man-made monuments are palpable.

If You Go:

The site is open from mid-May to mid-September, 10 am to 6 pm daily. Tara is located 12 km south of Navan, off the N3.

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Drawn to the Burren

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

What’s in a name?

Why do some place names call so loud and so far that you just have to get there?

Why does the Burren resonate in my soul?

The Burren takes its name from the Irish word ‘bhoireann’. It literally means “a rocky place.” Approximately 260 square kilometres (100 sq mi), this limestone plateau looks devoid of life and purpose at first glance. Give it a few hours and it will capture your imagination.

Stone Legacy

The Burren has been home to humans for thousands of years. Large stone tombs – or megalithic tombs – were built during the Neolithic or New Stone Age. Over 90 megalithic tombs can still be found in the Burren.

A portal tomb. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

Poulnabrone Dolmen is a classic portal tomb. ‘Dolmen’ is a Breton word for ‘table.’ Indeed the massive capstone – over 3 ½ metres long and 2 metres wide (12 ft x 7 ft) – gives the appearance of a table. Poulnabrone was built more than 5000 years ago. It was excavated in 1986. In addition to the more than 20 people buried at the tomb, pieces of pottery and jewellery were found. Poulnabrone is only one of dozens of prehistoric stone features found in the Burren.

Life is not always obvious. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

In more recent times, Catholic landowners were evicted from their land in favour of Protestants by Cromwell’s army in the mid-17th century. General Ludlow stated his opinion of the Burren as “a country where there is not water enough to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, or earth enough to bury him.” Little did he know that the magic of the Burren lies in its resilience.

Finding Flora

Ephemeral beauty in the Burren. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

It’s hard to put down roots on a rock, but that didn’t stop people from living on the Burren and it definitely hasn’t stopped a unique ecosystem from developing within the cracks and crevices of this stony stronghold. The Burren may look lifeless, but a closer look reveals alpine, arctic and Mediterranean species of plants – all growing side by side.

 

Straddling the grike. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

The region is made up of limestone rock that has eroded into a distinctive pattern known as a karren. It is crisscrossed with cracks called grikes. Water disappears beneath the stone into huge caves – the most famous of which is Aillwee Cave – and underground rivers. Water also nourishes the seeds that fall into the grikes. Over 70% of Ireland’s 900 native plants species are found in the Burren. Take that, General Ludlow!

A rocky place with unique flora and hundreds of prehistoric and historic stone structures. I’m still not sure why the Burren spoke to me in the first place, but I’m sure glad it did.

If You Go:

We drove from Lisdoonvarna northeast on N-67 towards Ballyvaughan, heading south on R-480 to explore Aillwee Caves, Poulnabrone Dolmen, Caherconnell Ring Fort, and Leamaneh Castle. The Burren Centre  was closed on the day we passed through, but you can find it heading northwest of R-476 back towards Lisdoonvarna.

Read more about our Irish adventures at:

The Stone Circles of Cork & Kerry, Ireland

Ireland’s Brú na Bóinne

Towers and Forts: An Irish Treasure Hunt

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Towers and Forts: An Irish Treasure Hunt

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

We often travel a route with the map in hand and randomly choose short historic side trips to investigate while on the way to our actual destination. Sometimes, it’s a wild goose chase. Other times, it’s a treasure hunt that leads to such beauties as the Ring of Kerry’s Staigue Fort and the Dingle Peninsula’s Min Aird Castle.

Staigue Fort

When is a stone defensive structure and home not a castle? When it’s a prehistoric stone fort!

Staigue Fort is one of the largest and finest stone forts in Ireland – according the interpretive panel just outside its walls! The name comes from “An Steig” – which is roughly translated as “the portion of land.” It is found on a small portion of land off the southern leg of the infamous “Ring of Kerry” on Ireland’s Iveragh Peninsula.

Staigue Fort’s impressive walls. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

The stone fort was built in the early centuries before Christianity came to Ireland – somewhere between 500 BC and AD 300. Like more “modern” castles, it was most likely built for a wealthy landowner or chieftain who had a need for security.

The wall rises up to six metres (over 19 feet) high. It is four metres (13 feet) thick and is built entirely without mortar. The wall encloses an area thirty metres (almost 100 feet) in diameter. Several near-vertical masonry joints are visible in the walls. These may indicate that the massive stone structure was built in stages rather than in one continuous act. The fort was entered through a narrow, lintel-covered passage in the wall.

The inner walls have criss-crossing staircases. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

The fort was the home of the chieftain’s family, guards and servants. It would have been full of houses, out-buildings, and possibly even tents or other temporary structures. None of the inner buildings survive today. The top of the wall was reached by a series of steps which criss-cross against the inside of the wall. An earthen bank and ditch around the fort gave further protection.

You say fort, I say prehistoric castle!

Min Aird Castle

Min Aird Castle – also commonly referred to as Minard Castle – is located in Cill Mhuire Bay on the Dingle Peninsula. It is the largest fortress on the peninsula. Cill Mhuire Bay is also known for its geology. Eighty-million-year-old fossilised sand dunes can be seen in its cliffs. It also contains one of the finest storm beaches in Ireland.

