Moray: Inca Mystery Circles

The Moray archaeological site lies on high plain about halfway between Machu Picchu and the Inca capital of Cusco.  According to water engineer and paleo-hydrologist Kenneth R. Wright (WEF, Sep 2008):

The site is most famous for its three large natural depressions that have been shaped to form concentric circles.  A fourth terraced depression is shallower and smaller in diameter.  The entire archaeological complex covers 37 ha [or 91 acres].

One of Three Moray Terraces Shaped to Form Concentric Circles

One of Three Moray Terraces Shaped to Form Concentric Circles

The Moray site has only been known to the outside world for a little over 80 years.  The reason for the circles is still a mystery.  Again according to Wright:

A series of handsome linear terraces complement the concentric circles and vertical channels that dropped water from terrace to terrace.  The carefully placed hydraulic drop structures, coupled with geometrically situated “flying stairs” (stones protruding from walls), add order and detail to each set of circles.

Early researchers found that the giant inverted concentric cones offer a range of micro-climates, with differing soil temperatures and humidity levels.  One theory postulates that the Inca used Moray as an agriculture experiment station, a place to test crop varieties.  Today the site is known locally as “the greenhouse of the Inca.”

Wright disagrees with the experiment station theory.  He argues that Moray was strictly a religious and ceremonial center.  He also feels that the site was never completed, construction was interrupted in 1532 by Spanish Conquest.

Moray is in a relatively dry area, so irrigation was required (unlike at Machu Picchu).  Thus important components of Moray complex were its springs (water source), canals, and small reservoirs.

The reservoirs are semicircular 32- and 62-foot structures.  The larger of the two is mostly destroyed.  The reservoirs contain some good Inca stonework with tight-fitting joints.

Remains of the Inca canals tend to be sparse, likely because of continued agricultural activity and grazing in the area, along with erosion and sedimentation on the steep slopes.  Nevertheless, several surface remains of Inca canals have been identified.

My family and I arrived at Moray archaeological site in the late afternoon and the shadows were highly dramatic.  This heavy contrast added to the enigmatic nature of the site.  Moray is a very interesting site.

Heavy Shadows in the Late Afternoon at Moray

Heavy Shadows in the Late Afternoon at Moray

Peruvian Travel Trends oversteps the mark a little when they state in a headline that Moray “runs on a par with Machu Picchu.”  Moray is a fascinating archaeological site but it setting is not close to that of Machu Picchu.  The latter is located on a mountain ridge, and, because of all the precipitation it receives, is very lush and green.

Greenery and Setting of Machu Picchu

Greenery and Setting of Machu Picchu


This entry was posted in History, Peru, Travel, water. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Moray: Inca Mystery Circles

  1. garyalison50 says:

    The beauty of this site is almost painful to see. The human touch of perfect circular forms make me think that this site also is saying ‘hello, we exist’, which strikes a deep cord that is almost to scary to believe. Thank you. Has it been dated?

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