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THE ENIGMATIC INCA RUINS OF MORAY, An Inward Journey of the Senses


High on the Maras Plateau of the Peruvian Andes, there is place with a rather unusual and spectacular view: Four bowl-like depressions which have been constructed with a series of concentric terraces that resemble an ancient Greek amphitheater. These bowls, or Muyus, are collectively known as Moray. The two largest ones are located at the center of the site and are so well drained by a complex and precise underground irrigation system that prevents them from completely flooding during the rainy season. The largest bowl is 600 feet in diameter and 492 feet deep and has twelve concentric terraces. Inca engineering and architecture are known for their capricious and magnificent use of some of the most precarious locations of the Andes to build on them colossal structures with sublime vistas—an outward journey of the senses.

Moray, however, unlike other Inca constructions, reflects an inward journey—whose path follows its concentric rings which possess an exquisite design and are mildly hypnotic once you reach their bottom floor. This episodic sensory disorientation is heightened by the eerie acoustics of the design, which carry and amplify bird calls and people’s voices with refined efficiency. The most commonly accepted theory about the purpose of Moray is that it was used as a giant agricultural research station—because of the difference in temperature between the lower terraces and the ones at the top.

These temperatures, the theory argues, allowed Inca horticulturists to conduct experiments on different strains of maize, quinoa, potatoes, and other crops to find which grew best under different conditions. Others have argued that it may have had served as a religious center and some have even suggested that it may have been a fertility temple given its layout. Given that the Incas kept no written records, the meaning and purpose of Moray may forever elude us, but one thing is certain: it is a civil-engineering marvel and a masterpiece of landscaping.

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