Min Aird Castle and its storm beach. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

In the Devonian period, rivers flowed south across a large desert… wait, we’re still in Ireland, right?

Crumbling Cill Mhuire sandstone walls of Min Aird Castle. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

Rivers flowed across a large desert, carrying sand and coarse sediments. The crescent-shaped sand dunes in the desert became the pale, yellow Cill Mhuire Sandstone. This same sandstone was used to build Min Aird Castle.

Blocks of sandstone have become rounded by the action of the waves and from knocking against each other. Storms have thrown them towards the back to the beach where they form a ridge called a storm beach.

A timeless view. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

The 16th century tower house that is Min Aird Castle has stood the test of time. It was attacked by Cromwell’s army in 1650 and was structurally damaged. Its crumbling remains have continued to withstand the ravages of a stormy coast for centuries.

Castles, towers, forts – Ireland’s countless historic stone structures beckon.

What are you waiting for?

Read more about our Irish adventures at:

The Stone Circles of Cork & Kerry, Ireland

Ireland’s Brú na Bóinne

Getting to Know Guinness: Going to the Source in Dublin, Ireland

Ireland’s Trim Castle

 

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Ireland’s Skellig Michael: A Storied Past

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

Somewhere between the 6th and 8th centuries, a group of monks sought an isolated locale to practice their religion. They found Skellig Michael.

Skellig come from Sceillic, which means steep rock. Over the next 500 years these Christian monks would develop a precipitous monastic complex that boggles the mind. Perched on a rugged sea crag in the wild Atlantic Ocean, 12 kilometres (8 miles) off of Ireland’s Ivereagh Peninsula in County Kerry, this well-preserved, early medieval ecclesiastical site is quite unlike any other in the world.

The Monastery

The monks chose a sloping rock plateau around 200 metres (650 feet) above the sea to build the monastery. Using a series of dry-stacked retaining walls, they built terraces to level the ground. The retaining walls not only levelled the cliffs, they provided shelter from the prevailing winds. This created a somewhat milder microclimate and allowed the monks to grow some of their food on garden terraces. As there is no fresh water on Skellig Michael, the monks built water cisterns to collect water.

Retaining walls and terraces (Photo: Megan Kopp)

The focus of the inner enclosure was the boat-shaped Large Oratory. This place of prayer was the most important building. It holds a dominant spot in the small compound. A Small Oratory is located on a separate terrace.

Entrance to the Large Oratory (Photo: Megan Kopp)

At the back to the Large Oratory is the Monks’ Graveyard. The series of weathered crosses set into the west side of the graveyard are in their original locations. Over a hundred stone crosses of varying sizes have been recorded on the island.

All of the dry-stacked buildings on Skellig Michael were corbelled. Corbelling is a technique where individual stones are laid flat, with each successive stone placed so that it overhangs on the inner face. This creates a beehive-shaped stone hut.

Beehive-shaped shelters (Photo: Megan Kopp)

There are six dwellings in the monastery. Each includes raised sections for sleeping areas and small cupboards built into the walls. Austere is a kind description of these dark and cold shelters.

In the 13th century the monks moved off Skellig Michael, leaving behind a unique legacy that became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

If You Go:

From the boat dock, today’s visitors head up the early 19th century lighthouse road before ascending the south steps up to Christ’s Saddle and on to the monastery. It’s important to note that a visit to the monastery not only demands a sometimes hair-raising boat ride, it also involves a climb up 618 steps rising over 180 metres (600 feet) above sea level – with some risk of exposure.

Boat trips to Skellig Michael run from May 12th to October 2nd in 2017 (weather permitting). Although access to the monastery itself is free, the 11 ½ kilometre (7 mile) boat trip from Portmagee will cost in the neighbourhood of 70-75 Euros per person. Trips depart from the Portmagee marina around 9:15 am, returning after 2 pm. Most landing tours fill months ahead of time, book in advance.

Read more about our Irish adventures at:

The Stone Circles of Cork & Kerry, Ireland

Ireland’s Brú na Bóinne

Getting to Know Guinness: Going to the Source in Dublin, Ireland

Ireland’s Trim Castle

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The Stone Circles of Cork & Kerry, Ireland

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

Think Celtic stone circle and what comes to mind?

Most likely it’s Stonehenge – the granddaddy of all stone circles. Rings of standing stones are more common in the land of the Celts than you’d think.

There are somewhere in the neighbourhood of 235 stone circles in Ireland. Almost half of these are found in Cork and Kerry in southern Ireland.

These circles are different than Stonehenge because a) they’re smaller – sometime only a handful of stones, b) they are numerous – over 100 in Cork and Kerry alone, c) they have a recumbent stone – located in the west or southwest quadrant of the circle and d) they have two to four entrance or portal stones – on the eastern side.

The recumbent stone and the portal stones form an axis, or line. In many of these circles, this axis aligns with specific solar or lunar phenomena – such as the winter solstice, spring equinox, or moonrise or moonset positions during the lunar cycle. Most researchers agree that they may have had a ritual or religious function.

Drombeg comes from “An Drom Beag” meaning “the Small Ridge.” (Photo: Megan Kopp)

Drombeg Stone Circle
This easy-to-access circle – also known as The Druid’s Altar – dates back to the Bronze Age. It’s alignment to sunset during winter solstice was first noted in the 1920s by local Archaeo-astronomer, Boyle Somerville.

The circle – near Rosscarbery in County Cork – has been restored with 13 or the original 17 stones. Drombeg offers a sense of what it might have been like when it was built over 4,000 years ago. Outside of the circle, there are the remains of two prehistoric stone huts.

On the Hunt for Circles
Clodagh, Maughanaclea, Reanascreena, Carrigagrenane, Lissyvigeen – the names of these mysterious monuments elicit excitement for travellers on a quest for adventure outside the norm.

A stone circle on the Beara Peninsula. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

It’s a challenge and an adventure all rolled into one. To aid us in our quest to discover a few more circles, we picked up a copy on our drive across the southern edge of the country of “The Stone Circles of Cork & County Kerry: An Illustrated Map/Guide.” Researched by Jack Roberts, it is a highly-recommended resource!

Read more about our Irish adventures at:

Ireland’s Brú na Bóinne

Getting to Know Guinness: Going to the Source in Dublin, Ireland

Ireland’s Trim Castle

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Ireland’s Brú na Bóinne

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

It means the palace or the mansion of the Boyne – and it is an Irish treasure.


Brú na Bóinne

Brú na Bóinne is the Gaelic name given to an area in Ireland dominated by three immense prehistoric passage tombs – Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth.

Inside one of Ireland’s megalithic passage tombs. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

Behind the Stones

Brú na Bóinne is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site in southern Ireland. This cemetery complex flourished during the New Stone Age – or Neolithic period – leaving a priceless legacy.

Overlooking Newgrange and the Brú na Bóinne countryside. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

Take a look, by the numbers:

4000 BC         the first of the tombs were built
30                   different mounds visible in Brú na Bóinne
2,000              stones, each weighing several tons, used in the tombs
3-5                  distance in kilometres where large stones were quarried
4                      days for 80 men to bring a large stone from the quarry
115                 number of kerbstones surrounding Dowth
1699               year Newgrange explored by researcher Edward Lhwyd
34                   metres, the length of Knowth’s Western tomb passage
7th                 century AD, Knowth is home to Kings of Northern Brega
600                 number of decorated stones in Brú na Bóinne
60                   % of Western European Neolithic art in Brú na Bóinne
21st                December date light pierces Newgrange’s chamber

Prehistoric art of Brú na Bóinne. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

Did You Know?

Most of Ireland’s OPW (Office of Public Works) Heritage Sites are open to the public free of charge on the first Wednesday of each month in 2017. More information can be found at www.heritageireland.ie.

Read more about our Irish adventures at:

The Stone Circles of Cork & Kerry, Ireland

Getting to Know Guinness: Going to the Source in Dublin, Ireland

Ireland’s Trim Castle

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Baja’s Cave Paintings: Cueva de las Flechas

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

Deep in the heart of Arroyo de San Pablo lies – in our opinion – lies one of the most intriguing painted rock art panels in all of Baja’s Sierra de San Francisco’s UNESCO World Heritage Site.

View from Cueva Pintada across Arroyo de San Pablo to Cueva de las Flechas. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

While not as grand and copious in quantity as Cueva Pintada across the canyon, several of the images in Cueva de las Flechas (Cave of the Arrows) stand apart from those found elsewhere.

 

 

As the name suggests – Cave of the Arrows – there are numerous images of animals with arrows in their bodies.

The suggestion of movement is implied by painting two or more images in succession. Each subsequent image is painted at a slightly different angle to show progression.

Outlined rabbits and arrows – incomplete work or artist choice? (Photo: Brad Kopp)

These rabbits (conejos) demonstrate movement and are outlined but not painted. Was this done on purpose or are they incomplete images? Only the artist knows.

What really draws the eye in Cueva de las Flechas are the large monos (drawings of human figures). If you study them closely, unique details stand out.

Unique monos found in Cueva de las Flechas. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

The two figures on the left and centre (of the group of four) have tiny figures upside down on their shoulders. These tiny figures include animals such as deer (venado) and possibly a turtle (tortuga) as well as monos.

The headdresses on three of the large monos are also finely drawn and rare in the rock art found throughout the canyon.

The central figure and one on the right are impaled by arrows. The arrowheads drawn on the central mono are similar to obsidian (black, volcanic glass) points found in the area.

Hands are painted as if they are held high in surrender.

Rabbit figure at foot of mono. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

The black and red mono to left of centre has another distinct small rabbit painted at the foot. Is it a spirit animal or totem? The more you look, the more questions that arise. We laid back on the wooden walkway and let our minds wander.

While the exact meaning of this panel is unknown, it is thought that it could commemorate a battle and could indicate a territorial border between different tribes.

As well, in early hunter-gatherer societies such as this, shamans used the representation of death to symbolize a trance-induced supernatural journey.

Which do you choose to believe?

Read More: Baja’s Cave Paintings: An Overview and Baja’s Cave Painting: Cueva Pintada

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